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July 3, 2017

Interstellar Overplaid- An Interview with the Masters of the Plaidiverse, JCRT

JCRT
Robert Tagliapietra (left in "Where The Wild Things Are" plaid; Jeffrey Costello (right) in "One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest" plaid against "Loveless" by MBV plaid
Photography by Noah Fecks; Styling by Mitch Eky


Tailors extraordinaire Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra are making the world over in their image—one exquisite shirt at a time


By LD Beghtol


I first encountered Jeffrey Costello in the credits for the band Book of Love’s self-titled debut album (Sire, 1986), along with English design god/Malcolm McLaren protégé Nick Egan (the Clash, Bow Wow Wow, Culture Club, etc.), the curiously named producer Ivan Ivan, and some guy named Stephen Tashjian,* who had, apparently, drawn the “wacky lettering” for the record’s playful packaging. Of course, I thought, only a young and pretty New York synthpop band whose delirious first single, “Boy,” was still being played non-stop in boybars across the country would give their costumier equal billing with the other fabulous folks they work and play with. But just who is this Jeffrey Costello fellow? I wondered—and where might I lay my hands on that wonderful brocade jacket the boy in the band wears? So many questions. Sadly, in those dark days with no internet for researching such burning issues, answers remained elusive...

Flash forward to the late-oughties, when various friends began emailing me pictures and links to stories about womenswear designers Costello Tagliapietra, whose beautifully cut, deceptively simple garments of luxe silk jersey and such were making quite a splash on the runway and in the fashion press. Awards and honors soon followed, as did quirky collaborations with Uniqlo and Kiehl’s. But, lovely as they were, it wasn’t the duo’s frocks that caught my admittedly jaundiced eye; rather: 1). Surely this Costello must be the same guy whose name I’d filed away for further research some 20 years ago, and 2). He and his partner Robert Tagliapietra looked like two giant, immaculately groomed, slightly bewildered lumberjacks in their coordinated uniforms of aggressive plaid shirts, sturdy work boots, jeans (with racing stripe on the inseam!) and natty grosgrain-trimmed cardigans. No, no—I don’t actually know them, I’d tell my bemused friends, I don’t move in such exalted circles. And no, we don’t all know each other. But I’d certainly seen them in the wilds of Chelsea and deepest Brooklyn over the years, and had often wondered just who these heavenly creatures—obviously so much more dapper (and smarter, I hoped) than the average Bear™—could possibly be. Well here were those two adorable weirdos doing work so interesting that the trend-obsessed world had somehow taken notice. And soon, their website promised, they’d be launching a menswear collection under the name JCRT.

Then just like that, in the spring of 2016, they did—with a beautifully conceived range of shirts, plus select accessories including ties, handkerchiefs, market bags, dog collars and such—all in their unique signature plaids. With JCRT, Mssrs Costello & Tagliapietra have created more than just a line of handsome and well-made shirts—they’ve opened a portal for us to a fantastical world they call the Plaidiverse, where art and technology play together freely in a visionary landscape. Via the wonders of modern electronic media, I recently attempted to discover the story behind the story of that shining realm.

LDB: Greetings, gentlemen. Exactly when and how did you discover the Plaidiverse? And what were you wearing at the time?

JCRT: New York, 1994; solids… Though we understand more now. We know that deep inside every solid is a microplaid ready to bloom and that the solid-colored t-shirts we were wearing when we met were secretly just as plaid as the flannels we had tied around our waists.

LDB: In my mind the Plaidiverse is sort of a mash-up of The Wizard of Oz and the Alice books—but with a better soundtrack and hopefully less bloodshed. And a lot more plaid, of course. For those poor souls who have yet to visit your brave new world, how does the Plaidiverse differ from our dreary existence here on Earth?

JCRT: Imagine Willy Wonka as a shirtmaker. Somewhere deep in the mountains there is huge collection of levers and buttons and dials jutting out of a monstrous machine—standing on spindly checked legs—that spits out fabric printed with full shirts on it. All the while a small army of plaid-clad workers are chanting a somewhat spirited tune as they cut out each shirt shape and walk them to the machines with threads and needles while little stick robots roam the floor with our faces broadcasted onto them—

LDB: Ooh, like Tony Ousler!

JCRT: —watching everything unfold from miles away. This is how the Plaidiverse operates.

LDB: Mysterioso! Tell me, is there a secret password needed to gain admittance? A handshake? Line dance?

JCRT: This runs so much deeper than the Freemasons or The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Crowley spoke of it as part of the fabric of the Universe after a particularly long ritual involving a famous political family’s origins. Plaid is a part of your DNA as each molecule is a plaid made up of tiny plaid quarks colliding. It is the aether that surrounds you. It is the plaid blood that courses through your system… Though we may yet create a cryptic cypher to allow a certain group of enterprising decoders the ability to create their own plaids.

