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A Conversation With Pierre Davis – WWD

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A Conversation With Pierre Davis – WWD

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Pierre Davis doesn’t want to be niche, in her business or her life. Yet as a Black trans woman, she knows well that dangerous myopic perceptions can cast whole communities onto the fringes of society. Which is why, when she launched her fashion brand, she chose a name to telegraph inclusion. She intended No Sesso, which means “no gender,” as a great big welcome mat.

“It’s a brand for everyone,” Davis says, one “that breaks away from traditional silhouettes and ideas of garment identity and politics. A brand speaking not only to my community, but to everyone.”

In this watershed moment of massive cultural change centered on the U.S. finally coming to grips with the scourge of racism and white privilege, Davis reminds that trans people, and Black trans women in particular, live at a precarious tipping point between emotional power and outright danger. “Marsha P. Johnson — the reason why we have Pride, you know? That’s why it exists. We wouldn’t be here today without these brave women,” Davis says, referencing one of the great heroes of the Stonewall era. Yet Davis notes the work of such women remains unfinished. “The Black trans female is the most killed community in the U.S.,” she says.

Given the social upheaval at which her community is at the epicenter, one might think that, right now, Davis finds it difficult to focus on her business. To the contrary, she maintains that, personally, the creative demands of her work allow for essential self-expression, and more broadly, that fashion has the opportunity and mandate to address issues such as cultural appropriation and the low representation of Black people throughout the industry.

That community, Davis maintains, has a responsibility to nurture itself and grow. While she flaunts No Sesso’s artful ethos, she doesn’t see it as an impediment to her professional goal of developing a major global presence. To that end, she and her partners Arin Hayes and Autumn Randolph would consider outside investment, but only under the right circumstances, including maintaining Black ownership in the brand. That is but part of Davis’ larger goal for herself and all trans people: “to see possibilities, and to achieve in living a normal and equal life in this world.”

WWD: How are you feeling right now? I know that’s a big question.

Pierre Davis: How am I feeling right now? Right now, in this present moment, I am feeling better than I was these past few days. Yes, I’m feeling OK right now.

WWD: Why are you feeling better over the past few days? 

P.D.: Well, for example, just hearing [bad] news about Black trans females has really done a number on my energy and my soul. However, from just being more creative to hearing different other news and whatnot [about people coming together], I’m just starting to come to a better place, I would say.

WWD: Does Pride and the surrounding observances resonate more deeply than usual this year?

P.D.: Yes, it does. With the current climate of the country and all those events happening with Black trans people, like the Black Trans Lives March this past Sunday [June 14], to the Supreme Court ruling on LGBTQ workers protected from job discrimination, this year Pride does feel a little different with the changes being made, which is giving a cause for celebration now. There’s definitely more on social media and vocal action for Black trans lives. In the Black LGBTQ community, like in the Black Lives Matter movement, that’s shining light and making Pride feel a little bit special this year.

WWD: There’s so much conversation around identity today. I don’t even know how to frame this question intelligently, so excuse my ignorance, but as a Black trans woman, how do you express your identity?

P.D.: Yes, I am a Black trans woman. It feels good for the Black trans community to be recognized, heard and supported. I feel like the same cycles, marches, are happening again. Black trans women have fought for our lives and our rights since the beginning. For example, Marsha P. Johnson — the reason why we have Pride, you know? That’s why it exists. We wouldn’t be here today without these brave women. So I am happy to have a trans community that supports me, and I support them.

I am upset and frustrated, though. We are making strides, but not enough is happening outside of the Internet. This has been an issue for a long time, and it’s time for change, you know? My priority is to commit to my career and my happiness. I hope to inspire my trans sisters and brothers to see possibilities also, and to achieve in living a normal and equal life in this world. I will continue to bring them along with me as I continue this journey as well.

WWD: I wanted to ask you if, given the killings of Riah Milton and Dominique Rem’Mie Fells, you think society is doing enough, and you’ve answered that. What, specifically, do you mean that not enough is going on outside of the Internet? What would you like to see happen? 

