Interview by Ryan Brinson
We caught up with designer Bryant Phelan the afternoon after his New York Fashion Week show to talk about small town inspirations, runway aspirations and all things leather.
You just had your show last night! How did that go?
It went really well!
What was the most challenging aspect of the show for you?
Trying to get everyone on the same page can always be a struggle with any show. There are so many different mindsets when you walk into a room and there are so many big personalities in fashion. But last night was probably the best show I’ve had. Everyone was already on the same page and was willing to work cohesively. It was about teamwork and working together and that was very nice.
What made you want to be a designer vocationally rather than something that was just a hobby?
I’ve always looked at fashion and design as art that people wear. I was inspired by my mom, she is a very stylish woman who always encouraged me in any art I wanted to create. It was a very organic process. When I was 12 or 13, my mom brought home an antique masquerade mask from Venice. I’d never seen a leather mask like that before and I wanted her to get more, which of course isn’t very cost effective. So she encouraged me to make one. I grew up in a very small town, Malvern, in Arkansas with a lot of farming communities around us. I went to the feed store and bought a 12 dollar piece of scrap leather left over from making saddles and started working on the mask. From there, I fell in love with the process.
What keeps you going?
I’m very self-motivated. I love what I do. I feel like I owe it to myself to get my expression out there. Growing up in the south, a lot of expression from men is very subdued. I really enjoy getting my expression out there wholly. It’s cathartic. I look forward to it every day for the next step. It’s who I am.
When did you launch your brand, O Faoláin Leathers?
I launched my brand in January of 2014 and then I showed with Korto Momolu here at New York Fashion Week. She actually had found me, got in touch with me and kinda forced me out of the design closet. I had been hoarding all of my work and never really showed it to people. I was very scared. I never thought I was a good designer or that I had a decent aesthetic because when I looked at my pieces compared to what pieces are on the market, I would think ‘my pieces don’t look anything like that so no one is going to like them.’ Turns out, that’s what the fashion community is all about: thriving on new designs and new concepts. I’d never had my artistic work validated so it’s been really nice.
Being in Little Rock, it’s not exactly the fashion capital of the world. But you’re here doing New York Fashion Week so you’re doing something right. Where do you find your inspiration when you’re at home?
Nature and my dreams. I’m a very conceptual person and a conceptual designer. I will take something from a dream I had and process it into the physical manifestation of what I was dreaming about. I grew up in Arkansas, a beautiful state, so much of my inspiration comes from my surroundings.
What’s your next goal you have your sights set on?
I kind of have this weird double life I live. I am also a cancer researcher at the University of Arkansas Medical School and am working on my PhD in Epidemiology. I have two more years to go on that. I really get a lot of catharsis from both that and design. One’s on the creative side and one’s on the analytical side, but they play into each other so much. I think people forget that science and art came from the exact same place. People have this idea that science and art are completely different and it’s not true at all. I want to be as much as I can. If this is the only life I get, I want to make sure I get everything out of it that I can.