LDB: I will certainly need the decoder ring. Tell me: Who is your ideal recruit/subject/citizen for JCRT Team Plaid?

JCRT: We are equal opportunity plaiders.

LDB: Progressives, I see. Dreary rationalists have opined that the Plaidiverse is a myth dreamed up by certain 19th-century European Romantic-era novelists to perpetuate a false sense of nationalistic identity while subtly reinforcing the dynastic monarchy’s totalitarian regime. And yet your shirts embody a rare spirit of modern, realistic sizing and perfect fit—unisex, from XS to 4XL—without sacrificing style or detail. How did this democratic approach arise?

JCRT: Ah, yes—this is the analog process that we have installed at JCRT. The plaid nanobots have not been assigned the sewing patterns and therefore cannot create the gray goo that builds up on all other shirt companies. JCRT has a secret antivirus to defend the world against this nanobot apocalypse… We are both tailors and have drafted each size individually, and can continue to alter and adjust them as we listen to our customers. There will be no flying squirrel-like armpits for the big sizes and no micro sleeves for the smaller sizes…

That is, unless we want them.

LDB: That’s inspiring. And only a little terrifying. Assuming you only use your powers for good, how can your plaids save the world?

JCRT: Our partners have provided us access to a factory with the same machines that Hermès uses. With our own facilities, we can control how the sewers, cutters and printers are treated, and we can create experts rather than mere “workers.” We are building a company that is not only ethically thoughtful but also ecologically minded, all the while allowing us to do as few or as many plaids as we want. Without the limitations most clothing companies have (i.e. picking plaids from a limited number of mills, being allowed to only change a color or two and beholden to thousands of meters of fabric), we now have the unique ability to print whatever we like, using as much ink as we want—with zero waste—and deliver exactly what we intended!

LDB: So would you say the Plaidiverse is a continuum or a time line?

JCRT: Time as we know it no longer exists in the Plaidiverse. The timeline has folded in upon itself. Kesha is charting with the Smiths and Lieutenant Ripley is hunting aliens at the same time that we are reverse-engineering Roswell debris.

LDB: Heady stuff for the plaiderati. How have you applied these esoteric technologies to the creation of your plaids and garments?

JCRT: Traditional pattern-making software uses outdated algorithms that make for convoluted, inaccurate measurements as the shirt sizes increase. To combat this, we have developed new software to create the shirts exactly the way we want them to be. Think of our work as a mix of analog and digital: Each pattern is drafted by hand. Then each pattern is digitized in a program we developed to ensure the plaids are aligned perfectly. Then they are printed. Then cut and sewn individually—all by hand.

LDB: So, you aren’t control freaks after all! Are there esoteric messages hidden in your designs, as in John Carpenter’s They Live? If so, what do they say?

JCRT: Stay tuned! We have developed a scannable code that will be printed on the fabric beginning in September-ish. If you find it, something interesting just might happen.

LDB: Curioser and curioser. Happily, I love mysteries. It is said that true innovators are noted for drawing inspiration from the strangest things: falling apples, late-night Welsh rarebit orgies, Yoko Ono, etc. What makes you skip to the drawing board and get to plaiding in earnest?

JCRT: Three Women, Kate Bush, Hockney, William Gibson, video games, and walks in the woods.

LDB: That sounds like a personal ad I’d answer. But I digress: Who are the principal deities in the JCRT Pantheon?

JCRT: Ganesha surely plaids.

LDB: Surely. Do you know, many of the creative types I’ve interviewed over the years have invoked Ganesha. I wonder why that is? Anyhow, does it ever get lonely out there, dreaming up new JCRT plaids to heal the moribund world? And how do you two stay sane, shuttling between the two realms?

JCRT: We never said we were sane. And we realized shortly into this career that there is rarely time off.

LDB: For those who’ve fallen prey to your—we hope benevolent—world domination plans, what have you in store?

JCRT: Plaid pets, plaid phones, plaid friends, plaid cars, invisible plaids, macro plaids, micro plaids, plaid plants, plaid pants, plaid underwear, plaid perfume.

LDB: Excellent—I’ve always been curious about what caledoniaphobia smells like. Finally, as official ambassadors from the Plaidiverse, have you any words of wisdom for neophytes hoping to make the leap to sartorial immortality?

JCRT: Turn on, tune in, drop out. Plaid.

Enter the Plaidiverse here.


The JCRT Plaid Library (2017 Edition)

Listed alphabetically by title


1984

1. 1984 by George Orwell (Secker & Warburg, 1943)


Inspired by Shepard Fairey’s darkly atmospheric cover for the 2008 Penguin UK edition.

“Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtpolice, thought crime… hey, these words sound an awful lot like our current state of fake news, the fight for net neutrality, celebrity presidents and cyber surveillance—plus the cover is gorgeous.” —Robert Tagliapetra


JCRT

2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (Heinemann, 1963)

Based on Shirley Tucker’s brutalist cover for the 1963 Faber edition.

The Bell Jar was perfect reading material for when I locked myself in my room during my moody teenage years. Jeez, it’s depressing as fuck.” —Jeffrey Costello


JCRT

3. Catcher In the Rye by JD Salinger (Little, Brown & Co, 1951)


An epic reimagining of E. Michael Mitchell’s fiery first-edition cover.

“Great go-to and a beautiful cover.” —JC


JCRT

4. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (William Heinemann, 1962)

A beautifully garish—ultraviolent, even—translation of David Pelham’s stylized illustration for the 1981 Penguin UK paperback edition.

“I read this because I loved the movie, and now I watch the movie because I love the book.”—RT


JCRT

5. Cosmos by Carl Sagan (Random House, 1980)


Inspired by Adolf Schaller’s iconic cover for the book that—rumor has it—contains a map of the Plaidiverse.

“Carl Sagan is and will always be comfort food for us. His voice and words make us feel firmly planted to the earth and floating out into space at the same time.”—RT


JCRT

6. Neuromancer by William Gibson (Ace, 1984)


One of the library’s darkest entries—based on James Warhola’s first-edition cover—this plaid uses the cover’s acid green grid to articulate and contain the intricate interplay of the redpurpleblue squares.

“I took a cyberpunk class at the New School that introduced this book to me and every time I reread it more and more of it seems relevant and normalized.” —RT


JCRT

7. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (Viking Press, 1957)


JCRT’s graphic remix of Bill English’s AbEx cover design transforms its chaotic mid-century slashes into an orderly grid of true Americana.

On The Road inspired me to find myself by hitching cross country when I was 17 years old.”—JC


JCRT

8. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (Viking Press, 1962)


The brightest and most intoxicating plaid in the collection, from Paul Bacon’s painterly first-edition cover.

“Throughout my high school years I had nightmares of Nurse Ratched sending me in for shock therapy and a lobotomy after reading One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Seriously freaks me out… kind of the same way Dancer in The Dark does.” —JC


JCRT

9. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (Delacorte, 1969)


Based on the engagingly awkward, mostly-type cover for the first edition by Paul Bacon —his second cover to be featured in this series. Note: Bacon designed some six thousand book covers during his long career, including those for blockbusters Ragtime, The Confessions of Nat Turner, and Portnoy’s Complaint.

“Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors and Slaughterhouse Five perfectly melds alien abduction, time travel and WW2. —JC


JCRT

10. The Stand by Stephen King (Doubleday, 1978)


Based on John Cayea’s cover art for the first edition, before horror novels were forced out to market in uniformly grim black covers with huge foil-stamped titles.

“The book has always been what I would imagine life would be like if I were to live through an apocalyptic, end-of-the-world scenario. I used to try to copy the cover art from the copy my father had when I was a kid.” —RT


JCRT

11. The Stranger by Albert Camus (Gallimard, 1942)


Inspired by the 1972 second English edition’s surreally menacing cover image (artist unknown). FYI: The typeface is Serif Gothic, created by New York graphic design immortals Herb Lubalin and Tony DeSpigna in 1972.

“I picked this book up because of The Cure’s 'Killing an Arab' song and because the cover was so fucking brilliant! Ended up using his words for my high school senior quote. I do not know what this says about me now.” —RT


JCRT

12. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (Harper & Row, 1963)


A loving homage to first edition cover Maurice Sendak’s his masterpiece—a Caldecott Medal winner.

“Sendak made me want to be an illustrator.” —RT


*AKA legendary painter/performer Tabboo!—whose typography also graces the World Clique by Deee-Lite (Elektra, 1990), and whose comic genius has graced both the Wigstock stage and movie.



After 17 years in Bright Young Bushwick, LD Beghtol recently fled for Weehawken NJ, where there are no manbuns and laptop DJs in restaurants, and where the slow death that is the L train no longer plagues him. He makes music under many guises, including (but not limited to) Flare Acoustic Arts League, LD & the New Criticism and moth wranglers; he is also a featured vocalist on the Magnetic Fields' 1999 indie pop happening, 69 Love Songs. Like St Oscar, Beghtol “likes people better than principles”—but, unlike that venerable figure, he likes people with Scotch whisky best of all.


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Largehearted Boy's 2017 Summer Reading Suggestions

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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