P.D.: [Recognition] that Black trans women exist. It’s small things like offering someone a ride after a party, sending them a car, just to make sure that they’re getting home safe, just like, showing up as a community. We have been around since the beginning, and I feel like it’s just now surfacing — the things that we have been going through for a very long time.

WWD: Do you feel Black trans women are a separate, distinct demographic within the LGBTQ community?

P.D.: I feel like the rights and things that we have would not exist without Black trans females being at the front line and fighting. I feel like everyone is different; however, we are a part of the same community. Can I add to that question?

WWD: Please.

P.D.: The Black trans community — trans is the most vulnerable part of the LGBTQ community, you know? Yes, I just wanted to add that really quick.

WWD: How does that vulnerability manifest in your everyday life? 

P.D.: Just the safety and the precautions I have to take as a Black trans woman, just to make sure I’m safe as far as just walking outside the house. It’s very important. The Black trans female is the most killed community in the U.S. So I just think we need to bring more awareness to the world as a whole to what’s going on, and make sure that Black trans women are protected and safe.

WWD: Maybe you have answered this obliquely, but do you feel like you grew up in an LGBTQ-tolerant world?

P.D.: I feel like I’ve grown up in an LGBTQ-tolerant household, like, my family. However, as far as the world goes, there is still not enough safety happening, and people are not tolerant.

WWD: You gave WWD a quote for a Mother’s Day piece, and you sent a beautiful picture. 

P.D.: Yeah, my mom [Sherri Dixon] was pregnant with my sister [Shawnice]. That photo was captured during her baby shower.

WWD: You all look so happy. Switching to a very fraught moment, all that’s going on now, does fashion even matter?

P.D.: Yes, I mean, it does. We face different obstacles. As far as fashion really mattering right now, I feel like as a creative, it does. There’s ways to bring awareness to what’s happening into the fashion community. We have a responsibility to talk about what’s happening right now, especially when brands appropriate from Black culture but then aren’t doing their part to contribute to this movement. It doesn’t add up.

Fashion is a very personal, creative outlet. It’s a way for a person to express their identity. It’s very important. [That] makes fashion an important medium to speak on what’s happening right now.

WWD: That’s a great way to look at it. We’ve seen creatives in other disciplines make major statements in support of Black Lives Matter, in murals, for example. Can fashion do anything creatively on such a public scale? 

P.D.: I feel like fashion needs to be talking about Black brands. Fashion is just how people show up for what they stand for every day.

You don’t really have to make a collection that’s inspired by Black Lives Matter. You can support Black brands and make sure that Black designers have the same opportunities as everyone else in the fashion industry. Showing support for the Black community through purchase and brands, as I said earlier, is a way. And just bringing more awareness to brands. Fashion is a powerful way to vote with your dollars and show that with what you’re wearing.

WWD: Much of fashion is very challenged now, particularly the independent brands. What are the additional challenges of being a Black-run brand?

P.D.: Something that I think about is limited resources; [that] is one of the biggest challenges, for sure. We have to work harder to be taken seriously. We don’t have the same access to resources. My peers can and have taken off faster because of their access to resources. And also, not having to incorporate gender politics into their brands and lines, consumers can understand it more readily. We have been pushed into a niche market, for example, Pride Month. We just haven’t really been included in the same way as a designer label overall.

WWD: Is that because you’re Black and trans? 

P.D.: I think it’s both, a combination of both, for sure.

WWD: Talk about your brand’s name. What do you want “No Sesso” to signal to people about the brand and about you, its designer? 

P.D.: No Sesso already stands for like no sex, no gender. So it’s a brand for everyone. It doesn’t matter what you identify as. I feel like clothes should be worn by whoever wants to wear them. I wanted to create a brand for all identities, shapes and colors, that breaks away from traditional silhouettes and ideas of garment identity and politics. A brand speaking not only to my community but to everyone.

WWD: So you do want it to speak to everyone?

P.D.: Yes, for sure.

WWD: Let’s say you saw me, a white woman who’s probably older than your mother, in your clothes. Would you think “oh, good” or “oh, no?”

