Under the Radar is Highsnobiety’s weekly celebration of upcoming talent. Each week, we’re spotlighting an emerging brand that’s bringing something new to the worlds of streetwear and fashion. 

Do Not Bend is a brand from L.A., with a bit of Berlin thrown in too. Using hand-printed graphics, 3D text and subliminal messages, 22-year old designer Cohen Michael is inspired by the post-cyberpunk visuals of Ghost In The Shell, the entropy of West Hollywood and a bit of Michael Jackson too.

A quick survey of the world right now does maybe suggest we’re running headfirst into an apocalypse. You can take your pick from potential nuclear war, climate change, a global economic crash or an opioid epidemic. If this is the case, then what will come from the rubble of current civilisation? Do Not Bend takes the elements of 21st century living — mass industrialisation, over-digitalization and excessive packaging — and distills them into an aesthetic that’s top quality and highly wearable. It’s a glimpse into how we may be styling it out when the world needs to restart from scratch.

“I moved to LA when I was 19” says Cohen, “and then I launched Do Not Bend in 2016. It’s more of a book – like a story – than it is a brand. It’s about if everything in the world ended and only 50 people survive and those people had to start over”. Living between West Hollywood and East Berlin, Cohen explains that he’s as inspired by the way things like cranes, machines and computers interact with our lives as he is by the reflective workwear suits that Berlin’s garbagemen wear to collect the city’s trash.

However, in spite of its end-of-the-world leanings, Do Not Bend is actually pretty optimistic. A key element of his recent collection is a repurposing of the universal symbol for recycling, which, repeated three times across a tee in a fiery gradient, subtly spells the initials “D N B”. This isn’t just a pertinent reminder for us to recycle, but also a reference to how Do Not Bend literally recycles the images and words of our culture itself and gives them new meaning. The word ‘progressing’ for example, a word that any 21st century human will be all too familiar with, given society’s obsession with development, is deliberately misspelled as it crops up across a range of tees, pants and accessories from the SS18 collection.

What makes Do Not Bend stand out from other brands, (and their are some seriously good ones popping out of LA right now), is the attention to detail. The signature branding “DO NOT BEND” is found down the left sleeve (sometimes both) and is hand-printed with a thick, textural kind of ink that’s lifted above the fabric of the garment. The effect is somewhere between one-of-a-kind streetwear and clothing that has the same feel as braille.

Cohen crafts each piece individually, giving every hoodie and tee a slightly different feel to the last one. Wearing one of his own SS18 paint-splattered tees that echoes the designs of Margiela back in the day, Cohen explains that it’s all about creating micro details that makes each piece feel special.

A video posted to their Instagram featured a lookbook of a girl moving to a chopped and screwed version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’, which, while familiar, sounds totally alien once filtered through music editing software. In a similar way, Do Not Bend is a chopped and screwed look at society, picking apart the elements that we know and rendering them in a different context, i.e. packaging instructions on tees, for a weird and brave new world.

For more information on Do Not Bend, check out their Instagram, and shop SS18 on their webstore

Words by Max Grobe
Associate Fashion Editor