The last time the fashion industry experienced a female liberation movement was during the “bra burning 60s.” Bras, high heels, make-up and other items supporting the unattainable, standard of beauty, were lit aflame in a “freedom trash can” to symbolize opposition to sexual oppression.
Traditionally, the women’s wear industry has been flooded with hyper-feminine pieces with low-necklines and bias cuts leaving females to pursue the male dominated streetwear industry. With little to no options, females were only recently given quality alternatives including a leader of the female streetwear pack, Hellz Bellz.
Since 2005, Hellz Bellz has provided edgy, trendsetting females with graphic tees, jackets, denim and accessories that feature everything from a gun-toting Minnie Mouse to studded hand cuff belts and AK47s. Designer Lanie Alabanza defies all the rules of conformity and any fashion entity that claims a woman’s style cannot breach strength, individuality and feminine flair simultaneously. As Hellz Bellz approaches its four-year anniversary it continues to provide fashion alternatives for the bold fashionista. A streetwear liberation is upon us, become a part of the movement.
“I live my life knowing that I’m a strong woman and I have the ability to create my own destiny.”
Format: How are you?
Lanie Alabanza: I’m good thanks. I’ve been busy as hell with all the trade shows that just passed and traveling back in forth between NY and Cali. It’s been a bit stressful but everything is starting to settle down again so I actually time to breath and relax a bit, but not for too long.
Format: What have you been working on?
Lanie: Right now I’m working on getting my Holiday collection ready to ship, making adjustments to the Spring I & II line, finishing up Summer 08, and putting together some special projects here and there. Sounds like a lot but luckily I have my husband, Bam on board now to take care a lot of the business end of the brand and helping out with design for the denim collection, which is a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.
Format: What theme have you developed for the winter collection?
Lanie: When designing a collection, I basically make what I want to see in my closet. This didn’t fall short for my Holiday ’07 collection, which is set to deliver mid-October to early November. I’ve always had an interest in the early 60′s mod/punk scene in London so I developed a collection with a mod influence but gave it a military twist through the cuts, details and graphics. The military-mod theme isn’t completely literal but its influence is apparent.
I really can’t wait for this line to drop. I have to say that this collection is by far my favorite so far. I designed the collection right after I left my previous job. So I was able to put so much more into it and it shows.
Format: Who are your design influences and idols?
Lanie: Although I often credit Vivienne Westwood as my idol, she doesn’t necessarily influence my designs. I’m inspired by her works and how she was an impact to the punk and fashion world but I don’t design a jacket or create a graphic with her or her designs in mind.
Actually, a huge influence and/or inspiration to my work comes a lot from my husband Bam. Aww, he’s going to be so happy to hear that. I’ve never really told him that, but in all honestly, he’s not only my husband, he’s also my best friend and business partner. I’m with him 24/7, so if you can imagine he’s a big part of what drives my emotions and thoughts, which influences my work. Other than myself, he’s also my biggest critic, which I love but also hate at times but he’s super talented and comes from an awesome design background so any of his input to what I do is totally appreciated.
Format: Where did you get the inspiration for your work, your graphics and themes? They are pretty unique.
Lanie: I get inspired mostly by the music that I listen to such as The Clash, Roxanne Shante, The Specials and so much more or by an image I may come across that provokes a certain thought or question.
Unique? Thanks, that’s a huge compliment. I guess what I do is unique because when designing I refuse to follow the standards or trends that are often dictated through the media. I totally block myself from all blogs or magazines just so that I’m not subconsciously picking up inspiration from someone else’ work. There are times when brands have the same graphic and their reasoning for it is that they have the same design influences. I try my best for that to never be the case with Hellz Bellz with another brand.
Format: You use a strong liberated woman theme. Can you please elaborate on this?
Lanie: It isn’t a theme. As cheesy as it may sound, it’s a way of life. I live my life knowing that I’m a strong woman and I have the ability to create my own destiny. It’s very liberating once a female understands the power that she has within. There isn’t a better feeling than being a positive woman who is sure of herself and empowered by her thoughts and mind.
Format: Do you feel Hellz Bellz has been successful in promoting that message?
Lanie: I’d like to think so. Anytime I hear from women that they feels strong or empowered when they wear HB, it’s been successful. However, I’m not saying, “hey ladies, buy Hellz Bellz and you’ll be empowered!” that’s definitely not the case but they’ll love and rock Hellz if they understand and appreciate the message behind the brand.
Format: What type of woman rocks Hellz Bellz?
