One Night In Candy Land: An Interview With The Larger Than Life Candy Ken

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

His face splattered with Hello Kitty temporary tattoos, a chiseled male hustler body and a thick Austrian accent, Candy Ken is a Harajuku Greek God run through the sieve of a culture on digital overload. If you held a mirror to the teenage zeitgeist of the twenty first century, Candy Ken’s smiling gold grill would be twinkling right back at you. Over the weekend, the Berlin-based performer released his first official album, entitled Real Talk, and he did it as his own manager, promoter and record label. With tracks like Fuck Gender, the artist replies to his critics and Internet trolls, who are quick to label his sexual identity, with a swift auto-tuned retort: “Gender rolls are over….the new sex is what I am.” And it’s exactly that sex that has garnered the attention of the likes of fashion designer Jeremy Scott and stylist/creative director Nicola Formichetti who last year flew Candy Ken out to Milan for a Diesel campaign after seeing his images on Instagram. Formichetti also introduced Candy to Terry Richardson who shot him in the nude at his New York studio. The controversial photographer is also the subject of a song on Candy’s new album, about the attention he received from that shoot. To celebrate the release of Real Talk, an album that celebrates the prismatic lifestyle of the artist in grand fashion, Candy Ken hosted a decadent club kid party at Visions Video Bar in London. We also got a chance to chat with Candy Ken about the strange and manic universe he has created, what it was like to work with Terry Richardson, and his dreams for the future.

OLIVER KUPPER: So you wanted to throw the party as a means of saying goodbye to the club scene and for your new album, right?

CANDY KEN: The party was for my album. We performed all the new songs of Real Talk, that’s the album name. We also used the party just to celebrate all the club kids, the whole club kid scene. We got everybody down, because they support me so much. It was very beautiful.

KUPPER: Is this the craziest party you’ve ever thrown?

CANDY KEN: Definitely the craziest.

KUPPER: Your new album is your second album?

CANDY KEN: No, this is my first one.

KUPPER: This is your first official album?

CANDY KEN: Exactly.

KUPPER: But you’ve been putting out music for a little while?

CANDY KEN: Exactly. But always EPs, never an album.

KUPPER: Do you have a record label?

CANDY KEN: No, it’s all self-produced.

KUPPER: I want to go back to where you grew up in Austria. Were you always creative as a child? Were you always making art?

CANDY KEN: Yeah. Luckily, my parents supported me from day one. They always put me in art classes and drawing classes. I created art since I could walk. But, of course, it changed with the Internet and social media. I had to use the new media to express myself. I found music videos, performances, and photoshoots through Snapchat and Instagram. Those are great platforms for me to express myself.

KUPPER: When you were studying art, who were some artists who really inspired you?

CANDY KEN: David LaChappelle, Wes Anderson, Tarantino, Die Antwoord, M.I.A., FKA Twigs, Riff Raff. And then, of course, fashion designers like Jeremy Scott had a big influence on me. Nicola Formichetti, Gianni Versace.

KUPPER: And you worked with Jeremy Scott and Formichetti right?

CANDY KEN: With Jeremy Scott, we just talked over Instagram. We never met, so far. My goal is to work with him very soon. I’ve worked with Nicola a lot of times, yeah.

KUPPER: And he flew you out to Milan at one point?

CANDY KEN: Yeah, he flew me to Milan and New York for Diesel. He also arranged a photoshoot with Terry Richardson because they’re, like, best friends. That’s how I got to work with Terry.

KUPPER: What was that experience like?

CANDY KEN: One of the best experiences ever. Terry is so humble and such a nice guy. He had so much energy. You don’t expect that out of so many celebrities and photographers. He was so welcoming. He played my music, and he was like, “Oh, Candy Ken is in the house!” He was very enthusiastic and happy. He could shoot me like I’ve never seen myself before. He’s a very good guy.   

KUPPER: Were you just in Rankin’s studio in London?

CANDY KEN: Yes, yesterday.

KUPPER: That’s a pretty big deal too.

CANDY KEN: Yeah. I want to make a name in London. I think I need more exposure in Europe. Mostly, I get booked in Asia. Last time, I was in Tel Aviv and Mexico, but not that much in Europe. I really want to work with photographers in London. Rankin Studios was really, really great.