P.D.: I would say fab, honestly. I think we make clothes for all ages, for everyone. So even if it’s down to an accessory, like a bag, anyone can purchase a bag, you know what I mean?

WWD: Yet the name, No Sesso, makes a very daring statement. How do you telegraph that the collection is for everyone, and not just for trans people or gender-nonconforming people or people who are very bold and confident, but for everyone?

P.D.: I would say from our runway shows to our imagery, we have people that identify however they feel they want to identify. We bring really strong imagery to show that it’s for everyone. From the very beginning of making a piece to after it’s produced and whatnot, we design with everyone in mind.

WWD: Describe how you approach casting.

P.D.: A lot of our runway shows and photo shoots, we work with friends and friends of friends in our community. We’re inspired by our community. I would say that’s where our [approach to] casting comes from — wanting to give a face to people who aren’t traditional models or a sample size and whatnot, and just wanting to show that fashion is more than just some of the regular, basic things that you see.

WWD: Describe your aesthetic.

P.D.: No Sesso is an art brand. So we like to create garments with sculpture in mind. Our aesthetic is pieces that look just as beautiful on a body as they would at a museum. For example, we recently had our show in February at the MOCA [Museum of Contemporary Art] Geffen here in L.A. I feel like that was a great example of bringing art and fashion together.

WWD: You call No Sesso an art brand, and I read that you once did a jacket that took six months to create. You’ve also said that you aspire to be a globally recognized brand.

P.D.: Yes.

WWD: How do you bring the art focus and the aspiration to be a profitable, viable brand together?

P.D.: We use multiple ways of expressing what we want to do, what we want to say. One way is kind of like one-of-a-kind couture designs. That’s only one of our mediums that we’re using to archive what’s happening in the world. We have had the opportunity to collaborate and those opportunities lend themselves to more commercial opportunities to continue, to tell the same story.

WWD: Tell me about the collaborations. 

P.D.: We’ve collaborated with Come Tees, which is based here in L.A., and Sonya [Sombreuil] the designer of that brand, does a lot of really cool graphic designed T-shirts. We have collaborated with MOCA and made tote bags and sold those at the runway show we had in February. We worked with New Era Hats for the spring 2020 collection.

WWD: What kinds of collaborations would you like to do? A sports collaboration? 

P.D.: I love athletic apparel. Working with a sports brand would be cool. And working with other high-end designer brands would be cool as well. I love bringing our No Sesso world to other worlds. When we design, we keep all of sports in mind, we keep couture in mind, we keep all of these aesthetics in mind. Because the person who wears No Sesso, they have all these moods. Like, you want to dress sporty one day, or you want to wear a really nice one-of-a-kind gown — we have all of that.

WWD: Your clothes do have range, I’d say, from pieces that look strong with an edgy bravado to some that are whimsically pretty. A fair assessment?

P.D.: Yes, I would say that that’s pretty fair, in a way, yes. Like, the “pretty” is a view on what’s considered feminine and beautiful. We approach that from a fashion-history point of view, but incorporate our own narrative and point of view, to include Blackness, unapologetic glamour, and what’s distinctive to us.

WWD: When you say you incorporate your narrative of Blackness and unapologetic glamour, what do you mean?

P.D.: We do what we love to do as far as like our hair, the way that we dress. Like, that is our culture and we incorporate that into our design naturally, because that’s how we are on a daily basis. So I incorporate inspiration from my mother, from growing up and from how she dressed to how she is now, from our grandmother, from other inspirations as well.

WWD: Does your mother wear your clothes?

P.D.: She does. She has a few No Sesso pieces, for sure.

WWD: You noted that No Sesso’s range runs from sporty to very glamorous to couture-like pieces. Personally, do you dress from across that range, or are there some elements to No Sesso that are not “you?”

P.D.: I wear everything, pretty much. I definitely design with me in mind. I design with a good friend of mine, Autumn Randolph; she’s the other designer of the brand. When we’re designing, it’s just us vibing out and having fun and thinking about things that we want to wear if we’re on a red carpet, if we’re going to the grocery store, if we’re going anywhere, if we’re just in the house. Everything is based off of our needs and how we feel. And other people have those same feelings when they are wearing our pieces as well.

