Alex Vann is a student at the University of Redlands pursuing a career in street fashion. Although still just a college student, he has already designed an insane amount of merchandise, including co-designing the Upstream Ideas Logo. From a humble interest in skater clothes as a kid to becoming immersed in the fashion trends of both LA and London, Vann’s attention to detail and appreciation of social nuance has given him the gift to craft designs that evoke a great deal of associations with just a few simple lines. He is also the author of one of Upstream’s most popular articles, From LA to London: Celebrity Influence on Fashion Today. Vann recently answered a few questions about his interests, his plans, and his capacity to make amazing graphics. As he continues to pursue a career in street fashion, we are all enthralled to see whatever his newest project might be.
What first motivated you to pursue graphic design?
I would definitely say that it all started with skateboarding. When I was around 13 I really got into skate-culture; not just skateboarding itself but the lifestyle, the “laid back-ness” of it all, and especially the art and fashion aspects. When I wasn’t actually skateboarding I would spend hours on hours on the computer just staring at deck and apparel designs, wishing I was a pro skater. My love for skate fashion, as well as my eventual/consequential love for punk music/fashion, led me to my love of street fashion. I started following a lot of the same brands that my favorite skateboarders supported (Obey, The Hundreds, RVCA, etc.). From there I began to get more into rap and hip-hop and would always hear rappers like A$AP Rocky and 2 Chainz dropping verses about Alexander Wang and Maison Margiela; high fashion designers who with the help of hip-hop and street culture have been bridging the gap between “upscale” and “street” fashion. This opened me up to a whole new realm of fashion and increased my passion for it even more so. In the beginning of my college experience at the University of Redlands in the Los Angeles, California area I had the tendency to look at and kind of mildly critique the shirt designs of other students, and in some cases wouldn’t necessarily be all too impressed personally (Disclaimer: By no means is my “fashion sense” better than anyone else’s. Fashion is subjective which is what makes it so exciting!). I’d see these designs and in my head always think “I bet I could totally think of something that might a bit cooler/modern” but I had no idea how to design ANYTHING. AT ALL (*Laughs*). From there, I started making designs for my fraternity just using t-shirt design websites and eventually, with some support and encouragement from my Mom and close friends, took my first art class and fell head-over-heels for the mistress that is “graphic design.” It was at that point in the second semester of my sophomore year in college when I realized that fashion and design were truly two of the only things I am wholeheartedly passionate about.
What graphic design projects that you’ve done have been the most satisfying?
Three stick out to me right now:
Even though I love street fashion and graphic t-shirt design, logo and identity projects have personally became my favorite projects. One of my first identities was a logo design for Only NY©, a street wear company based in New York that takes influence from Manhattan/New York cultures and lifestyles.
This is a piece I named “Coming to Terms” (above). Something I love about art is its ability to act as a forum where you can freely express feelings and emotions in whatever way you deem fit.
Lastly, for one of my most recent projects I fully constructed a 115 page book of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe; from all the illustrations, to formatting all the text, to the binding of the actually book. Definitely one of my biggest personal accomplishments.
How have the places that you have grown up and studied influenced what you think is visually appealing?
Living the majority of my life in California I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to a variety of different cultures that have all influenced my visual preferences—naturally skate and street/graffiti culture in particular having a huge influence. Artists like Mark Gonzales (professional skateboarder) and Keith Haring have definitely given me an appreciation of modern “pop” art and have inspired me to create work that is “honest”—creating genuine visual interpretations of personal feelings, views and ideas.
Studying abroad in London this past winter has definitely given me a huge appreciation for minimalism as well. I would always walk around in the city and just pay attention to logos and flyers, everything was so clean and it never felt like too much or too little. One of my favorite designers, Paul Rand, also had tendencies to create work with minimalist aesthetics; minimalism has definitely become a reoccurring theme in a lot of my work.
What do you hope to do upon graduating?
I hope to either join a design firm or to work/intern for a street wear company doing design, marketing, or PR. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve come to the realization that fashion and design are honestly the two things that I truly feel passionate about; after graduation my goal is to do everything in my power to make my passions into my job.
What fashion trends/designers particularly impress you?
Though it’s dying, I’ve definitely been impressed by the street goth style in street fashion right now and how long it’s been able to thrive. Street goth style uses a fair amount of minimalism and as someone whose favorite colors are anything in grey scale (and forest green) I appreciate the heavy use of black, leather, and Gothic imagery. Though I by no means would consider myself a “street goth,” I’ve definitely picked out a few things here and there from the style that influence my own personal style. I’ve also been pretty stoked on how popular joggers (tapered sweatpants) have been as of late. Currently they’ve definitely been the biggest bridge between casual/street wear and smart wear (button up shirts, more formal shoes/boots, etc.); I personally own a pair of Zespy Track Pants from I Love Ugly©, a company based in New Zealand, and they are the comfiest things of all time!
What do you hope to be dong in five years time?
In five years’ time I hope to be working for a strong street wear company such as Supreme© or 10 Deep© or in a solidified position at a small to medium-sized design firm and on the track to eventually become an art director.
Do you think that the University of Redlands has prepared you well for that aspiration?
I would say so; taking design courses at the U of R has not only taught me the “ins and outs” of designs but has also taught me the horribly important lesson that art is subjective. It was important for me to realize that some people will like my designs and some will not. That doesn’t necessarily always mean it’s a bad design, it just means that it’s my design; and there will always be something special about that fact.
If you could work with any person on any creative project, who and what would you choose?
I would love to work with Mark Gonzales on literally anything; some kind of art campaign or a set of skateboard designs would be awesome. It would also be interesting if I could somehow revive Paul Rand and work with him on a compilation of identity redesigns for skateboard and street wear companies, that’d be mind-blowingly fun. On the fashion side I would love to work on a fall delivery and look book for street wear companies 10 Deep©, Only NY©, and/or Supreme©.
What projects are you working on now?
I’ve unfortunately been really busy finishing up my junior year and savagely hunting for internships, and other than class projects I haven’t had too much time to just do personal work, so that’s the plan; Hopefully create some more work for my portfolio! Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the concepts of romance and the idea of love/relationships so I might be going in that direction for a hot minute.
Where can people see a showcase of what you’ve already done?
You can find my online portfolio at Alex Vann Designs.
I’m constantly updating it with new work, so be sure to stay tuned!