The night before Telfar Clemens presented for the first time at Pitti Uomo in Florence, Italy this year, the 35-year-old Liberian American designer invited friends and family for an all-night “congress” at the Palazzo Corsini palace. What ensued was a party that included a jam session with Solange and the experimental jazz group Standing on The Corner—along with an extravagant dinner by the queer cooking group Spiral Theory Test Kitchen. Leftover food scraps and drinks were left on the circular table that was used as the actual runway the next day. The party only continued with artists like boychild and Wu Tsang walking in a show that included flared biker denim pants, quilted motorcycle jackets, and cowboy boots boasting a large “TC” logo. These pieces flipped classic Americana on its head. And only in Telfar’s America could we find these different walks of life in one room. 

Although Clemens’ brand has been around for 15 years, he’s only recently tasted  the true fruits of his labor. Since winning the 2017 CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund, Clemens’ eponymous label has gone from making $102,000 in revenue in 2016 to over $2 million last year. By now, everyone is well aware of the Telfar Shopping Bag—a leather tote bag which has been dubbed the “Bushwick Birkin” and popularized by queer, young, creative New Yorkers of color. However, the brand isn’t defined by a leather bag cosigned by everyone from ASAP Ferg to BbyMutha. To best understand Clemens’ success, just look to the brand’s slogan, “Not for you, for everyone.” Telfar has built a cult following with genderless clothing at accessible price points, which is why a Telfar x Gap collaboration would have been incredible if it wasn’t prematurely cancelled this month. Despite Gap’s missed opportunity, the inclusive ethos that Telfar brings to fashion is what younger people are valuing more than ever before. Clemens is bound to have even greater opportunities to showcase his vision going forward.—Lei Takanashi