KUPPER: When did you become Candy Ken?

CANDY KEN: I feel like I’ve always had Candy Ken in me. But I was not able to express myself until two years ago. Before that, I always had it in myself, but you get pulled down by society. You’re not sure of yourself. You’re not confident to really go for it. I didn’t get my confidence to express Candy on the outside until I moved to Berlin.

KUPPER: Were you part of the club scene in Berlin?

CANDY KEN: Not really. I’m more into the London club scene. In Berlin, it’s very dark. I’m very colorful.

KUPPER: That makes sense. Tokyo is probably easy to fit into as well.

CANDY KEN: Oh yeah. They really appreciate me in Asia.

KUPPER: We’ve been watching a lot of your videos on YouTube. There are a lot of beauty and workout tips, as well as music videos. Some of them feature your younger brother. Does he look up to you?

CANDY KEN: Yeah. He’s ten years younger than me. We’re really good friends. We have a really strong relationship. He gives me a lot of shit. He is a good source of criticism. It is good to have siblings, because they tell you things that might offend you if a friend said it. If it’s family, you can really get it. He is very critical about what I do, and he teaches me a lot actually. I’m travelling a lot, so I’m very happy if I can spend time with him in Austria. I’m really thankful to have him in my life. He’s very supportive.

KUPPER: Does he have some of the same interests as you?

CANDY KEN: He’s definitely interested in art. We both really like the same kind of movies, like Grand Budapest Hotel, that Wes Anderson look. We also listen to the same music.

KUPPER: That’s amazing. You said that your parents were supportive of your art. Are they supportive of what you’re doing as Candy Ken?

CANDY KEN: Yeah, definitely. At some points, I had to warm them up. I think they want me to be secure. They want their kid to be successful. But they are very supportive. I’m very lucky. Being Candy Ken is something that’s hard to take in for a lot of people. It works with provocation, nudity – it’s really out there. For my parents to accept that, I’m very lucky. But I also teach them a lot, I feel like. They got to know Terry Richardson. They’ve been introduced to 2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne.

KUPPER: You’re introducing them to culture. They probably really appreciate that.

CANDY KEN: Exactly.

KUPPER: Speaking of rappers, especially American rappers, do you want to collaborate more with people in the U.S.?

CANDY KEN: Yeah. I feel like American rappers are similar to me because they don’t take themselves too seriously. I really appreciate people in the music industry who don’t take themselves too seriously. That’s why I’m a big fan of Lil’ Wayne. Even his name, to use your social disadvantage in a fun way – that always impressed me, since I was a kid. I really want to work with American rappers. 

KUPPER: A lot of press is describing you as “post-gender.” Where do you see yourself on this spectrum?

CANDY KEN: As an artist, I have to work with society and what happens around me. I cannot ignore what happens around me. It’s not a coincidence that I’m from Austria. The gender role is very important. Growing up in Austria, there are a lot of things you’re allowed to do, but there are also lots of things you’re not supposed to do. I feel that I have to work with this gender problem, because it affects me too. What is my role as a male in society? How do they want me to be? I love opening people’s minds and waking people up, making people more acceptant and tolerant.

KUPPER: That’s a really important message.

CANDY KEN: I’m also living that a lot of people can’t live in their life. I’m expressing myself, trying different outfits, hair colors, shoes. That’s what a lot of people want to do, but they can’t because of their job, their family, or their friends. Most people put this cage over themselves. They could do everything, but they’re too afraid to fall out of the whole system of getting money, being secure, having family and friends. You think you lose all of that if you change something. I need to show everybody that I can be all of what Candy Ken does and still be accepted and loved by a lot of people, and the right people. Most people try to impress the wrong people. I tried to impress the wrong people for such a long time. If you want to impress all these people, you’re not following what your passion is. Once you really go for what you like, you will find people who have the same hobbies and passion. It’s so much better. You should really stop trying to impress stupid people.

KUPPER: How would you describe your new album?

