LOS ANGELES — The problem with calling Enfants Riches Déprimés — or any label for that matter — “punk-inspired” is the oversimplification, conjuring up images of safety pins, low-resolution graphics and stencil art. In other words, stereotypes and caricatures.
At seven, Enfants Riches Déprimés is staring maturity in the face. Founder and artist Henri Alexander Levy has just released a compilation of more than 100 works on paper from 2017 in a book called “Reverse Keith Richards.” He’s also readying for Enfants Riches Déprimés’ first flagship in Paris set to open later this year.
The developments reflect just as much the maturity of the brand as Levy further solidifies his label’s place in the luxury sphere. The book in particular also marks an end to a darker point in time for the designer.
“It’s a period I was going through in terms of my artwork,” Levy said of the body of work presented in the book, which launched at Maxfield. “There was a certain access that I had to the subconscious at that time. Being that I’m sober now, and at the time I was on drugs, I almost feel like that book was a good way for me to sum up that period. I catalogued it. Just, because, your work changes. That year all I was doing was painting and drawing to the point where it was really obsessive. I would do it all night. I would do it all day. I don’t know. I don’t think I’d be able to make that work again. It’s almost like I had to get sober to even go back and release that work and look at it more objectively.”
The title is pulled from a line in a documentary Levy was watching on Johnny Thunders and the New York Dolls.
“I was creating this pastiche because what if Robert Motherwell met Johnny Thunders? They’re two kind of opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of elegant post-Impressionist painting and late-Seventies angst,” he said.
When Enfants Riches Déprimés came onto the scene in 2012, it turned heads with its detail-oriented distressing on graphic T-shirts, motorcycle jackets and hoodies. The T-shirts bearing imagery of Parliament Lights or the Swiss boarding school Le Rosey resonated with a customer base that’s over the years included Courtney Love, Jared Leto, Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber.
Levy in the beginning often followed his own tastes and did what he wanted. The latest collection reflects an even greater attention to detail and a newfound sense of balance in the assortment that pushes past extremes of only suiting or only graphic T-shirts.
“From a business perspective, you need to provide options for the market in terms of certain stores are going to take certain things and you want to have a good amount of merchandising and you need to be realistic,” Levy said. “Now, I’m definitely looking to make sure the collections are full and I’m not compromising my aesthetic or my beliefs or ideas in any way. There’s so many times where, when you’re in that kind of state on drugs or whatever and just doing what you want to do, you’re not really thinking about how you have to look at the whole picture in terms of it as a business, the wearability aspect and the pieces being good. I think that’s always been there, but I’ve been learning just basics.”
Things have changed and there’s recognition of the need to run a business, while also creating art without thinking about commerce.
“It’s funny because sometimes with the buyers, I used to just be like f–k the buyers,” he said. “That’s how I’m going to act and they’re going to f–king love it, but I have a really good relationship with a lot of the buyers in some of the stores and I think the stores, in a lot of ways, set the stage for what’s going on in fashion because that’s where the customers are going to interact with the pieces. I’m over here in my own world completely. I’m over here watching VHS’s, listening to cassettes, drawing all day and looking through my obscure references.”
He said this as he sat in his office in the Arts District headquarters where Enfants Riches Déprimés has a workforce of about 15. It’s a space where roughly 70 percent of the line is produced, including leather and denim (the remaining 30 percent is made in Italy). It’s dark save for a lit candle on Levy’s desk and the glow coming from a portable TV with a built-in VHS player. Cassettes are lined up behind him and concert flyers are scattered throughout the walls of the office, ranging from shows for the Circle Jerks to G.B.H. It’s the juxtaposition of those reference points — along with the vintage shops and warehouse shows Levy frequents in L.A. — with an elegance in the fit and fabrication of Parisian style, where Enfants Riches Déprimés sits.
Paris is also where the line calls home. It’s where the collections are shown and where Levy spends at least a third of the year.
With enough stores selling the line locally, opening the brand’s first flagship in Paris made sense. The space is located in the Marais on Rue Charlot, on the way to the Picasso National Museum. It’s two stories and in the process of being built out for an opening some time this year.
“It’s setting the brand DNA that I want in terms of the longevity and how things are done, which is why I think it’s taking a while to get it set up,” he said. “I’m not really interested in just selling clothes. I feel like it’s more than that. It’s an experience in general. I feel like you need to leave affected.…Something really cool should be able to exist for 15 years and still feel like it’s pushing the boundaries and not feel dated.”
He knows a thing or two about creating experiences without using the now-exhausted term “experiential.” Enfants Riches Déprimés had a go at a pop-up in Maxfield’s Melrose Avenue gallery space in the summer of 2017, painting the exterior what he called a “puke” yellow mimicking the look of a pawn shop. Just a month before, during that same year, Levy and his brand had taken over Christie’s in Paris for some two weeks, handling castings and fittings ahead of a runway show there. He said he likely wouldn’t be admitted back, noting the chaos and people running up and down the stairs of the auction house, banging skateboards against the steps as they went.
There have also been conversations about opening a store in Japan after Paris, but for now the goal is to stay organized, focused and follow through without overextending the business too much, Levy said. He’s continuing to refine how Enfants Riches Déprimés defines luxury, not just in the product but also on the backend in how merchandise is packed and shipped. He likes the process.
That’s perhaps one reason why, when asked if he’d ever bring an executive on to handle the business so that he can focus on only the creative, he stressed the importance of learning even if it means making mistakes.
“I really like the niche of the brand and its pocket,” Levy said. “I’m not interested in shipping all of these units of certain things and cheapening certain aspects. Growth is important, but I think everything just needs to be done right, in terms of the vision of the brand, too. There was a period of huge growth around the time of the [Maxfield] pop-up and I had to learn things in terms of patience and doing things right because you take on too much, and you could jeopardize the whole thing.”