A creative disruptor in more ways than one, HERON PRESTON merges high and low, reality and artifice. The genre-fusing designer tells Emma Elwick-Bates about his work at the vanguard of environmentally-aware fashion
Photography by Bruno Staub Styling by Clare Byrne
There is nothing that fashion loves more in 2018 than a polymath, and New Yorker Heron Preston, a self-proclaimed “shop kid and skater”, has fast become the most provocative and mindful of the industry’s millennials. A DJ-slash-creative-director-turned-designer, he’s one busy man, but his vision remains consistent and committed. “I need to make my ideas happen,” says Preston from his New York studio. “I have a lot of them,” he adds, his puppy Booboo circling his feet.
In 2004 Preston moved to New York to study at Parsons School of Design; and, perhaps more significantly, it was also the year that he started documenting his world and blogging it. “I picked up a camera and started taking a bunch of photos and videos about my life, then I started moving into expressing myself in other ways, through T-shirts, art and DJing.” Being forward-thinking is in his DNA, and his father encouraged him to spend his junior and senior years at New Technology High School in Napa, California, which received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “It was the first school of its kind. It was a small school, about 200 kids, and every student had a computer,” says Preston, who learnt to code between its Gattaca-style glass walls.
Having founded cult label Been Trill and worked with Nike and Kanye West (on his Yeezy and Life Of Pablo collections), Preston has the somewhat irksome benediction of “influencer” hanging over him. He even called his last collection, shown during Paris menswear this January, Public Figure: “It’s about influencer culture, and the explosion of influencer culture.” However, Preston is using his buzz to elevate one of the industry’s urgent preoccupations – sustainability. In 2016 he started to collaborate on the New York City Department of Sanitation’s uniforms in support of the agency’s zero-waste initiative (aiming to reduce New York’s landfill contributions to zero by 2030). It culminated in a NYFW flash-sale show at the Department of Sanitation’s Salt Shed, where all items were upcycled from donated uniforms. “It really brought the community together, models and workers sharing a beer,” says the 33-year-old.
“My dream is to be 100% upcycled.”
“I’d always asked myself what I really cared about,” said Preston. “How can I apply my interests to something that’s important? Then I was swimming on vacation in Ibiza and this plastic bag brushed up on my arm. I was like: Oh! I care about the environment and keeping the Earth clean.” His “big idea” (also known as HPC x DSNY) was a coup, and the continuing line with New York’s Department of Sanitation became the start of a long-term investigation into sustainable production practices. And with the momentum and sudden sex appeal of sanitation (yes, truly), he struck a deal with the New Guards Group (which produces his friend Virgil Abloh’s Off-White and Palm Angels), and now shows his streetwear line in Paris.
The draw of Preston’s smart take on streetwear is undeniable and also thriving, with men’s and women’s collections mixed together and equally successful. The Italian-made collections reference his personal style, using denim, camouflage prints and a variety of hoodies, exploring the conventions of workwear, and finding the interface of luxury and streetwear. (He has also hooked up with Carhartt.) There is even an out-of-this-world collaboration with Nasa – yes, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – on a capsule of techy outerwear and trackpants. “There were so many guidelines. You can only use a certain colour on a certain background. I used what was called the ‘worm’ logo, which was discontinued in 1992.” Such nostalgia is very recent history indeed, but speaks buoyantly to his Gen-Z following, who celebrate the blurred lines between street and luxury, fake and real. “There’s no finishing line now,” he says. “Worlds collide, and new possibilities, innovations and collaborations arise.”
Next on Preston’s ongoing quest? “Cotton. My brand is taking baby steps with recycling, but it’s becoming a damaging material and it’s from the Earth, and we all wear it.” The Carhartts in his collection are repurposed deadstock material, and he’s gone back to school, taking an internship with sustainability pioneer and designer Eileen Fisher. The quiet and minimal environs of Fisher’s design studio may seem an unexpected place to find one of fashion’s buzziest polymaths, but Preston is keen to credit Fisher as one of the most important trailblazing brands. “My dream,” he says, “is to be 100% upcycled.”
Model: Lera Abova at DNA Model Management. Hair: Shingo Shibata at The Wall Group. Make-up: Stevie Huynh at Bryant Artists. Manicure: Maki Sakamoto at The Wall Group. Casting: Nicola Kast. Photography Assistant: Evan Browning. Fashion Assistant: Hester Hodde. Production: Joey Kuskin at Total Management