The Face Behind the Faces

For as long as I can remember (circa five years), practically anybody who's anybody has rocked the American Apparel zip hoodie. This solid color or occasionally salt-and-peppered/polka-dotted staple has been the go-to warm layer for hipster kids and a post-Juicy Couture generation of rich girls alike, but its ubiquity can leave wearers feeling lost in a sea of ultra-soft cotton. And so we encounter the eternal dilemma: how can we feel comfortable and at the same time stand out? Enter HeadHoods, the vision of Brooklyn-based designer/musician Clinton Van Gemert. His hoodies, emblazoned with an array of famous faces, allow us to keep warm in style a la Marilyn Monroe, Michelangelo's David, or even the late Michael Jackson. And the most duplicitous among us will rejoice at the advent of the so-called "collage" hoodie, which unsurprisingly combines two heads on one hood. I had the opportunity to speak with the face behind the faces about how HeadHoods came to be, where HeadHoods is going, and how he plans on getting there (both figuratively and literally).

So your website says HeadHoods came out of a "good coffee buzz"... Can you elaborate a little on that?

I was working for a design firm called Pushpin. For such a small office, there was a lot of creative energy as well as a lot of coffee drinking and pipe smoking. My boss, Seymour Chwast was a heavy smoker as well as a creative genius. I think a little bit of that rubbed off on me one chilly morning while I was wearing my hoodie and walking to the nearest bodega to get myself a cup of joe and a bagel. There were some great old books at work, one of them being a 19th-Century Sears Roebuck catalogue, which had some really interesting illustrated faces. These were some of the first faces I printed.

How large do you envision HeadHoods becoming and how does someone make the cut for a hoodie?

I have big expectations for my line and am always pushing myself to come out with new styles and designs. People tend not to realize how much actual work goes into a clothing line and how much effort goes into something as simple as introducing a new head to the line. I try to pick iconic figures that are influential artistically, politically, or just look straight up badass. There are some more obscure heads I plan on adding to the mix in the future, and I'm toying with the idea of offering a Clinton Van Gemert HeadHood at a cheap price. I will always try to keep HeadHoods away from the mainstream and will only expand gradually. I built HeadHoods from nothing and would like to keep the same momentum. The fact that there is one person behind each HeadHood is what I try to push.

You've invested in a retired meter-maid-mobile for delivery purposes. How did you secure such a gem? I was walking down the street last fall and I saw a man in an old meter maid drive by. I thought to myself, "that guy isn't a cop and he is driving a meter maid. I'm getting one." I did a little research and found out you can get them at city auctions, though I ended up just getting one second hand through Craigslist. It had a little more soul than your typical meter maid; she came with bullhorns, pin striping, stick shift and a cassette radio. Mine is named "The old maid" but sometimes I call her "the poor man's smart car." And the maid is really practical: the insurance is scooter insurance, which is super cheap, I can park anywhere, and I can take it over the bridge. I can haul around all my wholesale and pick up supplies. And most importantly, the chicks dig it.

Your designs are presently available online and at the Williamsburg Flea Market. Do you see yourself selling to more stores or perhaps opening your own store in the future?

I have a store! It's just hidden in the rear end of a motorcycle garage at 290 Metropolitan Ave. The spot gets great foot traffic, but people seem a bit intimidated by the number of motorcycles between them and my shop. I'm constantly improving the space and am gearing up to officially advertise and open up my store/workspace come fall. I've noticed people really love to see where their clothes come from and the whole process behind it. The Williamsburg Flea Market is a great place to meet customers face to face and to see what they like and dislike. In the past I've worked with a handful of stores internationally and would like to pursue that direction. I like the idea of selling to some select stores in the future, but just haven't found the right ones to work with yet.

Tell us a little bit about your music.

For the last couple years I have been singing lead and playing upright bass in a trio. We were compared to Police, which I thought was pretty awesome. Unfortunately the time came where I felt I had to decide between my clothing line and the band. Since HeadHoods paid the bills, I had to choose my line over the band. The idea that I was shortchanging the band bothered me and I felt the best thing to do was to step back and recharge my music batteries. I have full intentions of getting back into a band situation and am still actively writing. To fill the void, I am currently creating the soundtrack for HeadHoods' first video/commercial.

You also design the artwork for your own CDs. Are there any other Clinton van Gemert projects out there for us to check out?

I have been asked by a couple galleries to show some of my HeadHoods inspired work, (some collaged faces on paper and wooden surfaces). I've also been getting into going around town and wheat pasting HeadHoods posters, which is an art form in itself.

HeadHoods are sold at as well as at 290 Metropolitan Avenue and the Williamsburg Flea Market.

Photographs by Mark Byron

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