It's all too perfect that the man responsible for one of Drake’s best Instagram moments—a photo of the rapper spacing out in an airbrushed Selena homage—got his start on the social media platform. Darien Bruze, a New York-based 21-year-old who prefers not to be called a "designer," almost accidentally built his brand when a few pieces he posted to Instagram from his East vs. West line spread around. First came an offer from VFiles, then came the DMs from Drizzy.
While this cosign would be the highest form of praise to most streetwear label heads, Bruze has a super chill attitude about it. (Not only did he sleep on processing Drake’s order for a few months, he still hasn’t gotten the OVO king his Aaliyah shirt.) That and Bruze’s lovingly handmade approach to design—"No one shirt is the same, there’s people sweating to make those tees for you"—are what separate him from the rest of his peers. Plus, the young entrepreneur is mining a different era for inspiration than everyone else around him. While most designers are fixated on the ‘90s, Bruze is more interested in the 2000s. You can glean that just from one look at his Twitter, where you’ll find photos of vintage Britney Spears, *NSYNC, and Backstreet Boys merch, Justin Timberlake in rare FUBU pieces, and airbrushed Looney Tunes gear.
We phoned Bruze to talk about how the Selena shirt ended up in Drake’s hands, launching a successful brand with no experience, and how he wants to revive FUBU.
MTV: What were you doing before you started the line? Did you have experience working in fashion?
Darien Bruze: I had no experience. At that time, I had just graduated high school and was working at Target and that inspired me. I was like, I can’t be doing this. Instagram was popping off then, and I thought, "This is a way to make money because everyone can see what you post." So, I decided to make some dope tees.
MTV: Did it start as a side project and evolve from there?
Bruze: I wanted to drop some s--t and started with an East Coast vs. West Coast line. I made some shorts and put them on Instagram and they got a lot of love. It all happened organically. I wasn’t looking to start a brand and get into stores. More people started catching onto it. I put up a two-day site and got 200 orders from that and word of mouth. What really took it off was when VFiles and FourTwoFour on Fairfax [in Los Angeles] picked it up. With the exposure from those two stores, it was a snowball effect. I didn’t really have any experience, and I never really saw failure because the first thing I put out took off. So, I’m very blessed.
MTV: When did you start doing the airbrushed tees? Are they airbrushed or printed?
Bruze: Yeah, each one is hand airbrushed. I have an artist in Long Beach [Vince Osborne] who does all of the spray painting. A lot of people think that they’re screen-printed, but they’re all hand-done; each one takes time. I don’t see airbrush around, and my goal is always to do something different.
Bruze: No, I wasn’t familiar with that. Most of my inspiration comes from watching old hip-hop videos on YouTube. I’m very into the ‘90s and 2000s. I was watching a TLC documentary and was like, "Man, people forgot how dope these chicks were. People forgot about Selena and Aaliyah." I wanted to do something to honor them and make people feel their presence in some way—the only way I knew how was through clothes.
MTV: How do you see yourself standing out from the rest of the market?
Bruze: My main thing is: I don’t like to be categorized as a designer. Once you’re categorized, your movements become limited, so I don’t call myself a designer. I don’t even like to call myself a brand. I just want to be a person that puts out dope s--t. I don’t like to follow no trends; I don’t let no trends influence what I do.
MTV: Do you know how Drake found out about the brand?
Bruze: When I came out with the East Coast vs. West Coast line, he picked up a hoodie at a store called Revive. I saw he wore it and DM’d him and was like, thank you for wearing my hoodie. So, n---a saw it and was like, “Yeah man, appreciate it. I really f--k with you.” From then on, he followed me and s--t. We’ve been cool. We kicked it in Miami. Now that’s the homie. We talk online whenever we can.
MTV: Did he personally request the Selena shirt, or did you make it for him and then start making more?