CANDY KEN: It’s really from the heart. It’s very honest. One song is called “Fuck Gender.” One song is called “I Love Blue.” One song is about the Terry Richardson nude photos that came out. One song is about the Candy Crew. Every song, you get into what I’m thinking, how I see myself, how I deal with society’s problems. It’s very new. It’s not about stupid breakups and a love story like all these albums right now. It’s more about society and stereotypes and stuff like that, things I have to work with.

KUPPER: Do you have plans to tour in the U.S.?

CANDY KEN: If they want me, definitely. I am actually going to LA and New York for two months this summer. We are organizing music videos. We are doing a Kickstarter right now. We’re trying to do a very crazy, colorful David LaChapelle music video in LA. I hope I can perform that month in LA and New York. But I have no agent and no management.

KUPPER: If you could describe Candy Ken in three words, what would those words be?

CANDY KEN: Kawaii, yummy, and explicit.

You can stream Candy Ken's new album Real Talk here. See more photos from the album release party at Visions Video Bar in London here. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Photographs by Flo Kohl. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

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Pushing Boundaries: An Interview With Claire Barrow

text by Adam Lehrer

UK-based fashion designer Claire Barrow has always married art and fashion in a way that feels proper. While most fashion labels re-interpret graphics by their favorite artists, Barrow has used her garments as a vehicle for her own images.

Born in Stockton-On-Tees, UK, Barrow found herself seduced by the sounds and imagery emanating from her local record shop as a teenager. While her classmates listened to Top 40 and wore their school uniforms, Barrow listened to bands on the atonal side of the rock spectrum (from Slayer to Sonic Youth) and found her own style by deconstructing and adding flair to her own school uniform. “I would wear all these ‘80s earrings. I would put patches on. I cut my tie,” says Barrow. “Getting into music, I just preferred metal and punk. I was finding my own records and being fully immersed in it. Music became my entire life.”

Barrow moved to London in 2008 to study fashion. Even though she already was making pictures, fashion seemed a more realistic career than being an artist. “There was a fashion course at my college, so I did fashion.”

From the beginning of her practice in fashion, Barrow illustrated on the garments she created. Those images, steeped in iconography of radicalism and sub-cultures, have made her one of the most exciting designers on the London Fashion Week ticket since she debuted her collection at Fashion East for Spring/Summer 2013.

But Barrow is a tireless creative and it was only a matter of time before she would grow interested in seeing her imagery take life on canvas. The exhibit ‘Claire Barrow: The Bed, The Bath, and The Beyond” that was on view at London’s M. Goldstein Gallery from April 17 to 24 found Barrow rendering the most private aspects of daily life, from taking a shower to using the restroom, and examining the ways in which we renew and revitalize ourselves in lack of spirituality and religion.

Claire Barrow and I spoke over Skype to discuss the exhibit, but also what it means to maintain a fashion brand in this exhausting system, why she is re-evaluating her place in this system, and her hopes of uniting a whole world of creative mediums under the Claire Barrow brand.

ADAM LEHRER: So many of your garments can stand alone as artworks. Were you interested in being an artist before you became a fashion designer?

CLAIRE BARROW: No. I wanted to be a fashion designer. Fashion seemed more realistic than being an artist. I wanted to be trained in how to make garments.

LEHRER: Does the interest in fashion come from creating something with an application? You can wear clothes and engage with garments in a way that you can’t with art.

BARROW: I don’t think I thought about the bigger picture. I’ve always illustrated the clothes I’ve made. I’ve enjoyed it. But now is the first time I’ve ever done canvases, which is really fun.

LEHRER: I’m sure. How does it feel in comparison?

BARROW: I think it’s a lot more confrontational. When someone wears clothes, they can hide. Namely, it changes for each viewer and wearer. I present models with their hair and makeup done. There’s a whole [aura] around it. People take what they want from fashion and use it in different ways. Plus, people need to wear clothes. With art, they’re just looking at that one thing. People can’t really interact with it. They can’t interrupt it in any way. It’s different.

LEHRER: Does it feel more vulnerable to have your images hanging on a wall than it does when making clothes?

