Here are some words that have been used to describe LPD New York: “street,” “hip,” “cool”; but also: “cheap,” “faddy” and “trendy” (in the fleeting sense). LPD, the brand behind the athletic jersey-inspired T-shirts with fashion designers’ names and birth years on the back, is the subject of both adoration and ridicule among streetwear connoisseurs. In just under six months, LPD has been called a “house ripper” and “con artist” by VICE, a “parody” by PAPER, but also “one of the best streetwear brands” by Complex. So, which is it -- a hyped fad or a legitimate brand? Benjamin Fainlight, founder and creative director of LPD, sat down with us in an exclusive interview where he discusses his own answer to the question, LPD’s beginnings as a Tumblr site, and expanding his t-shirt line into a full ready-to-wear brand – all while still operating as a one-man company. It was one year and a month ago when Fainlight’s modest batch of 50 “PHILO 73” shirts sold out overnight via his Tumblr page. “I would just watch my Paypal balance go crazy,” he says. “I did the shirts because I wanted to wear them, so it’s a convenient thing that it worked out well.” With the rapid surge in popularity across the blogosphere, it wasn’t long before LPD began churning out and selling out of other designer team shirts, like the “MARGIELA 57,” “KAWAKUBO 42,” and “TISCI 74.” “I wanted to make a team out of fashion fans.” Now, LPD shirts are sold in 40 unique retailers in over a dozen countries across North America, Europe and Asia. “The Middle East is the only untapped market. But we’re getting there.”
Fainlight recently graduated New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where students create their own major and curriculum. His concentration was “Self Reinvention and Societal Consciousness,” which explored trends on how people use creative means to express themselves in communities. He boosted his studies with field work, interning for fashion industry heavyweights like W Magazine, Lanvin, Givenchy and Barneys New York, from as early as his freshman year. “I’m pretty well-prepared to do LPD because I have a sampling of sales and PR and all these different things from these companies.” Combine Fainlight’s curiosity to study trends, his drive to learn and apply real-life experience and the viral spreadability of content online, and the result is a commercial hit. Social media has given birth to a new generation of fashion publicizers, and LPD has created a trend that resonates with them. Whereas everyone has heard of Céline, not everyone may know of Phoebe Philo; wearing a PHILO shirt emanates a sense of exclusivity and cool factor that the wearer is not only knowledgeable in fashion, but that he also takes part in morally supporting the designers. Fainlight fittingly named his brand Les Plus Dorés, which means “the most golden” in French, to encourage team spirit among these designer devotees.
Out of all the designers Fainlight immortalizes through his team shirts, he has a particular connection to Riccardo Tisci. “LPD exists somewhere between streetwear and fashion and I think Tisci is always doing that really well. I really respect him.” So, what of Givenchy’s “PERVERT 17” shirt from Pre-Fall 2013? “My old boss at Givenchy texted me out of the blue and told me to take a look at the lookbook when it came out,” he starts. “I didn’t know what to think. But I know Riccardo has my TISCI shirt and that he has worn it. I don’t want to say ‘I made them happen,’ but I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”
When asked about LPD’s other clients, Fainlight names Jay Z as his favorite. “When we first started out, we sent a few shirts to Unknown, LeBron James’s store in Miami. I told the owner not to sell them because they were for pre-ordering only, but the next day he called me and said, ‘I’m really sorry but we had to sell one of the shirts. We had to sell it because it was Jay Z,’ – and that was fine with me.”
Does Jay Z’s stamp of approval immediately legitimize LPD as a real brand? Not according to Fainlight: “It’s a fad. I totally own up to that,” he admits. “Jersey shirts are not going to be cool forever. Now the challenge is to translate the trendiness to a whole brand, which is what I’m doing now.”
While his home base is New York City, Fainlight has temporarily moved to LA where the production capacity is higher to work on his first full ready-to-wear collection. With the collection due this September, he promises more than just T-shirts. “I’m experimenting with waxing garments, dying them, distressing them and processing them in different ways. I found these crazy film negatives from somebody's trip to Egypt in 1940 last time I was in Paris, and I'm going to do something with them as scanned print. And,” he adds excitedly, “we have lab coats.” Fainlight will combine his love of Americana streetwear with a dose of Rad Hourani-esque unisex appeal for a collection he hopes to make look “all beat up.” “The jersey shirts will always be available. They probably just won’t be the centerpiece."
But as of now, they still are. LPD shirts are in such demand that Fainlight received a love call from supermodel Jessica Stam for a collaboration of STAM shirts whose proceeds will go to her charity foundation, Many Hopes. Fainlight has also recently collaborated with Adeen on a series of shirts for Japanese mangakas, honoring the likes of Eiichiro Oda, Yoshiyuki Tomino and Akira Toriyama, who respectively created One Piece, Gundam and Dragon Ball Z. At this, Fainlight seems to light up with a sense of personal joy. “We’ll be putting them on our web store shortly,” he declares with enthusiasm.
The “we” that Fainlight so modestly refers to is really just himself. He currently does everything for LPD on his own, from the designing, meeting with the buyers, placing the orders to factories and even the PR. “But my parents help me ship things,” he jokes. “Nothing comes easy. But I’m living my dream life.”
Photography: Luis Ruano for Highsnobiety.com