Slamenskraam Brings a Queer Shine to LA’s Emerging Fashion Scene

Ben and Riki in Slamenskraam bathing suits. (Photo by Gary Gangi)
Ben and Riki in Slamenskraam bathing suits. (Photo by Gary Gangi)

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was last August when Aaron Gell, writing in The New York Times, called out to the hoi polloi something that the advance guard of fashion already knew: fashion is finding a home in Los Angeles.

Consider, as Gell points out, that Hedi Slimane, who famously introduced “skinny” as a men’s fashion look for Yves St. Laurant, moved here from Paris in 2007 after leaving Dior. Now that he’s back at Yves St. Laurent as creative direcor, he flies his Paris staff to LA for meetings. Gell says John Galliano is considering a move and Daphne Guinness is house-hunting.

Then there are locally based designers such as Clover Canyon, Wildfox Couture, Band of Outsiders and J Brand, all of which have begun to make their marks in the industry.

There’s not much evidence of this new wave of immigration and creativity in the way gay Angelenos dress. In West Hollywood, for example, most guys on the streets are still wearing those decades-old cargo shorts, t-shirts with logos on them and the vertically striped shirts and shorts that always have been a fashion “no no” (vertical stripes, guys, make you look wide, aka fat). Then there are those rare “benefit” events where the gay guys suit up in the full “Gooch,” finding security in the knowledge that everything they’re wearing has a prized label on it.

Left to right, Slamenskraam's Aaron Stella, Kyle Kupres and James Cerne. (Photo by Matt Baume)
Left to right, Slamenskraam’s Aaron Stella, Kyle Kupres and James Cerne. (Photo by Matt Baume)

But those of you who have ventured out of WeHo to places like “SummerTramp,” Luke Nero and Andres Rigal’s downtown LA summer pool party, or Akbar for a night of “Planet Queer,” or Los Globos for “A Club Called Rhonda,” or even a special Mario Diaz night at Faultline, probably have seen an iridescent shimmer of a possible fashion future.

That shimmer, if not an all-out glittery shine, likely came from clothes designed by Kyle Kupres and James Cerne, the creative minds behind Slamenskraam.

Slamenskraam, which now counts Aaron Stella, Kupres’ boyfriend, as a partner, got its start last summer. Party promoter Mario Diaz was looking for some costumes for his Full Frontal Disco event, and a friend handed Kupres a pile of fabric to work with. He and Cerne studied the fabric and decided it also would make great bathing suits for the weekend pool parties they wanted to attend. They posted photos on Facebook and, as they say on their website: “… the queens went nuts.” Kupres and Cerne quickly set up an online shop on Etsy.com and found themselves in the fashion business.

Not that they were newcomers to it. Kupres already was doing commercial costumes, working with Harwood Lee, whose costume clients have included Ricky Martin, Walt Disney Co., Old Navy, Britney Spears, and Levi Strauss. Cerne, who also DJs and is an event promoter, had worked for a time in New York City in the Vivienne Westwood store, which exposed him to her creations, famous for blending modern punk and new wave designs and giving them a platform in the mainstream fashion world.

“The wheels started turning almost immediately,” Kupres said. “We started adding other products…. The second product we came up with was a shimmery jacket.” The shimmer came from the holographic fabrics that Kupres and Cerne use, which add a depth as well as a glittery shine — what some designers who are beginning to embrace such fabric call a third dimension.

From a stylistic point of view, Kupres said, “We were just going for the most outrageous things we could find but also make them stylish.”

The outrageous is certainly on display on the Slamenskraam Facebook page, where the SLAAD Singlet is billed as “the perfect outfit when you want to wear as little as legally possible.”

Kupres, who grew up in the tiny Midwestern town of Lake Mills, Wisconsin, began developing his sense of outrageous style when he moved to New York City after graduating from Beloit College in Wisconsin and attended an event staged around the annual New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival.

“The very first event I went to was the MIX Queer Festival in 2009,” he recalled. All of these kids were wearing their own creations. I was always trying to go for something polished. Meeting these people turned that upside down… Later I found out that they were all making their own stuff.”

“I bought myself a sewing machine. I started making my own clothes. Anything to get attention.”

James Cerne at work on the Kleptopatra Snuggie. (Photo by Matt Baume)
James Cerne at work on the Kleptopatra Snuggie. (Photo by Matt Baume)

Cerne, who grew up outside of Boston, would travel into that city to look at Bristish fashion magazines. He realized that people in Boston “aren’t adventurous in terms of fashion” and left the East Coast to move to Los Angeles two years ago.

Since moving here, he’s been active in nightlife, DJ’ing at events such as Rasputin, Evita, Summertramp and LA Pride. Now, he said, he and Kupres and Stella “like to think of ourselves as out on the streets and soaking up all of the complicated influences between WeHo and Skid Row.”

“I love fashion as an expression of identity,” Cerne said. “One of our big influences is playing around with these icons of masculinity. A big influence on me when I was growing up were those pro wrestlers like Randy Savage.”

For Cerne, Slamenskraam is “not just about clothes, it’s about rethinking masculinity.”

Another goal of Slamenskraam is to provoke a conversation with its apparel. “It’s important to always wear a conversations starter,” Kupres said. “We’re not in the business of concealing, we’re in the business of revealing. We want to reveal as much of the body as possible and still sell clothes.”

For all the attention Slamenskraam has gotten among the hipper gay Angelenos, fashion is a tough business. “We’re all struggling to get by and pay our rent,” Cerne said.

Slamenskraam has a deal in the works with International Playground, a retailer that partners with designers from Denmark, Hong Kong and Sweden as well as the United States. While they contain to look for other retail outlets, the Slamenskraam team also is selling on its website, and a fashion magazine has expressed interest in profiling them. Stella, who moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles recently to join Kupres, is crafting a business plan for Slamenskraam, an essential tool to present to a prospective investor (Kupres has one in mind).

Meanwhile, the team is at work in its work/live loft south of downtown Los Angeles on the next season. “Liking” the Slamenskraam Facebook page is probably the best way to see what that will be all about. And wearing some of their garb is a sure way to get a conversation started in gay LA. If you need evidence of that, check out the clothes, and models, on the pages that follow:

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