VENUSxMARS first began making waves in a manner that is now not an uncommon way for labels to join the larger conversation: celebrities were seen rocking the gear, the intrepid sleuths of the Internet tracked down its origins, and all of a sudden VENUSxMARS had an enormous amount of eyes on it. But until now, the talent behind the brand has remained quiet, allowing the quality and craft of its hyper-focused collection to make noise.
We spoke with designer Tracey Mills about the origins of VENUSxMARS, and the unlikely path that took him to creating a unisex brand that is supremely concentrated on material, silhouette, and creating a uniform for those who consider the alternative. Read the below to see what it's like to work with Kanye West on his fashion design team, lessons learned from working with Yeezus, and what to expect from VENUSxMARS in the very near future.
Interview by James Harris.
The VENUxMARS dichotomy is a prevalent theme throughout the collection. Can you explain what it means, and why it's an overarching motif?
VENUSxMARS is a unisex brand that is based off the ideas I had growing up watching shows and movies like “The Jetsons,” Star Wars, and “Star Trek.”
As I grew older I wanted to create something that couldn’t be put in a box of who could and couldn't wear it. VENUSxMARS represents that we are one, men and woman alike. This is why I also use a mask in the photo shoot in the lookbook on the website. It's not about gender or any other signifier. It's about the product and craftsmanship.
This brand has a very deep meaning for me. I grew up very abused as a child, and coming from such pain and lack of love, I always wanted to have a platform to talk to the youth. VENUSxMARS is the uniform for those who know, "We are not of this Earth," meaning we didn't ask to be on this planet. If we did and did have our way there would be no racism, killings, rape, poverty, etc. My goal is to build my name and following to spread the message to the youth about self love and self worth. Love is the answer, and with love for ourselves and others we can and will rebuild this planet called Earth.
Image via Instagram
Was designing and creating a means of escape from your situation growing up? When did you start designing clothing, and when did the VENUSxMARS concept first come about?
Well when I was going through the abuse I wasn't designing at that moment. Those shows like Star Wars, “Star Trek,” and “The Jetsons” would help me get away from reality; kind of shield me. Because of the abuse, I didn't love myself and the only thing that would help me to somewhat like who I was back then was fashion and trying to dress better than anyone.
Kanye asked Christian, 'Do you know how lucky you are to have Tracey working for you? He knows how to talk to aliens.' Christian was like, "'Huh?' And Kanye said, 'Celebrities are like aliens to people and Tracey has the rare ability to talk to us and understand us and it's genuine.'
Fast forward to my early 20s, and I started out working in marketing for the brand Von Dutch because I had all these pre-existing relationships with so many celebrities, like Hilary Duff, Usher, Destiny’s Child, P.Diddy, Fabolous, Lindsay Lohan, and more. I met a few of these people through my older brother who played pro basketball in the ‘90s to the early 2000s, but also I think just growing up in L.A. comes with this territory.
I would bring my celeb friends into Von Dutch so much that Christian Audigier wanted to meet me. He asked if I could help him blow the brand up by using my personal relationships and product placing Von Dutch on them. For some reason I have this connection with celebs. It's not forced—I think they respect me and connect with me cause I'm don't care that they have fame or money. I respect them the way I want to respected because they’re really no different than anyone else.
I remember we had a meeting with Kanye at Christian Audigier's house and Kanye asked Christian, "Do you know how lucky you are to have Tracey working for you? He knows how to talk to aliens." Christian was like, "Huh?" And Kanye said, "Celebrities are like aliens to people and Tracey has the rare ability to talk to us and understand us and it's genuine."
Christian Audigier allowed me to turn my relationships into a business opportunity at Von Dutch. From there, I learned the back end of fashion, including fabrics, manufacturing, wash houses, etc. Soon, everything from wanting to outdress everyone around me to feeling better about who I am to having the ability to draw all lined up and came together with the decision to come up with my own brand in 2005.
It took me a long time to get my ideas off the ground because after Christian Audigier left Von Dutch and started Ed Hardy, I left with him and became the VP of Marketing, where I made sure to place the product on everyone possible.
The amount of information I picked up while working with Kanye is priceless.
After working a while there, in 2010 Kanye West asked me to leave Ed Hardy and go to Paris with him to start the Kanye West women's brand, where I have worked for the last four years. All this time I had been making samples for VENUSxMARS.
The amount of information I learned from all these experiences is priceless, which prepared me for the brand’s launch. I knew I was truly ready and confident. I finally told myself, "It's time to finally do something for me for once and create for all the Tracey's out there who are going through or been through similar trials."
Kanye West and Tracey Mills / Image via Instagram
I'd like to hear a little more about your time designing with Kanye West. Can you describe that overall experience?
Working with one of my best friends is priceless. We have very similar taste and style. So when he asked me to join him in Paris to take our dream to the highest level, it was an easy answer.
When working with Kanye, you’re with someone who is a perfectionist and someone who wants all the information possible. When Kanye was putting together the team for his women’s brand, he didn’t assign people to a single role. He wanted well-rounded creative working on the collection, and we all did everything from design, styling, even casting the models to walk the show. We’ll be showing this September at Paris Fashion Week.
What was the most important thing you took away from working with him?
The amount of information I picked up while working with Kanye is priceless. I learned about everything from color palettes and patterns and what fabrics stitch a certain way and what fabrics translate better on the human body. Also learning that less is more.
Kanye surrounded us with masters, from the likes of Alia, Giuseppe Zanotti, Anna Wintour, Rushka Bergman, etc. He would hire people who worked for Céline and Margiela all of whom had at least ten years of experience. People like Riccardo Tisci would stop by to give us information. To be around these fashion gurus only helped us to clearly see that we have fresh ideas that can translate into a real career.
He is a sponge and never acts like he knows it all—he is the opposite. Kanye is always about making sure he has all the information possible before creating to better bring out his vision. This is the one big thing I learned.
This brand will 100 percent evolve. Almost like a Ralph Lauren type of infrastructure.
Do any of your experiences there inform the VenusxMars brand?
Kanye saw something in me beyond our friendship that translated into being a part of his dream. Working with him made me more of a perfectionist and now my attention to detail is even more magnified. So these things translated into my brand. The experience truly helped me develop VENUSxMARS in a much more masterful way.
I talk with Kanye daily and he is my number one muse. I always design with him in mind. If he likes my designs and fit and color palettes then I know it will do well. He sets the trends. If he wears something then the culture instantly shifts.
Image via VENUSxMARS
How would you describe the aesthetic of Venus x Mars to someone who has never seen the brand before?
VENUSxMARS is cut and sew and raw edges. It utilizes quilting and the highest quality Turkish cotton. The focus is on dark and light silhouettes that settle on the body perfectly. The color palettes are anchored by Earth tones that compliment every skin tone. The collection includes the deep blacks of the empty universe and the bright whites of the burning stars.
Right now VENUSxMARS is super focused and it's offerings are very concentrated. Do you foresee the label growing in size? Or would you prefer to keep it concise?
This brand will 100 percent evolve. I want to create a VENUSxMARS lifestyle with denim, jackets, socks, underwear, hats, jewelry, swimwear, furniture, school materials, lunch boxes, bedding, etc. Almost like a Ralph Lauren type of infrastructure.
Is this world ready for VENUSxMARS?
The world Is beyond ready! Some know they’re ready and others need to be alerted. Either way, we will change this planet called Earth.