Christian Joy Talks Vans, Designing Costumes, And More [Interview]

Christian Joy in front of her creations at House Of Vans.
Photo: MTV Style Instagram

When you’re the designer behind the costumes for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ frontwoman Karen O., arguably one of the most lauded performers of an entire decade (era, maybe, even) you would think you might get a bit of a big head, but, standing in Vans skatepark-slash-venue, House Of Vans, in a mechanics jumpsuit, fuschia socks and a pair of her own custom Vans, Christian Joy keeps thanking me for interviewing her. We’re standing in the cavernous space in the minutes before an event to celebrate her collection of custom sneakers, totes, and t-shirts is set to start, and there’s an enormous pile of all three on a table beside us. Many of the pairs are hand painted with hearts, eyes, or zig-zags. Some have plastic beads strung through their laces like elementary school friendship bracelets. Perhaps the most arresting pair are high tops, with their tops covered in neon green fun fur, and the rest of the shoe spray painted with a neon pink, yellow, and green rainbow. They’re shoes for special occasions, when those special occasions involve jumping up and down. Joy’s designs always embody that playful, ready-for-anything vibe, although her costumes often err more on the side of high drama than humor. We wanted to know more about the difference between designing for fun or for the stage, and how exactly Joy thought to put fun fur on sneaks, so we did! Check out the full interview below.

MTV STYLE: How did your collaboration with Vans Classics come about?

Christian Joy: I had a couple weeks off because we’d just come back from Tokyo and then we went to Sydney to do Stop The Virgens [Karen O.’s opera] at Sydney opera house and the Vans project just reminded me of being in high school and doing your own clothes. I don’t really get to do this stuff anymore, so it’s really fun for me to go ahead and just do fun creative stuff. Not having to think, ’how am I going to make this pattern?’ It’s just really about enjoying yourself.

When you’re putting your own stamp on an iconic product, do you go into it trying to represent something of what the product stands for?

Not really so much, I think they’re such a blank canvas. The main thing I kept thinking about were skaters, because my brothers were all skaters, and my husband, so I was sort of thinking about them more than anything else. Not what they would wear, but could I imagine them wearing them.

The shoes Christian Joy customized for House Of Vans.
Photo: MTV Style Instagram

Can you tell me about some of the designs?

The zig-zag pair with the beads and the whistle, those are called “the Dance party shoes.” my husband has a band called Bubbles, and they have a song called “Dance Party” and he’s always blowing his whistle, and they’re just supposed to be fun.

These here [points to spray painted shoes], I always spray paint all of my own shoes so I just wanted to re-do those, the eyes are based off of a dress I made for Karen for It’s Blitz!. My favorite ones though are the fuzzy raver ones. Those are supposed to be like the 90’s when everyone had pacifiers and baby pins and fuzzy fur and stuff. I thought I would do the raver ones because the dollar store across the street had some really great party gifts and I figured, you know, this is a party, so we did that. Some of them have glow sticks, so you can listen to the band and blow your whistle and wave your glow sticks in the air.

Tell me about your process for making the screen printed t-shirts.

We do a lot of screen printing in the studio, and Caitlin, my assistant, helps with a lot of printing–she’s great at it. We just used some old screens that we had. One, which is supposed to be studs, is from when I did a jacket where we ran out of studs so we just started drawing them on the jacket. This [Tee with images of leaves] is from Where The Wild Things Are, then there are also waves, lightning bolts, magnets and a screaming face.

What do you have to take into account when designing for people to wear every day, as opposed to designing for performance?

You can’t be so crazy, unfortunately. But the thing I really love is the really classic element. With something like a t-shirt, you might wear a crazier t-shirt. I like taking those classic elements and putting them together make it wearable. You know even with the costumes, everything is really simple, but once it has all the the elements added on top is when they get more extreme, and crazy. Even though some of [the Vans designs] are a little out there I felt like it would be fun and exciting [for attendees] to get the pieces. didn’t want me to be too normal.

Do you tend to wear pieces that are a little more out there in your own day-to-day life?

I try to. I like wearing a lot of color, and I feel like it makes me feel good. But I do like to stick to more classic shapes and then add color. Socks are a big element for me, I always have bright colored socks on, and I like to customize my own look by screenprinting it or doing things like that.

What else do you have going on right now?

The show that I did in Tokyo will be coming to the states in November, and that’s five of Karen’s costumes and a whole bunch of prints-textile prints and poster prints. Working on costumes for different people, but it’s all in the works so I probably shouldn’t say who.

Without naming names, what’s your process for designing costumes for an artist?

Usually I try to talk to them about what they’re thinking and what they want, and then I’ll sort of start doing research–and that’s my favorite part, because you can kind of go crazy and just keep building–so I do a lot of research and then the drawings. One of the main things that we do is develop a print for each artist. With a print, it becomes so much more individual, especially because it’s screen printed, and it’s their own. At the end, we always come up with something kind of conservative, actually, and I’m always like, “ugh! it’s so conservative! what is this!?” and that’s when we go in and start adding those top elements that explode the piece out and really make it exciting.

What’s the relationship between your designs and the music?

For me it’s almost about the audience more than anything else. I love thinking about the audience and the whole psychological idea of what these people are going to think and how they’re going to react to a color or how something moves on the stage. I love the live part of it, and just seeing the moment when I’m standing really nervous in the audience, and I’m waiting for, let’s say Karen, to come out on stage, and then she comes on stage and the crowd goes, “AHHHHHHHH!” and then I’m like, “ok [sighs], my job is done.”

Follow Christian Joy on Tumblr here.

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