Levi's, Casinos, and London: In The Studio with Collin Casino

Jun 22, 2018 - Jun 29, 2018Brick Lane Gallery, London

Collin Casino, based out of Oakland, California, is a self-proclaimed art school dropout that cultivates his own personal style as an artist. He recently sat down with Santana Bellas, a photographer from Oakland who we interviewed back in February, to discuss his taste for Levi's denim, casinos, and his show, Whistle, at Brick Lane Gallery in London.

1 SB

Santana Bellas: Denim and casinos are definitely your thing. Have you always had a connection to them?
Collin Casino: It’s funny, the whole reason I got into fashion design is that I was working on this pair of Levi’s, bleaching and distressing them, and I fucked up and ripped a hole way too big. I tried to sew a patch in them by hand with some rusted needle I found in my Yiayia’s sewing box; looked horrible. So I hit up my good friend Vanessa who went to school for fashion design and asked her to teach me how to use a machine. She taught me the basics of how to adjust the tension, thread a bobbin, etc… Patched up those Levi’s; a floating lightbulb turned on above my head.

I took what Vanessa taught me and ran with it. I started doing custom free motion embroidery on these vintage Levi’s jackets and wearing them to work. My friends started asking me to make jackets for them. It was like a snowball effect. Next thing you know I have 25+ jackets hanging on a rack in my makeshift basement studio.

As far as the casinos go, that roots back to my childhood. Growing up in Lake Tahoe, there really weren’t sidewalks. We had a small skatepark but street skating was very limited, but we did what we could and found whatever hubbas and stair sets were around. At Stateline, the border of California and Nevada, there were four casinos. That was our stomping ground. There was a newly built Marriott resort full of cute tourist girls, smooth sidewalks, a taco bell, arcades.. what else could you want as a teenager? All we wanted to do was skate, cruise around, steal Cinnabon, film each other and make edits for youtube, throwing up shitty tags on walls of abandoned hotels that said shit like “CASINO LIVES” or “CASINO NEVER DIES.” So we called ourselves Casino, got casino tats, burnt cigarettes out into each other's hands for initiation and shit; we were our own little cult.

So it stuck with me; Casino. Gambling. Life. The risks we all take. Chances. Its a roll of the dice.

16 AG

You do so much and you're a man of many trades. What lead you to have a stronger desire in fashion?
Back to what I was talking about previously, I never really had any preemptive notion behind any type of career in fashion design. It actually took me a while to consider myself a designer. It honestly has just been an outlet for me. I just knew if I wanted to follow through and start a brand, I wasn’t about to just design graphics and get them printed on pre-made blanks and just put some tags on it. I had to do it all and had to understand the ins and outs of it all, and it had to be right. I learned how to create patterns, I’m sourcing my own fabrics, cutting the pieces, constructing the garments, dyeing them by hand, doing all the screen printing. I’m a one-man band. I’ve worked with other brands before but more on a media end, shooting lookbooks, conceptualizing editorials, going to Agenda and Capsule and pushing the collections. Now I’m just applying everything I’ve learned and then some, and still every day I’m learning more. Still shooting all my own lookbooks in 35, 120 and super 8mm film.

At the end of the day, I like making clothes because clothes make people feel good. Personally, I stopped trying to wear brands like Supreme because I was never trying to be out and run into someone wearing the same hat or hoody as me. So I made my own shit. One off, one of one, custom, handmade. Some shit you can’t buy on Fairfax.

14 AG

Touching on the photoshoot that we did together. What are the significances behind some of the items that were photographed?
All of the pieces from the Electric Kool-Aid shoot, at the time, were the top picks of my one-off collection. The shoot took place on a bus that I had lit up with some gels, the whole bus glowing in purple, red and blue lights, and there were 7 or 8 models, each close friends of mine who I hand-picked because of their own personal style that stood out to me. So I brought a bunch of pieces and just kinda had each person pick out their own selects and style them in their own way. I guess the individual pieces didn’t have any specific significance other than the fact that you could incorporate them into whatever style you want, however you want. For all walks of life.

8 AG

Whistle, why did you and Arman Golemohammadi choose that name for your show?
It took a bit of brainstorming for us to come up with a name for the show. Arman has been working on a project documenting bike life and people riding dirt bikes and quads throughout city streets and whatnot. He was taking a trip down to LA so I linked him with my good homie, Myagi. Myagi then introduced Arman to some of the other homies out in the I.E. Long story short, after shooting some photos of people riding bikes out in San Bernardino, they were kicking it at a barber shop and Arman asks Myagi, “Hey Myagi, I wanna take some pictures of people with guns, do you know anybody?” Myagi picks up his phone, the first person he calls he says “Yo Chino, you got the whistle on you?”

I remember hearing this story from both Arman and Myagi separately and just thinking how hilarious it was. Arman thought it was hilarious. Myagi thought it was hilarious. Both of their stories strayed a bit. But I got the gist and there it was, we found the name of our show.

Whistle; some shit that's bound to grab your attention.

15 AG

You could have had Whistle here in America, but you two decided to do this show in London, why is that?
Simply put, just trying to broaden my horizons. People back home seemed to be a bit less interested in the time I put in my craft until they started to hear me talk about doing a show in London. Now I’m here, people still can’t believe it, I still can’t believe it, and when this is all said an done and I go back to the states to do a show, the result is going to be far more than it would have been had I just stayed at home and put something together in the Bay. Also, its new for people here. As I’ve been cruising around to local coffee shops and boutiques talking to people and passing out flyers, they seem to be pretty intrigued at the fact that I came all the way from California just to put on an art show.

13 AG

This is your first gallery show, what has the process been for you?
The process has been wild. Seems a bit surreal to me now that the opening reception is happening so soon. I remember a year ago talking with Arman about putting this show together, it literally went from a conversation of us talking about our first experiences in London last summer, to “Yo, we should do a show in London.” Next thing you know we’re looking up galleries overseas. The first gallery to get back to us was Brick Lane. From planning the duration of our trip to finding an Airbnb for two months, figuring out our budgeting, compiling the work we wanted to showcase and the process of creating said work… I don’t think we really knew what we were getting ourselves into initially. This has been an immense learning experience for the both of us. Needless to say, I’m happy to have experienced this all with Arman. A lot of people talk about ideas, few people have the drive to execute them. He is one of the few, and I wouldn’t be here doing this without him.

17 SB

What do you want people to take away after experiencing your show?
To be completely honest, I have no expectations of what anyone can or will take away from the show. I’ve put a lot into it, and I know the reaction is going to be different from everyone. Some people are going to be thoroughly impressed, some people are going to walk right past the windows and barely peer inside. I just hope that the people who do come inside, can see the hard work and dedication that we put into this, and find some inspiration within it, take that inspiration and go create some shit. I hope to inspire people.

Whistle will be on exhibit from June 22nd - 29th at The Brick Lane Gallery in London, UK. All photos by Santana Bellas