Bruze: I sent him a DM of the Aaliyah and the Selena shirt. He saw it and was like, “That’s dope. I need it.” For some reason, it slipped through the cracks, and I get a message from him a few weeks later, and he was like, “Yo, where’s my Selena shirt? I want to wear it at the ESPY Awards.” I was like, “My bad, I haven’t gotten around to it.” I was in L.A. at the time, and he was in L.A. and I was like, “I’ll come give it to you.” But he read my message late, so I didn’t get to give it to him. A couple months later, he’s like, “Where’s my Selena shirt?” So, I finally sent it to him. When I sent it to him a few weeks ago, that’s when he wore it.
MTV: It must have been really special to him if he kept following up about it.
Bruze: He’s a really cool dude. People have the wrong impression about him. He’s not on no celebrity s--t. He shows love.
MTV: Do you know anything about his relationship with Selena? Did he tell you why he wanted the shirt?
Bruze: Actually no, he just said he really liked it. After he wore it, he won over the whole f--king hispanic community with that one.
MTV: Do you think it was partly strategic?
Bruze: Yeah, that dude is a smart man. He knew what he was doing. That picture had the most comments he’s ever gotten on Instagram.
MTV: Because Drake’s community thrives on Instagram and so does yours, have you gotten any weird shout outs from his fans since he wore the shirt?
Bruze: Oh, definitely. When he tagged me in the picture, my inbox blew up. I was getting tagged in weird s--t. Someone put up an image of him and was like "I love @champagnepapi" and tagged me in the corner, and I was like, "Why are you tagging me in this? It’s not even my shirt." But it’s cool to see that shirt turned into memes and moods. I see girls on Instagram posting the pic of Drake wearing the shirt with, like, “mood.” It’s cool, I love that dude.
MTV: Did you also send him the Aaliyah shirt?
Bruze: I didn’t, but I’m probably going to get s--t from him for that because he wants that shirt. If I have time for it, I’ll do it. But just because someone big hits me up, I’m not going to break my back to do it. It’s just like everything else: I never paid anyone to wear my s--t.
MTV: What’s the price point on the airbrushed tees?
Bruze: When I first dropped them, they were $120 but I put them up for sale when Drake wore it, and we charged $90. We don’t want to overprice because I want you to have the shirt. It’s not really about money.
MTV: Have you and Drake talked about doing other projects together? Would you ever do something with OVO?
Bruze: I’m trying to do something with OVO right now. Hopefully it will happen. He needs that influence from the street, and he doesn’t have that right now. We’re going to work on bringing OVO out to the average kid in the streetwear world.
MTV: I can tell ‘90s and ‘00s pop, in particular, is also big for you, just from looking at your Twitter because you’ve posted merch from Britney Spears, *NSYNC, and Backstreet Boys. What do you love about that era?
Bruze: The whole energy. I feel like people have lost the feeling they got when they saw their first G-Unit video or Chingy video. Back then, it was all feel-good music. Music back then made you want to take your shorty to the park and chill on the swingset. That’s what I grew up on. I try not to lose that feeling. Also, the clothes they had with the whole baggy sweatpants, headband, FUBU s--t was dope. I don’t really f--k with the s--t going on now.
MTV: Hip-hop fashion was more DIY then than it is now. There was a real feeling of self-customization.
Bruze: Yeah, I don’t even know why people don’t mess with airbrush anymore. Everyone was wearing it in the ‘90s, 2000s, and all of a sudden it just died. I loved airbrush pieces, you could make anything with your hands in minutes.
It seems like everything people put out now is influenced by this person on Twitter or the current trend in fashion. People don’t think anymore like, "I’m just going to make what I think is cool." Make what you think is dope! Don’t worry about what others will think.
MTV: At the same time though, social media has allowed you to create a fanbase almost overnight.
Bruze: Oh yeah, I’m definitely thankful for social media. I don’t think I’d be as successful as I am without Instagram and Twitter.
MTV: What are your plans for the future? Do you have any other big projects coming out?
Bruze: Yeah, we’re working on something for 1992 and we’re trying to make something happen for FUBU as well. I’m pretty sure that will go through. I want them to make a retro collection and bring back all the dope 2000s FUBU like the jerseys and the crewnecks with embroidered logos. No one likes FUBU now. They like the old s--t.