157 Simone Else

Born Lapeer, MI, 1985/ Lives in Detroit, MI

Imagine it’s movie night. You’re huddled in front of the TV, feeling its familiar warm static dance across your face. Wedged tightly side by side with friends, you’re so awed by the magnetic power of the main character that you scour the Internet for hours searching for the perfect jacket to match theirs. What we don’t see is the influence that created the influencer, communities outside of the limelight that our favorite muses’ aesthetics have their roots in.  Although it seems like fashion’s cultural influence trickles down from the heights of cinema and haute couture, Simone Else’s wearable art makes it clear that the “it factor” also rises from the underground. 

Else has a long-standing interest in fashion. In 2010, she began to sell vintage finds, occasionally altering them for her personal wear. Her start with small sewing projects soon turned into the creation of entire upcycled garments and the formation of her Detroit-based brand, Eat Da Rich. The brand features eclectic shoots and sets often orchestrated by Else and based on anything from her most recent travel adventures to memorable dreams. While her anti-fast fashion approach incorporates vintage clothing and recycled materials with sustainability in mind, it also speaks to Else’s own life, personal treasures, and interest in displays of non-conformity.

Else makes what she refers to as “wearables for weirdos.” By her definition, a key piece of the weirdo’s identity is that they are unable to be housed under a single category, and are maybe even a lover of completely contradictory aesthetics. The position is a liberating one, resulting in a style that is playful, inquisitive, sexy, soft, edgy, and accessible. In a world that tries to assert itself as black and white, Else’s hodgepodge of colors and themes feels startlingly refreshing. For example, part of a 2020 jewelry collection, Heirloom Choker’s thick gold chains, cobbled together with watch face pendant and vintage painted portrait, mix time periods seamlessly. The choker, made with objects from Else’s own collection, is contemporary, bold, and brassy, yet the pieces it’s made of still carry their historical resonance. Similarly, her Precious Moments II collection features sleek black throwing-star earrings with tiny stones at their center. The pebbles, hand-painted with nail polish, sweetly recall one of Else’s favorite childhood crafts and add an unexpected burst of sentimentality. 

Else often experiments with this contrast of hard and soft, whether between the overtly femme and the brutal, or the forms of the garments themselves. Her FAUX-PRO collection features a two-piece tan and white checkered suit embellished with giant pink satin ruffles. The woman’s business suit with its traditional masculine stiffness, in which the wearer is meant to blend in, is turned playful and eye-catching. Rather than prioritizing the masculine or feminine, the suit becomes a tapestry of gender that resists expected norms. 

Many of Else’s shoots and garments openly reference sexuality and fetish, quirks we might share if asked. Her Blade Runner-esque January 2020 editorial spotlights a yellow and clear striped PVC poncho, a garment that doesn’t preoccupy itself with concealing the body, but instead empowers it. Else uses PVC in other cheeky ways by inserting the cut-outs into t-shirts and chunky sweaters with phrases like “submissive” or “thank you.” 

Else’s garments are often workwear-inspired, perhaps reflecting the seemingly unavoidable influence of Detroit’s automotive, blue-collar history. Jumpsuits like the ones seen in the “Wearables for Weirdos” editorial, turn everyday coveralls into edgy jumpsuits featuring patches and screen-printed phrases like “maximum torture.” Instead of on-the-job utility, the purpose of Else’s workwear is to disrupt working-class identity and reimagine the contemporary worker. The eclectic and expressive jumpsuits subvert expectations of uniform while simultaneously creating a communal style of dress that values the unorthodox. 

Else’s work is in a dynamic relationship with various countercultures. She privileges the aesthetics of queer, BDSM, and communities of color over mainstream trends, creating clothing and sets stemming from traditions where outer expression is core to identity, rather than standing as superficial markers of normativity or class. Else herself, refusing to be relegated to one artistic medium alone, continues to push the boundaries of what a designer, or even fashion, can be. In a recent project, she has begun tattooing. Anything from doilies and bows to chains and masks are permanently etched on clients, forming not only a more personal bond between artist and appreciator, but between fashion and wearer. 

Samantha Hohmann, October 2021

Copyright Essay’d.