BARROW: It feels equal. It’s hard to make clothes because you have to worry about everything – the fit, money, time. I don’t know the art industry quite yet, but it feels like you always have to prove yourself in the fashion world. There are so many people trying to do it. With the art, I don’t feel as much of that. That might be because I’m in an interesting position, having my own gallery show now. It might be different for me.

LEHRER: Everyone always talks about this connection between fashion and art. Usually, it’s just a brand taking an artist they like and turning their work into prints. Whereas, I feel like your garment work has been a vehicle for art. Do you agree with that?

BARROW: Yeah, I think so. I want to be taken seriously as an artist. Each garment is a whole presentation with its own concept. The concept that I just did was the “retrospective,” which was taking references from every era from history rather than one. Each garment made up the bigger picture.

LEHRER: I know you are friends with Reba Maybury (editor of outsider art and body mod mag Sang Bleu). I follow all your friends’ Instagram accounts. Your fashion brand is tied to these more subversive projects. Do you feel like a part of a loosely affiliated collective?

BARROW: Yeah, maybe. I feel like it’s coming to the surface now. There’s always been a strong group. We’re also just hanging out together, doing whatever. So that’s good. I actually want to come to New York.

LEHRER: To live or to visit?

BARROW: To live for a bit, I don’t know. Maybe three months.

LEHRER: People associate New York with being the most commercial in terms of fashion. At the same time, we have these really extreme brands – Ekhaus Latta, Moses Gauntlett Cheng. There’s this whole new thing going on that might fit in with what you’re doing.

BARROW: I think I’ll come and hang out with some of those guys. London feels a little stale at the moment. But that could be me right now.

LEHRER: People always talk shit about the city they live in.

BARROW: I feel like people don’t like London anymore. It’s so expensive. There’s less opportunity for young people. It’s harder because we have to pay huge student fees now. We’ve got really shit government at the moment.

LEHRER: We’re in a similar boat.

BARROW: No, because Bernie will win.

LEHRER: I hope so. Also, about the show, I want to talk to you about what your idea was around the “cleansing aspect” of the shower.

BARROW: I feel, personally, that I don’t hold onto anything sacred. I don’t have many beliefs. The only one I kind of have is self-preservation. I worry about social situations. It’s this social thing, rather than religion. I don’t have that much faith. But it’s not pessimistic. The characters in it are quite cute, and I wanted it to feel quite cute. It’s quite commercial, like cartoons in an advert or something like that.

LEHRER: So you’re not religious or spiritual at all?

BARROW: No. But I hate saying that. It makes me feel really sad and guilty. My parents made me go to church every day until I was 12. Some kids saw me going to church and started picking on me about it. It was weird.

LEHRER: So the shower is cleansing yourself of all the bullshit around you?

BARROW: It’s cleansing yourself of yourself and getting reborn every day.

LEHRER: You said your first reference was the anxiety of modern British life. Where do you think that anxiety is rooted?

BARROW: Social. People worry about being accepted, being normal, and fitting into a certain social scene. That seems like the main concern for young people right now, rather than worrying about what’s going to happen to them after they die. Now, we know everything, so it’s all about worrying about yourself.

LEHRER: That’s interesting. Now that we know that we’re going to be dead, all we worry about is who we are when we’re alive, who thinks we’re cool. Running a fashion brand and putting an exhibition together at the same time is a ton of work. Where do you think that work ethic comes from?

BARROW: I know how hard it is to do the two and continue making something good. I work as hard as possible. I don’t take it for granted. I haven’t had a family that has gotten me into places. I came from the north and I’ve tried to make it on my own.

LEHRER: I just read an interview you did with Eloise Parry in Heroine Magazine. You two talk about bonding over a Slayer patch. It got me thinking about your work. Aside from a few designers, when brands reference underground subculture, it’s always the same stuff. A Peter Saville graphic here, a Bowie reference there. You seem to really know music and subculture. Do you ever feel at odds with your interests and what most high fashion is trying to express?

BARROW: I think if you know about subculture, you know what people are not going to like and what you should use. One should respect that genre and subculture. People will be like, “Punk fashion: that’s what I’m trying to do,” and it doesn’t look punk anymore. But that’s a good thing! That’s real punk, rather than going for something that looks like “punk.” That’s real subculture.