WWD: Your clothes are very designed. They’re intricate. What is your design process?

P.D.: We get inspiration from a lot of things. For example, when we’re embroidering, that process looks different from a cut-and-sew piece. I personally like to go fabric shopping first, just to see what’s out. And from there, thinking of what the collection is going to be about and just going off of that. For example, our last presentation, that collection was inspired by where Autumn lived at the time. In West Adams, which is a really beautiful area here in Los Angeles.

WWD: I know someone who lives there — my daughter.

P.D.: Beautiful. So yeah, we were inspired by the colors of the homes. There was this really beautiful caramel leather couch, and we went and found that same exact leather to be a part of the collection. And so, I feel our process is more like an artist’s process and not the traditional process that one would use to design a collection. Like, we don’t draw out everything first. We like to have fun with it, I would say.

WWD: Who buys your clothes and how?

P.D.: A range of people buy our clothes. For example, my roommate’s mom bought a jacket, and she’s an older lady. And then we have young people buying our stuff. To pinpoint exactly who buys our clothes is kind of hard. There’s also art collectors who like to buy the one-offs that we design.

WWD: How do people find your clothes? Are you with stores?

P.D.: We are actually relaunching our web site on July 7.

WWD: Great! Tell me about it.

P.D.: So, people will be able to purchase a little bit of everything on the site. We’re going to have pieces from our spring 2020 collection. We’re going to have a few one-offs. And then, we’re going to have some really fun No Sesso merch that’s just hoodies and T-shirts. And we’re designing a T-shirt where 100 percent of the proceeds will go to Black Trans Lives Matter. That shirt is really nice. It has like all of the names of Black trans females and males that were murdered from hate crimes.

WWD: That’s so moving.

P.D.: Yes. And the front of the shirt will have a drawing of mine.

WWD: One hundred percent of the proceeds to the charity is a big commitment. Are you underwriting the cost of the T-shirts?

P.D.: Yes. I mean, we’re going to make it happen.

WWD: The fashion system — everyone talks about it now, and says it’s got to be slower, with fewer seasons, fewer clothes, recalibrated deliveries, blah, blah. Do you feel a part of the fashion system?

P.D.: Do I personally feel a part of the fashion system?

WWD: Yes, you and No Sesso.

P.D.: I would say last year was our first time working head-on and being a part of the fashion system when we showed at New York Fashion Week. We had a show in February and a show in September. And then this year, we went back to doing things our way and not wanting to be a part of the actual fashion cycle. I personally feel like people should release collections whenever they want, and not have to work on a traditional schedule.

WWD: Do you think that can work in terms of business viability?

P.D.: I feel like brands are already moving toward going off-calendar. The fashion system is not structured in a way that’s financially sustainable, unless you’re a big corporation supporting designers. Brands should be designing for what works best for their business and not what traditional calendars are requesting of us. Designers should create freely. Also, hiring more models of color and more designers of color is important. For example, Black women have to be promoted and have more opportunities within the corporate fashion industry.

WWD: What is your ownership situation? Are you, Arin Hayes and Autumn co-owners of the company? How does it work?

P.D.: Yes. We are co-owners of the company.

WWD: Are you equal partners?

P.D.: Pretty much.

WWD: Would you be open to investment?

P.D.: If it fits what we’re wanting to do for the company, I would be open. It depends on the investor and the long-term vision of what we want. I feel it’s also important for us to maintain Black ownership in this brand, which is something we have to think about within the investment as well.

WWD: What is the role of community in fashion?

P.D.: At least for No Sesso, it’s all about community. We have friends who are musicians, and the models are a part of the community. Photographers, stylists, the embroiderers we work with, it all goes hand-in-hand. Music is a really big part of No Sesso as well. Music has driven this brand from the very beginning.

WWD: How does music inspire you?

P.D.: When we’re designing, we’re listening to music. We have friends who are musicians who walked in the very first No Sesso show, during New York Fashion Week. We’ve always worked with musicians. It just goes hand-in-hand. I inspire their music videos and what they’re thinking about, and they inspire the collections. It all flows together.

