B.STROY presented its latest collection in New York last Friday. Hosted inside a gallery space run by the recently revived publication The Face, designers Brick Owens and Dieter Grams titled the collection “SAMSARA,” after the cycle of aimless wandering, death, rebirth, and reincarnation that precedes nirvana in Indian religions.
No strangers to courting controversy, their 2013 show in Atlanta made headlines when they illegally took over a subway station. In 2017, they held the fashion show for their “Will You Bury Me” collection inside a funeral home in the East Village.
Indeed, when they were recently profiled in The New York Times, alongside Ev Bravado, Tremaine Emory, and Bloody Osiris, writer Jon Caramanica describes their codes as “a blend of high-concept pieces and sly tweaks to more conventional forms.”
And when the designers popped into The Dropcast just a few weeks ago, Dieter Grams (also known as Duey Catorze) commented on the label’s knack for attracting the “wrong” kind of attention.
In the days after B.STROY showed its SAMSARA collection, the designers and the label have been inundated with a stream of negative attention in reaction to the final looks in their show: faded academic sweatshirts adorned with bullet holes featuring the names of schools like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary, and Stoneman Douglas.
Other graphics in the show depict high school extracurriculars like archery, with the bows replaced by assault rifles. Models walked the show with arrows made up to penetrate their necks and knees. It's kind of evident what message they were going for—that is to say, it's not that they're for acts of violence. But there's certainly something to be said about the tact in their execution.
For the most part, the designers have remained quiet to vocal critics and survivors of the horrific mass shootings who have taken them to task on social media. But after the controversial collection was shown last week, Dieter Grams and Brick Owens stood behind their heavily polarizing artistic statement. That hasn't stopped people from calling it out in poor taste.
In the days that have followed, Owens and Grams have said the hoodies originally were meant as an artistic statement on the runway. Although now they may actually produce them. What's still unclear is if the hoodies will actually benefit charitable organizations like Everytown For Gun Safety (or any of the survivors of the shootings depicted).
“Everything comes from somewhere and for a reason,” said Dieter Grams after the show. “The bullet holes was to illustrate the theme. I felt like before, or in the past, we've heard about these tragic instances where people have been killed at school, or at a concert, or whatever,” he continues. “But we felt like the bullet holes really made it more tangible to the audience, to see the name that you would normally see in the news, or somewhere that has been cleaned up. You know, when CNN reports about any event— you don't see what they see, when they're on the ground at the place.”
“We wanted to make a comment on gun violence and the type of gun violence that needs preventative attention and what its origins are, while also empowering the survivors of tragedy through storytelling in the clothes,” adds Brick Owens in an email circulated to publications like the TODAY Show and The Cut. “Also built into the device is the fact that our image as young, black males has not been traditionally awarded credit for introducing avant-garde ideas. So many people have assumed our message to be lazy just because of what they’ve been taught about black men. These hoodies were made with all of these intentions in mind, and to explore all of these societal issues. Not just the surface layer of gun violence in schools but also the different ways that we relate to each other and the dated ideas that still shape the assumptions we make about each other.”
The intent behind the art certainly doesn't excuse the audacity of the pieces, but it does bring to mind the kinds of boundaries and social mores that labels born from street culture and punk culture tend to push.
“We just wanted to kind of just make it more tangible, and make it more artful, and make it more emotional,” adds Dieter Grams.