Mr. Selman, is it true you were a cheerleader in high school?
(Laughs) I was! I met a girl who was like the cheerleader, a former gymnast and all that, and she invited me to join a competitive team. We would drive for an hour three times a week to Cheer Station in Austin, Texas to train and compete. We’d practice for hours and tumble and tumble and tumble and do stunts and choreographed routines… I still talk to my coaches. True story! Whenever they come up to New York I have drinks with them. I really, really liked it.
That whole varsity sports culture — football, cheerleading — is huge in the States, isn’t it?
Huge. It’s a big deal in Texas — Cheer Station is still there! It’s wild. The whole thing is really wild. People take it really seriously, but for me it was just really fun. Texas can be so secluded so it was nice to branch out a little bit… It was like, “Oh my God, there’s another gay guy!” (Laughs) I even liked the ritual of driving the hour up to Austin because I was bonding with my friend. It opened the floodgates, really.
Were rituals an important part of your early life? I know you grew up in a religious household.
All my family was very religious, yeah, and they still are today. There’s something I like about the ritual of church… The fun part of it was this ritual of going to church to see people singing and being involved in that every Sunday. For me it was something beautiful! That is an inspiration, for sure. I still connect with that in a lot of ways.
You are still a religious person?
I’m going through something of a moment. I’ve been an atheist for years and then in the last little while I’ve been like, “There has to be something more.” I’m feeling this more spiritual side of existence, but I also don’t really have an answer for that yet. It’s something I’m still interested in figuring out. In the same way that I wouldn’t let someone else define my career, I’m not going to let a church define my religion, in a way. If I believe that there’s no heaven and hell, that’s all that matters to me. If I’m being a good person, then why can’t that be the religion?
“I’m sort of a daydreamer. I get obsessed.”
It’s not surprising that, in rural Texas, you grew up going to church, but there must not have been a lot of fashion around.
No! I used to somehow get my hands on W Magazine and I had a catwalk book that I stole from a friend. So it was very limited… But I sort of liked that. We weren’t allowed to watch MTV, we weren’t allowed to watch music videos. I didn’t have any of these references, so I came to New York the most naïve person — but really driven.
Was it an advantage for you to start you career in fashion with such a clean slate?
Yes. I let that define me and then I just sort of absorbed everything. I found out about disco and Giorgio Moroder, I loved Divine and John Waters. I soaked it all up. It was an education. I feel like that’s maybe a big reason why my collections start in a nostalgic place. I’m often looking back to the fashion and culture of the seventies and the eighties, like, “What was I missing?” I just didn’t have that inspiration as a child.
Moving to New York seems like the best decision you ever made.
It was the right decision. It felt like, “This is where I’m meant to be,” and then I never looked back. Being raised in Texas it wasn’t about fashion, so moving to New York I dove in deep. I met people like Susanne Bartsch and Desi Santiago, who were early influencers for me. I met the stylist/fashion editor, Mel Ottenberg and people like Jen Brill and Rafael De Cardenas that had a big hand in helping me launch what I was doing. I’m a big collaborator. That’s what makes it really interesting to me: pulling people on board while fully respecting their creative vision. That’s so inspiring to me.
What else inspires your fashion designs?
I’m sort of a daydreamer. I get obsessed. I like these nostalgic ideas like I said, but I’ll mix that with a current event that I can’t get out of my head, like a murder or a true crime story that I can’t stop thinking about. I’m into building a whole world that I’m excited about. It keeps it fresh for me. I create a world for me and my team to sort of live in. It sets the tone for the next six months of work on each collection. That’s the fun part.
It seems like you are very invested in keeping fashion fun.
It’s definitely supposed to be fun. That’s the ultimate goal. It’s not too serious… I’m not that serious! I mean, I can be serious, I’m a businessman and there are certain things I’m very serious about, but as far as clothes go? It’s clothes. They’re just clothes. I think that’s the thing people forget about sometimes. It’s just clothes, it’s just an image. You can reinvent yourself tomorrow as far as your image goes. You’re not tied to your clothes. At the end of the day, I’m just a designer.
“Keep it inspired, keep it going. What’s challenging? What’s next? I want to keep it pushing forward.”
Is your background in theater and costume design an advantage when it comes to that?
Definitely. I feel like I can design these really elaborate, hilarious costumes or a beautiful evening dress, but then I can also design streetwear and daywear and these fun pieces. That’s sort of when the magic happens, when you can make the queens gag and make all the girls run to the stores, you know? I stay true to my roots, but I want to keep experimenting. I think it will be interesting to see if I can pave my own way for my own company. The fashion industry has changed a lot. It’s about building a brand now. So putting on these big grand shows, going to all these different places and putting on these crazy shows, the production and that really grand side of it… It’s exhausting. It’s not just designing clothes anymore.
What role does the commercial aspect play for you?
I’m trying to make clothes that girls can afford and girls can wear. But in the end I have to do what I want to do and what I think is going to work best for my girl, what is going to look the best for her lifestyle as opposed to thinking about sales quite as much. That said, I’m not ashamed about trying to make some money, too.
Fashion is a business after all.
People will call you a sell out for trying to make some money, and that’s bullshit… Ramen noodles every day? I don’t want to do that! It’s okay if that’s what drives you and you’re doing what you want to do… But for me, I’m always thinking about sales, for sure. There’s no shame in that. Fashion is a very product-driven — it’s very creative, but it’s very product-driven. It’s a balance: it’s business but it’s still playful and fun. And I’m into that. Keep it inspired, keep it going. What’s challenging? What’s next? I want to keep it pushing forward.