LEHRER: When you look at Chris Brown wearing a studded leather jacket, you think, 'how punk could a studded leather jacket actually be?'

BARROW: But that’s the thing. ‘70s punk fashion isn’t punk anymore. Being punk now is being creative and new. It’s trying to push boundaries.

LEHRER: Do you think the Internet is collapsing subculture, combining and spreading it out? Do you think it’s a good thing that the focus is more on the individual? Like, someone can go online and find out about every type of music and decide what they like.

BARROW: I think so, yeah. I think it’s hard to create and be a part of a subculture now. It’s all nostalgia. There’s no music subculture now that has come from completely nothing, maybe Trap. It’s all about the individual. I think it’s a shame not to be an individual in this world.

LEHRER: You seem like someone who likes to fill up her head with different culture. Have you always been like that?

BARROW: Yeah, ever since I was 14. I was very quiet. My parents only liked popular culture and chart music. I started dressing quite strange at school. I would wear weird things with my uniform to dress it up a bit.

LEHRER: What were the first metal and punk bands you liked?

BARROW: I used to really like Carcass, when I was like 16. That was quite strange. One of them is from where I’m from. I liked New York Dolls. I liked Black Flag. I liked Sonic Youth. All the classic ones, I think.

LEHRER: To me, it seems like the name Claire Barrow could be associated with a wide scope of creativity. It couldn’t just be a fashion brand. It could be art. I know you said you want to do performance. Would you ever see your end game as the name Claire Barrow being associated with a whole dearth of culture and creativity?

BARROW: Yeah, that’s what I’m going towards now. I’m actually skipping a collection. That’s going to be weird. Everyone’s going to be mad, which is fine. That’s my life. I just want to do a bit of everything, honestly. And that’s so scary. It’s hard to make any money if you haven’t got a set job. But I want to go into different areas now.  

LEHRER: The fashion calendar feels like it’s going to collapse anyways.

BARROW: I don’t know if it will. People say it, but how could it actually collapse?

LEHRER: I know. People keep buying clothes.

BARROW: Half the fashion industry consists of these really commercial brands that no one’s heard of, but they have really rich customers. To rich people, there’s no problem.

LEHRER: There are so many amazing designers coming out of different cities. It’s a tragedy that we have this calendar that doesn’t seem conducive to new talent.

BARROW: The biggest problem is the new talent. How can you fund it? Let’s see what happens. That’s kind of why I want to take a break, to figure out that sort of thing. How could I do a couture thing where I only show a few pieces? It’s kind of a way to get your power back.

LEHRER: Did you find that painting for art gave you more ideas for fashion?

BARROW: It's made me feel the opposite. It’s given me more ideas for art.

Click here to visit Claire Barrow's site to view current collections and stockists. Text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Photographs by Flo Kohl. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Mad About The Boy: An Interview With SHOWStudio Editor Lou Stoppard

With the massive outpour of round the clock fashion coverage and inundation, SHOWStudio editor’s Lou Stoppard still firmly stands out. As a writer, broadcaster, and curator, Stoppard offers both a conceptual understanding of fashion as well as an open-mindedness to the changes in the industry that allows her work a warm resonance that rings true throughout the media. As SHOWstudio editor, Stoppard has picked the brains of designers ranging from Nasir Mazhar, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Public School, Cottweiler, and many more. Perhaps most infamously, Stoppard was granted a two-hour interview with Kanye West following his Yeezy Season 2 presentation. In all her interviews, Stoppard manages to ask thoughtful and conceptual questions while still putting her subjects emotionally at ease. As a result, her video interviews offer true portals into the inner-workings of designers’ brains.

Lou Stoppard’s exhibition Mad About the Boy will be showing at Fashion Space Gallery London until April 2. Stoppard curated the exhibition as an exploration of the concept of youth in the fashion industry, specifically how the idea of the teenage boy is constructed through fashion collections and images. The exhibition combines the contributions of designers such as Raf Simons, Hedi Slimane, Gosha, Jun Takahashi, JW Anderson and others with those of artists and image makers like Larry Clark, Nick Knight, Judy Blame, Mark Leckey and others to construct and break down the fantasy of the teenage boy.

