"Everyone has their own Saint Johns," says Texas designer Preston Douglas, whose new collection is inspired by life as an outsider at his private Houston-based school, Saint Johns. For Douglas, the space embodies censorship and feeling actively repressed by a conservative system and uniform to match. "I've never felt like I belong," he says.
The rising talent's latest body of work is a direct response to this stifling experience, taking staples often used for private school uniforms, from striped button-ups to classic trousers. Douglas' version is a much more twisted interpretation of the classics, stretching menswear silhouettes down to the floor and covering everything in painted patches.
It's queer, quietly radical and altogether rooted in raw emotion — exactly how Douglas likes things done.
We caught up with the fashion newcomer to learn more about his brand, and the ways he's changing today's menswear landscape. Douglas also created an exclusive PAPER shoot with his Saint Johns collection, photographed inside Post HTX the day after Day for Night festival closed.
What do you hate most about the menswear trends dominating fashion today?
I'm not a fan of a lot of the designers and brands that I get categorized with who are "trendy" these days. Some of the most popular menswear companies just feel uninspiring, and there is no emotion behind the collections or pieces. I'm really sick of these boring rappers and social media influencers determining the external success of menswear brands.
How do you think you're changing that through Preston Douglas?
Each collection I make is a body of work — I don't just make clothes. This is such a saturated market and everyone is a "designer" these days. Fashion is my art form and each collection I create has a specific reason behind why I make it. I don't design on a specific schedule, and can't/won't force a collection into existence.
Talk me through the inspiration for this collection — you've subverted traditional catholic uniforms into something new and exciting.
I went to St. John's School in Houston from kindergarten through 12th grade, so all I knew growing up was that uniform. I never felt good enough throughout my coming of age and associated those feelings of insufficiency with the khaki, red, black, and white. I had similar feelings crop up with where I was at in the fashion world, and then examined what my uniform in this industry is. I wrote a letter while designing the collection for those interested in the full story.
How is this collection reflective of your personal point of view?
Wes Anderson is my favorite director and he went to St. John's School as well, which is also where he filmed most of Rushmore, one of my top three movies of all time. I felt as if it was time for me to make the 21st century Rushmore and I fulfilled my creative objective [through this collection]. It will take a few years before people really give this collection the credit it deserves, much like Rushmore, as people continue seeing how I operate as an artist.
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How difficult is it to break into fashion as a young independent designer?
It seems like the only way to break into the fashion industry these days is if you're one of Kanye's minions. It's definitely difficult because it's increasingly challenging to create something completely new, but it is definitely possible. My brand will take a bit longer because my focus is on the story behind each collection rather than say reinventing the workwear jacket like Craig Green did. I continue focusing on the true art behind each collection and know that my time will come.
What is the significance of this shoot's location in relation to the collection?
We shot this editorial at Post HTX, the venue for Day for Night, on the day after the festival ended. I started going out and partying way too hard around junior/senior year of high school and became stuck in the darkness as a form of escapism. I thought it was so interesting to see the aftermath of all this chaos as a way of embracing the reality behind how I used to live. No matter how hard I tried to run away, I couldn't escape the next day.
You're Texas-based, which is very interesting for fashion — why this location and how does it affect your work?
I've lived in Houston my whole life and ended up back here for college at UH. I graduate in May and am looking for a job in the fashion industry, which will likely take me to New York. Although Houston is a huge city, I have to find external inspiration through mediums other than fashion and am easier able to look internally for my creativity.
Who do you think you're designing for?
I design for people who want to wear a story and emotion rather than a brand name. They put on their outfit for the day based on how they are feeling rather than what will get the most likes on Instagram. My dream client is anyone who can feel the emotion behind the piece they purchased and can connect with the garment. When someone asks that person what that piece is, they can tell the story behind the collection from which the item is from.
What do you hope to accomplish in 2018?
I am finishing up my next collection and really hope that this February New York collection release party happens. We have an amazing concept and are keeping our fingers crossed for a sponsorship to come through. Other than that, I hope to land a job at an amazing fashion company after graduating, to have a gallery show, and continuing to make art. It may be another collection, but I am unsure depending on where I move and when inspiration strikes. If I continue the momentum I had for 2017, [the new year will] be a beautiful place.
For more information on Preston Douglas, click here.