Subvert and reshape
A workwear shirt opens up at the sleeves with ruches around the waist; braces descend to the bottom half of the body, fashioned as suspenders holding up calf-high socks. Ervin Latimer’s brand Latimmier is all about performing masculinities without being performative. The Finnish designer uses clothing to unpack gendered tropes: traditionally masculine garments are dissected and reassembled into something new, intended to suit everyone.
A dedicated follower of the ballroom scene, Latimer distils and incorporates the vitality of voguing – choosing to honour the community’s customs with his designs. Showing his debut collection at Pitti Uomo 101 last year, the Aalto University graduate presented an investigation into Black and Brown queer identities. Encouraging onlookers to engage in the discourse around race and gender, traditional sartorial tropes were sliced and subverted: a knitted fuchsia dress that split at the waist; a “magic” plaid trench with an iridescent finish; a workwear shirt with double collars, rotated and layered on top of one another.
Set to present his final collection in August as part of Copenhagen Fashion Week’s NEWTALENT line-up for SS24, we sit down with Latimer to discuss the impact of New York’s ball culture on his aesthetic, imbuing his work with a sense of ‘realness’ and how Finnish fashion is having a moment.
GALLERYBackstage at Latimmier FW23 / photography by Tonya Matyu
Lakeisha Goedluck: Aalto University is fast becoming an institution to watch because of the design talent graduating from the school. How do you feel your education helped to shape your outlook as a designer?
EL: I did my master’s at Aalto in 2016. I had an interest in clothing but I never thought that design would be the thing [for me]. I applied to do a bachelor’s degree at another institution that would’ve prepared me to be a sales rep for brands. There were mandatory design classes I had to take during my bachelor’s and that’s when I discovered design was what I wanted to do. The great thing about Aalto is that we have all these amazing facilities; I’d argue that we’ve got some of the best in the world in terms of what you can do. My master’s was an opportunity for me to catch up and learn some of the ‘basics’ that I didn’t get to do during my bachelor’s.
LG: What was your biggest takeaway from your time there?
EL: While I was doing my master’s, I was part of this online media group in Finland that focuses on amplifying and centring the voices of marginalised people and those from underrepresented genders [in the country]. It’s called Ruskeat Tytöt which translates to ‘Brown Girls’ in English. It’s the first of its kind in Finland that started creating content with this ‘For us, by us’ mentality. I think [being involved] affected my creative voice and how I approached design. I began to focus a lot on whose stories we were telling. A lot of my study time was spent figuring this stuff out. My first two collections, especially my graduate collection, focused on Black and Brown queer culture menswear design.
“Finland has one of the oldest ballroom scenes in Europe; voguing was brought to Finland in the mid-00s.”
LG: Integral to that, a lot of your work is centred around ballroom culture. Do you remember your first experience of the scene?
EL: I was living in New York in 2016. I had seen the Paris Is Burning documentary before then, so I had this basic knowledge, but that was the first year I got to attend actual balls. I had that physical experience of being in a space with other queer Brown people, where we’re able to celebrate ourselves and centralise our stories. It was a very emotional experience for me: I was in my late 20s and it was the first time I’d been in a place surrounded by people like me.
Actually, Finland has one of the oldest ballroom scenes in Europe; voguing was brought to Finland in the mid-00s, but I wasn’t familiar with the community here at that time. It wasn’t until I came back and then through my work with Ruskeat Tytöt, we created events for Helsinki Pride that focused on the needs of queer people of colour. We arranged a club night called My Neck My Back which I still host in drag. It combines some of the principles of ballroom with the elements of a traditional club. I haven’t walked in a ball myself but I support in the ways I can.
LG: How do you try to translate that energy into your work?
EL: Authenticity is really important to us because so much of fashion is not real. Ballroom provided me with this approach to fashion that clothing can be used to alter and comment on identity. That’s how I got to define my attitude towards Latimmier – we design garments for performing masculinities. As part of ballroom, there are these ‘Realness’ categories where you’re supposed to dress in a specific way. Historically, these categories embodied a norm that queer people in New York weren’t a part of. For example, presenting as rich or a supermodel. They’re a way of claiming space for oneself. So, this concept of celebrating yourself through clothing definitely comes from the ballroom scene.
LG: As you said, you focus on questioning performances of masculinity. Are there any academic theorists who routinely inform your work?
EL: Someone whose work I’ve looked at a lot is José Esteban Muñoz, who was a queer South American essayist. I do have a master’s degree in fashion but I always say I’m not an academic. I think sometimes [creative pursuits] feel less approachable when you’re purely academic. What I try to emphasise with Latimmier is that what we’re trying to do and how we discuss masculinity is that it’s not just an academic exercise: this is real life and something anyone can engage in and enact now. [My work] doesn’t require a hefty university degree to be understood.
That being said, modern fashion can and should encourage more complicated discussions. I think that’s something that’s often forgotten in this post-modernist era. We can and should try to discuss complex things with art. I don’t mean to contradict myself with what I just said, it’s more so that this is the push and pull that I’m trying to balance with Latimmier. We want to have depth, but we want to create something [inclusive].
“…how we discuss masculinity is that it’s not just an academic exercise: this is real life and something anyone can engage in and enact now.”
LG: In terms of your designs, you look at typically gendered garments and deconstruct them. Can you talk through the process of breaking down a silhouette and re-envisioning it?
EL: There’s this overarching approach to design that I have for Latimmier. It’s looking at these traditional, normative Western menswear pieces – garments that are part of this Eurocentric worldview. Then subverting and dissecting those codes. We recently launched a short-sleeved shirt on our website that’s basically a classic white button-up, but it’s just the sleeves connected by a strap. How much can you diminish a shirt to its smallest components but still recognise it as a white button-up that retains this halo of masculinity? That’s the theme that goes from season to season. We also work with normative fabrics like heavy wool and twill. We don’t do a lot of denim yet because we’re still working out a sustainable approach to doing so, but we work with traditionally masculine fabrics.
I do enjoy telling a story and having a specific point of view for each collection as it helps my design process, which varies from season to season. Our next collection for SS24 is titled Positions of Power. We’ll be focusing on the traditional attire of workplaces like San Francisco’s Millennium Tower. Think the Wall Street business guy. So, again, it’s taking those codes and subverting or dissecting them. Making them fun but also looking at how these types of characters use menswear to present power and their masculinity in a certain way. How do we take that and do something different with it? Taking that attire of power, if that makes sense, and translating it through the context that Latimmier represents. Namely, the voices that are not traditionally connected to that ideal of power.
GALLERYBackstage at Latimmier SS23
LG: Are there any silhouettes you’ve yet to experiment with that you’d like to add to your roster?
EL: We tend to lean towards more relaxed silhouettes. There’s something interesting in terms of the movement that oversized garments allow in relation to the body. In our case, because we’re not made for a specific gender identity, working with a relaxed look helps with the fit and the basic pattern so we can be more inclusive. I was very into the early 00s super-slim silhouette. Although I didn’t know Raf Simons or Hedi Slimane at that time, I enjoyed that look once it trickled down to whichever fast fashion brand I was into during my teenage years. I have been wondering whether we can do fitted and slim. As a brand that doesn’t adhere to tradition, can we make slim-fitting clothes for larger breasts and smaller waists? Or for more pronounced hips? I do a lot of the patterns and the technical side of the work for our brand, so it’s about working out the pragmatic approach.
LG: You obviously have your own distinct ideas but you’ve also worked with artists like Sasha Huber in the past. Do you have any other collaborations in mind?
EL: All of the collaborations I’ve done so far have been with people that I’ve really wanted to work with for a while. I have to be realistic about what our resources are as a small brand. With Sasha, I happened to know them already and we both like each other’s work. Most importantly, we share similar values. We’re marginalised people but we’re also good at what we do.
As for the future, there’s this photographer called Chantal Regnault. Their book Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York, 1989-92, I think it’s by far the best book illustrating the scene of that time period – I’d almost argue that it’s the book version of Paris Is Burning. The history in those pictures is what I’d love to [recreate]. I do keep a list of people I’d like to work with but that’s the first name that comes to mind. Regnault has been in my head for a long time.
LG: This is your final run as part of CPHFW’s NEWTALENT lineup. How are you feeling about it?
EL: We’re really proud to have got in at the beginning. We’re also happy to see a lot of our sibling brands from Finland showing during Fashion Week. It’s nice to be part of the forward momentum that’s currently happening for Finnish fashion. There’s this communal spirit among us because we come from such a small country with a small fashion industry – especially for premium and contemporarily priced brands. There’s a nice supportive mentality amongst us. We don’t know what we’ll be doing next January; we can of course apply to be part of the official programme. But for now, we’re excited to be in Copenhagen for one last show, so to speak. It’s arguably the biggest fashion city in the Nordics and it’s become a home away from home for us.
Follow Latimmier on Instagram.