Stoppard took the time to answer some questions we had about the exhibition.

Adam Lehrer: Do you think that the ideas presented by designers such as Raf have been positive in shifting ideals of masculinity at large?

Stoppard: I think it’s definitely becoming easier for men to say they are interested in “fashion.” Alex Bilmes, editor of Esquire, talked about this when I interviewed him for SHOWstudio’s In Fashion series. He mentioned that for a long time men felt comfortable saying they were interested in “style” but not “fashion.” [The idea of fashion] felt fey or niche. I think that has changed. Partly this is due to the spotlight on menswear and with the way that designers are speaking to men. Designers like Raf often draw on obsessions or ideas that tap into a collective consciousness: certain musical genres, films, and books (you saw that particularly with the David Lynch tribute at his [Fall-Winter 2016 show). I think menswear designers of late often explore rites of passage and themes of growing up that tap into men’s sense of their own masculinity. There’s also a wide range of different views of ‘manhood’ presented in menswear- much wider than the vision of femininity presented by womenswear.

"I do think that part of the thing people are obsessed with to do with youth is this idea of freedom: freedom to create, freedom to reinvent, freedom of indemnity. And part of that is the notion of experimentation that people tie to youth."

Lehrer: Do you find that there is ever disconnect between how male teenagers are presented in fashion and how actual teenagers in real life dress and what they are interested in?

Stoppard: Of course. Though I think certain rites of passage or events and ideas all people connected with as a youth – sex, space, social groups etc – crop up again and again in fashion’s depiction of the boy.

Lehrer: What is it about youth that you think so fascinates fashion?

Stoppard: That’s sort of what I’m trying to explore with the exhibition. I think to some extent it’s aesthetic: fashion loves a slim and lithe body. On the other hand it’s more abstract: youth is fleeting which appeals to an industry that is all about change.

Lehrer: You've said there is an element of nostalgia in the ideas of youth in fashion, can that ever be stunting to a creative process? 

Stoppard: I think nostalgia is, to a degree, inevitable. Designers tirelessly reference their obsessions, which do tend to be formed during formative, youthful years. They often reference the things that first got them interested in fashion and style; bands, icons, clubs and so on. To a degree it’s about looking back but it’s also about reinventing. They make things the way they wanted them to be, or create characters they wished they could have been. You see that a lot in the work of people like Jun Takahashi and Hedi Slimane.

Lehrer: I know you quite like wearing certain menswear brands, do you think the explorations of youth in menswear has led to this gender fluidity in the products sold by high fashion brands?

Stoppard: I do think that part of the thing people are obsessed with to do with youth is this idea of freedom: freedom to create, freedom to reinvent, freedom of indemnity. And part of that is the notion of experimentation that people tie to youth. There is a whole section of the exhibition about gender fluidity. When you look at the way someone like Alessandro Michele at Gucci looks at gender it is very much tied to the freedom of the kid.

Lehrer: Was there anything particular about the work of Tony Hornecker that you thought he could add to the overall feel of the exhibition?

Stoppard: Well Tony did the set for all those original Meadham Kirchhoff presentations and shows, and I knew that I wanted to restage a bit of their SS 13 menswear presentation, which is one of the most beautiful and intelligent fashion displays I’ve ever seen, so working with Tony just felt so apt. Ben Kirchhoff also suggested Tony as being perfect to handle the restaging, so obviously it felt respectful.

Lehrer: I know the exhibition explores different ways that the male youth has been portrayed in fashion, but is there any singular idea throughout the various images that you feel could sum up the entire idea of the exhibition?

Stoppard: It’s about cycles and tropes, in a way, I suppose.

Lehrer: Do you believe youth in fashion will always be a concept heavily explored, or will we move on at some point?

Stoppard: Almost every designer draws on their own life and formative influences, so I think youth will always be there in fashion, even if it’s only due to creatives reflecting. 

Mad About The Boy, curated by Lou Stoppard, will be on view until April 2 at Fashion Space Gallery at the London College of Fashion, 20 John Princes Street. Text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Photograph by Flo Kohl. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE