Inside Tyler, The Creator's Colorful Golf Wang World at Made L.A.
Says the rapper and designer of his collection: "My clothes are for someone going to Taco Bell or making an illegal deal that they should not be doing. Those are the people buying it. I f—ing love that."
For the five years since he launched fashion line Golf Wang, Tyler, the Creator has been waiting for this moment. “Do what you’re told!” he barks to his crew backstage, only half-joking, 10 minutes before he shows his 2016 collection for the very first time.
The brand's name is a play on Wolf Gang, as in Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, his notorious hip-hop collective. His clothes — a colorful array of pastel and fluorescent-colored hats, T-shirts, a new line of shoes called Golf Le Fleur and even a bathrobe — were being fitted on the models last minute. Tyler shimmies down the stairs toward the dressing room in a glittery short-sleeve shirt, a light pink cap and denim shorts. His eyes are glued to his cellphone as he tweets:
THIS IS INSANE. FUCK— Tyler, The Creator (@fucktyler) June 12, 2016
The 25-year-old whips past a much older male model munching on Doritos. He’s sporting threads from the line: long, white cotton slacks with polka dots, a matching hat, bright yellow flip-flops and socks. A younger kid practices his basketball skills, dribbling a teal Golf-branded ball between his legs, while another model poses for a photo in a flamingo pink outfit with banded wads of cash in his hands. Security guards attempt to kick everyone out of the backstage area. “No one is supposed to be here!” they shout to the media. “I’ve kicked you out three times,” one of the security guards tells a photographer. “How do you keep getting back in? Get out!”
SHOW TIME: Tyler, the Creator at his Golf Wang show at Made L.A. (Photo: Getty Images)
In less than three months, Tyler designed about 40 articles of unisex clothing and selected about half the items to display along with specially created furniture like a giant walk-in wardrobe shaped like a backpack. He admits that he doesn’t work on a schedule, and sketches out all his designs with colors and fabrics beforehand. “Mostly everyone kind of hates my clothes, but it’s cool,” he says during a phone call prior to the show. “My clothes are for someone going to Taco Bell or making an illegal deal that they should not be doing. Those are the people buying it. I f—ing love that.”
Tyler has worked with co-designer Phil Toselli since the inception of his line in 2011. Toselli takes his sketches, re-draws them, works on them in Photoshop according to measurements and helps to get the clothes manufactured. “Tyler kind of draws like an 8-year-old, but awesome,” says Toselli. “He has a really distinct and crude style. It’s funny to watch him, because he’s not trained in any way. He just has wild ideas that he taught himself to make into reality. He’s very rapid-fire, bouncing off walls and hyper as shit. It just works.”
When Toselli met Tyler, he was designing Odd Future merchandise for his group. Around the time of Tyler’s third studio album Wolf in 2013, he split Golf Wang off as its own entity. Tyler and the Odd Future crew sold their merchandise at a store on North Fairfax Avenue for three years, which has since been closed because the owner didn’t renew their lease. Tyler is looking for a new space to sell his own designs exclusively in the States. Currently, his line is only available at three stores overseas in Tokyo, Osaka and Seoul.
In Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt’s song “Whoa” from his 2013 LP Doris, Tyler raps the hook, “Looking bummy, posted on the block, like I ain’t make a quarter million off of socks, n—a.” The truth is, he really did make a quarter million off socks. “It wasn’t to brag,” he says. “Dude, that’s the thing. I’m still me. I’m still eating the shitty food that I eat, but I take care of my business. I’m just letting my ideas blossom and taking other people’s opinions and negativity with a grain of salt.”
The success has come after a long period of struggle and artistic self-discovery. “When I first met Tyler at 19, he was kind of sad and depressed,” recalls Toselli. “Now he’s doing what he likes and he’s happy, and that reflects in his clothing. He had all the ideas, but nothing to show for it. Now he does.”
Brad Scoffern, Tyler’s business development manager, describes his client as “a kid in a candy store, like Tom Hanks from the movie Big.” He also notes that the demand for Tyler’s clothing is so high that they could take it to retail and sell 1,000 units, but Tyler would prefer not to. He claims that he wants to be in control of his apparel. “I want a chemical reaction to happen in the brain when people see my designs. Not everyone is going to like flames on their pants or rainbow-colored Golf words, and that’s cool. Some people don’t f— with the crazy stuff. But I’d rather sell 20 shirts to people who actually want it. I don’t ever want people over my brand like Ed Hardy or Von Dutch.”
Growing up and watching how skate shop clothing brand Supreme succeeded, he based his entire model around selling his stock out on the first day. It keeps people coming back. “Tyler is a representative, as well as an inspiration, for today’s youth worldwide,” notes Supreme founder James Jebbia. “He’s made a successful career in both music and fashion on his own terms and has not once compromised who he is. He’s talented, smart and original. We have a lot of respect for him and his movement.”
Toselli and Tyler designed the infamous Donald Trump-with-Hitler mustache T-shirt sold through website Golfwang.com in April. Tyler has a history with Trump. Back in February 2013, Tyler photobombed a picture with the businessman and presidential candidate and fellow Odd Future jokester Taco, who both were booked to appear on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. In the background, you can see Tyler rubbing his nipples.
“I made that Donald Trump shirt because I was like, ‘F—, this dude may be our president, and f—, that would suck,” says Tyler. “I want to make shirts that really mean something. And no one makes cool shirts anymore. I stand behind it.”
According to Toselli, the shirt was originally designed by Tyler with Donald Trump’s face in the crosshairs of a rifle with the line “For the Good of Humanity” underneath. “We loved the idea. But Tyler has already been banned in the U.K. and Australia, so it probably was not the best idea for him to have a pro-Donald Trump-assassination shirt out.”
Ever since Tyler was young, he has been going against the grain. He would play with iron-on designs and sketch on paper rather than participate in sports. He grew up in South Los Angeles at West 81st and New Hampshire, near the border of Inglewood. He never met his father and lived with his grandmother, sleeping on the floor for months in her apartment. “Kids were dead, in jail, working shit jobs and not doing anything. I thought that would have to be me,” he says. But he kept at it. “Luckily, I knew I didn’t want to stay in that cycle. I wanted to stay focused and believe in myself.”
STRETCH IT OUT: Tyler, the Creator performs at his Made L.A. show. (Photo: Getty Images)
By 15, he was sketching zebra-patterned shirts and crew necks. Unsurprisingly, he had a difficult time fitting in. Tyler used to wear his mother’s pink Old Navy long-sleeve polo and a bandana, and kids would pick on him for wearing bright colors. “Yeah, I was bullied,” he admits. “I was alienated from all the other black kids because of what I was interested in. I didn’t really have support from people in my life. Growing up wasn’t easy, but I looked up to the like Andre 3000, because I knew they were different. It allowed me to feel safe with myself.”
Four years ago, Tyler’s grandmother passed away. “Don’t feel awkward, shit happens,” he says. Although he claims none of the clothes were inspired by her because she “didn’t really pay attention,” he does appreciate that she bought him beige Vans once, even though he drew all over them. His now-infamous doughnut signature was emblazoned on the side. “I love those shoes, but I never wore them once.”
Now, Tyler’s walking the runway in his take on old-school tennis shoes that he designed for the new collection. As a bonus, he will be sending a pair later this year to anyone who attended the show. The stage is lined with real grass and bushes and oversized sunflowers, making it look like Teletubbyland. The models, who are all his friends, skateboard down a ramp and ride on miniature bicycles. Later, Tyler lies in a bed onstage, shirtless with bright yellow boxers, while adoring fans like Kanye West and Kendall Jenner clap their support.
FRONT ROW: Kanye West and Kendall Jenner attend the Golf Wang fashion show. (Photo: Getty Images)
Tyler does a routine in which he arises from his polka-dot sheets and slips on the aforementioned baby blue bathrobe. He proceeds to brush his teeth, and you can see his excitement in the reflection in the mirror via live feed on a giant screen above the runway. It is a gleeful moment, one that demonstrates how committed he is to having a good time, even during a serious and potentially career-altering event.
“I don’t come from money,” he admits over the hour conversation. “I was poor, but I have it now. This is proof you can do anything in the f—ing world that you want. It’s so freaking tight, whatttttt? WHATTTTT!” he shouts. As the show ends, Tyler tells the crowd that he loves them all and to “go the f— home.” As he exits the stage, one of the fans attempts to steal a blanket from set. “I really wanted it!” he yells to the security guard, as he throws it back on stage. Many notice as a swarm of fans huddle around to get one last glimpse of Tyler. He never returns, but later tweets, “MAN YALL DON’T KNOW HOW GOOD THAT FELT ALL YALL ENERGY MAN IT FELT GOOD.”
MAN YALL DONT KNOW HOW GOOD THAT FELT ALL YALL ENERGY MAN IT FELT SO GOOD— Tyler, The Creator (@fucktyler) June 12, 2016