Lanie: A forward, non-conforming woman who lives life to the fullest and understands first and foremost that individuality is key. She’s also a strong female who isn’t afraid to speak her mind or express herself freely.
Format: You have been noted as a controversial brand. Do you feel any pressure from the industry to be less “controversial?”
Lanie: If I were to ever feel pressure from the industry to be anything but what I want it to be, that would totally go against what Hellz Bellz is about. HB is not your cookie cutter brand that falls into trends or industry standards. I use my brand as a medium to express myself and if what I do is “controversial” or makes people question society and authority than I’ve done my job.
Format: Traditional streetwear brands like Triple 5 Soul and Rocawear are very different in design, message and tone from Hellz Bellz. Did you have to hold back your creativity when you designed for these labels?
Lanie: Although both companies are totally different in design and message in comparison to Hellz Bellz, that doesn’t mean I had to hold back my creativity. If anything it forced me to be more creative to design outside of my personal style. There’d be times when they’d say to design a “dumb-dumb” graphic, meaning a graphic without much thought into but more like a basic logo with little or no treatment that would sell all day. But I’m definitely not one to hold back my skills in anything I do, so although they’d ask for a “dumb-dumb” graphic, I would still put effort into it. It was a bit daunting designing for companies that had completely different visions than I did, but at the end of the day, it’s not my company. It was my job to create graphics and clothes with someone elses message and tone in mind and it was my goal to do it with the best of my ability.
Format: Was there pressure from Rocawear and Triple 5 Soul to conform to the general urbanwear style because in the case of Parish Nation the designers didn’t like the direction Enyce was going so they broke away and created a new label. Was this the same case with your label?
Lanie: Isn’t Parish owned by the same company that owns Akademiks? If that’s the case, I’m pretty sure they still have the pressures of following the urban market. But anyways, that’s besides the point. For me, it’s definitely not the case. I never felt pressure to conform at all. I understood the formula to designing for urban wear. It may not have been my vision or what I thought would be best for the company but again like I said before, it wasn’t my company.
Before leaving my previous job, I juggled both Hellz Bellz and Rocawear for over a year. I would have done it longer but it wasn’t fair to either brand. I was putting in 100% into both but if I had it my way I would have preferred to put in 110%, which wasn’t happening. I broke away from RW because if I was going to put 110% into something I wanted it to be in creating products that were a reflection of me and what made me happy.
Another reason for leaving was because I felt that as a “designer” I was getting too used to the commercial sense of the word. I’d go to work, go through the motions of taking note from the “boss” to make sure the objectives of the season were met. It just became too mechanical to me and I hated that.
Format: To what do you attribute the lack of female designers in streetwear?
Lanie: It may not seem like it but female designers definitely have a presence in streetwear, that’s for sure. Just because they may not be in the forefront with their own line, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. As far as female brands in streetwear, the niche is still pretty small but it’s good to see that it’s progressing. I’ve been seeing a lot more women’s brands popping up as of lately, but whether or not they are actually designed by a female or have some guy behind the computer designing for them, that I don’t know. It would be nice to think that a female is behind them all and not just a face for a brand.
Format: What would you consider your signature piece?
Lanie: It’s different each season. For holiday, I’d say the piece that best encompasses Hellz Bellz as a whole and is a perfect reflection of the direction of where we’re going with the brand, would be the Rock The Bellz hoodie. It’s sueded fleece, with binded ruffle detail, front singes, and button closures. Sounds crazy, and it is. It’s a must have for the holiday season.
Format: If you could collaborate with any company or designer, who would they be?
Lanie: If they were still around I would love love love for Bam and I to collab with Charles and Ray Eames. That would be so sick! I know, it’s totally outside of the box but we’re huge fans of their works and them as people. It’s always fascinating learning of other couples that not only work together on projects they are passionate about but are also successful.
Format: What can we expect from Hellz Bellz in the future?
Lanie: Expect to see growth in the brand, whether it is within the collection or through different mediums outside of fashion and design. As I get older, I expect the line to grow with me, so I envision Hellz to slowly progress into more of a mature line. Also, with Bam in the picture, expect to see some special projects catered to the fellas, which will come into fruition sooner more than later.
Format: Do you have anything to add? Shameless plug perhaps?
Lanie: If you haven’t already heard the new Hellz Bellz x Roxy Cottontail Endless Summer mix, click here to download. Also, thanks so much for doing this interview with me and special thanks to all my family and friends.
More Info: http://www.hellz-bellz.com/