Colorful, kaleidoscopic images of everything from fruit to fish hang neatly, row after row, on the walls. A panoply of raw sketches commingles with tear sheets and mood boards, peppered with refined, printed versions of clothing designs ready for production. Below, on the ground, rest stacks upon stacks of art books and magazines. Almost obscured, buried beneath all this inspiration, is a skateboard, which turns out to be the primary creative engine behind everything happening in this tiny fashion design studio on the Bowery.
Welcome to Bianca Chandon (biancachandon.com), the somewhat mysterious streetwear label launched in 2013 by designer Alex Olson, who also happens to be a professional skateboarder. Olson’s ostensibly diametric worlds are in fact integrally tied together, seamlessly entwining style, sex, fun, and fantasy. “Fashion and skateboarding are fickle subcultures based on style and the way you look,” explains Olson. “They are constantly changing, and they are both about looking for the next best thing. If something is popular, they are going to go in the opposite direction to create something new and exciting. In that way, they are very similar worlds.”
Olson’s connection to fashion and skateboarding is rooted in his childhood: His mother was a stylist, and his father, Steve Olson, was a professional skateboarder. He attributes his foray into both worlds to curiosity and familiarity.
“I moved in with my dad when I was around ten, and I naturally took an interest in skateboarding,” says Olson. “We lived in Malibu. To me, my father was the coolest. I was in special ed in school, so I was treated like I was different. I just wanted to leave and not be in school. In ninth grade, I begged my dad to put me in home schooling, and I dropped out in ninth grade because home schooling basically turned into me teaching myself and doing whatever I wanted to do. I would do school for like an hour and then go skateboarding.”
Olson still does whatever he wants to do, including ignoring the standard twice-a-year spring/fall schedule followed by most designers. Olson is only now working on his second collection for Bianca Chandon, which he says will debut this year at Dover Street Market, the Murray Hill all-things-cool shopping mecca masterminded by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. And, unlike most designers, who are typically eager to generate as much buzz as possible in advance of a launch, Olson — known for his cryptic approach to, well, everything — is mum on the details, revealing only that it will be a unisex collection and “elevated,” intended to appeal to a broader audience. Cue the Cheshire grin.
To launch the debut Bianca Chandon collection, which was composed exclusively of read-me T-shirts inspired by Seventies culture (and which completely sold out), Olson online-posted a picture of a topless model looking straight into the camera, the image overlaid with a hand-scrawled note: “Call me. 917-692-2706,” it read, signed by Bianca Chandon, with a heart. If you call the number, you hear a sultry voice — Bianca’s, putatively — intone, “Leave a message.” Based on the success of that marketing vehicle, Olson created a spin-off line of T-shirts, hats, and skateboard decks called “Call Me 917,” which launched — and likewise completely sold out — last fall.
So who is Bianca Chandon, anyway? “I love the music that came from Studio 54 back in the 1970s, so I thought of Bianca Jagger and I combined Bianca with my middle name, Chandon, and that sounded like a designer,” Olson says. “My mom said she was drinking Chandon when she conceived me.” He laughs. “She was joking.” The name stuck.
An inspiration to the Bianca Chandon vibe is Malcolm McLaren, considered the godfather of the punk movement thanks largely to his having put together the Sex Pistols. “My dad showed me The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle when I was thirteen, and from that I learned about Malcolm, who always had this amazing type of irony behind him,” Olson says. “He created the Sex shop with Vivienne Westwood on King’s Road, and I loved how he mashed everything up” between fashion and music.
Olson, when he can find the time, still skateboards in Tompkins Square Park, in the East Village, which ironically was also the spot where McLaren could be seen roller-skating around in knee-high rainbow socks and a Mad Hatter top hat back in the Eighties. There, Olson can be found jumping guardrails and plastic barriers aboard one of his signature decks emblazoned with the Bianca Chandon logo, a three-legged symbol derived from the Sicilian flag. The logo, Olson says, “looks like it came from a bathhouse. The other thing that’s great about the logo is that no matter how you look at it, in whatever position it’s in, it looks the same.”
There’s something about skateboards and fashion that just…works. Whether the second incarnation of Bianca Chandon will look remotely similar to the debut collection remains to be seen, but if you’re going with the odds, you can bet on it completely selling out.
[This is part of the winter 2015 edition of The Seen, a quarterly style supplement by the Village Voice devoted to exploring and sharing the most dynamic elements of New York City’s fashion and design worlds, from the iconic to the as yet undiscovered. Check out the rest of The Seen’s featured stories here.]