WWD: In the age of COVID-19, the traditional resort season isn’t happening with live presentations, nor, it seems, will the spring 2021 runway season. Do you think video and film are now more important ways to show fashion than the runway? 

P.D.: I think video and photography definitely are important parts of fashion. As far as the No Sesso brand, we love creating imagery behind collections and pieces. I feel like that’s what jogs people to want to pull the clothes or want to purchase the pieces because of the imagery we do. We also want to get more involved in making fashion films. We talk about things like that all the time. We have made campaign videos in the past, that’s something that we want to continue to do.

WWD: Who are your favorite photographers right now? 

P.D.: My favorite photographer right now is Clifford Prince King. He was roommates with Autumn, so we created together a lot. He did the campaign photos for fall 2020. He’s just someone who gets my vision and I get his vision, and we create really fun images together.

WWD: Do you still believe in live shows and presentations?

P.D.: I do, but not as traditional as they usually are. For example, when we had our show at the MOCA we made it a public show, which is different from when we show in New York. [There], it’s mostly an invite-only situation. You invite VIP clients and people of the fashion industry, versus when we’re in L.A. and we’re having a show, we like to make it public so that everyone is able to see the art and be witness to that moment in history. It’s important to do live shows because there’s an art aspect to it that makes the clothes come to life a little bit more. However, how it’s done, there’s things that could happen differently.

WWD: Does L.A. inspire you?

P.D.: Yes, L.A. inspires me a lot. I love it here.

WWD: What made you go to L.A. as opposed to New York as an aspiring designer?

P.D.: I visited L.A. before I moved. One of the first places I went was the Fashion District, and just seeing all the resources that were here to create and produce, this was like where I wanted to be. And just the weather and everything else, it works out better for me.

WWD: You grew up where?

P.D.: I was born in South Carolina but my dad was in the military, so I traveled a lot.

WWD: You moved to L.A. from where?

P.D.: I was visiting my family, kind of like a staycation, before I moved to L.A. I was in Hawaii.

WWD: So New York would be kind of harsh after being in Hawaii, right?

P.D.: Yes, I’m not really a fan of cold weather. I lived in Seattle and that was cool, but the weather and the rain and the snow…

WWD: You said you think that designers should do collections whenever it strikes them. What will be the next collection you show?

P.D.: This next season that we’re doing, we plan to just design six to eight really fun couture pieces, and do some really fun imagery and video with the pieces that we create. So it won’t be a full ready-to-wear collection. We want to take the time to make really fun art pieces and just prepare for next year, when we plan to show in New York again.

WWD: When do you plan to show in New York?

P..D: Well, it depends when that comes around, when New York opens up for fashion week.

WWD: You’ll do a collection of six to eight couture pieces. You said you don’t plan everything out. Do you sketch?

P.D.: Oh I love sketching. That’s why I got into fashion. We do plan a lot of it out, I’m just saying that we don’t make every single sketch [in advance], because some pieces inspire the next pieces and we like to make it flow. As far as designing also, the mood and feeling, you may be feeling [a certain] way one day, and then something changes and maybe the collection goes a different route. So we like to explore in that way. But as far as drawing goes, that’s a really big background of mine, and that’s why I’m into art and fashion. Also, to add to when you asked about the traditional runway, I want to add that you want to experiment with different types of live events rather than formal runway shows at fashion week. For example, in the past show that we had at the MOCA, there was dance movement involved. The way the models walked and interacted with each other down the runway was like not a traditional style of runway.

WWD: Pierre, you’ve covered this a little bit, but what do you love about fashion, and why is it important?

P.D.: Fashion is self-expression. What I love about fashion is self-expression, wearing pieces that I make that are inspired by what’s happening around the world and what’s going on in my personal life, how I feel. As an artist, self-expression is something that’s very important.

WWD: Right now, at this very charged and watershed moment, are you optimistic?

P.D.: Yes, I am optimistic for the future. It’s up to us to push forward and to work hard for change to happen.

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