The grungy, gritty chaos of cheap plastic shoes and rice noodles seems an unlikely stomping ground for an up-and-coming fashion designer, but it is the perfect place for Oliver Helden. Once a needle laden sweatshop, Oliver’s DIY studio shares the same building as a Chinese brothel, and is tucked beneath the Manhattan bridge on the vaguely marked Monroe Street, unknown to most cabbies, but infamous as the once home of collage artist Ray Johnson. Heldon's former studio was a dark, dingy bare-bulbed basement storage closet in a San Francisco alley, so this squatters sewing factory on an unmapped edge of Chinatown is actually a big step up.
Here, Oliver has the space to spread out on a large cutting table, racks and racks of, well, racks, on which he hangs countless pieces of jackets, shirts, sleeves, ties and pants, among various sketches and designs. Oliver makes clothes that allow people to feel “empowered,” to feel the way they dress- particularly the subtle, fetish-fantasy suggestion in his current graceful, classic military inspired line. However, I'm most intrigued by Oliver's "Accelerated Decay Shirt" and accompanying video. More of a sculptural artifact, the shirt decays into nothing when misted with water and seems to be in direct conflict with the very notion of clothing and fashion- how would you possibly wear it? The whole project epitomizes process and is, perhaps, Oliver’s own little, private Buddhist "fashion statement." He sold limited editions of these shirts at $275 a pop.
Despite it's raw and gritty birthplace, Helden's work is conceptual and clean and I predict that someday soon his name will be on the tip of many a young, fashion-minded man's tongue, and from there, inevitably, inside his pants.