An Open Conversation with Bryant Giles

We are a couple of days away from one of Bryant’s most defining moments in his artistic career. Much like the lavish travels, his mind is always running, disturbed with new ideas and getting on the next train. Our previous open conversation which he courageously battled with fatigue and different timezone, couldn’t have been any more eye-opening. However, what we managed to cook today I know will resonate with readers forever. It’s not everyday you come across a giant from Chicago who dresses uniquely and breaks all the norms placed against him of what an artist is capable of achieving. I want to finish this introduction with a great quote of his; “I want to be a mirror to the people. I just want people to see themselves. A mirror is not always going to reflect the better side of yourself. It is going to show you. The point of it is to see yourself. If I can help people to see the real them in any capacity, I’d feel like I did my job.”

If anyone were to approach you right now and ask: “Who is Bryant Giles?” What would be your response?

Honestly, it’s funny because when I meet people, I don’t ever say my own name. I just say the letter B. I don’t know, I’m just trying to be as present as possible and enjoy the moment as much as I can. I guess I’m just human.

That made me try and visualize your childhood. Like who were you before the world told you who to be kind of thing. What was it like growing up?

I grew up in a really really small town called Michigan City with my grandparents and my mother too. She was working very hard and so, I spent a lot of time by myself. My grandparents noticed early on I was really into drawing. I would just be in my room all the time by myself just drawing, watching mad cartoons and reading. They would always drop by my room and bring me art supplies. With their support, I was able to find my voice. I think at a very young age, I already knew who I was and I’ve been that person ever since. I guess the only thing that changed is my appearance [laugh]. I lost some of my innocence too, obviously.

We moved to Chicago when I was six or seven, I don’t remember. It really opened my mind to there is a lot more to the world than I had seen previously. Michigan City was only black and white people. In Chicago, there are Mexicans, Arabs, Asians, I never saw any of this before. I mean, shout out to my mom, that made me crave a lot more in life. But I always knew as a child that I wanted to be in Japan.

I’ll come back to that actually. From what you were describing, it sounds like a very isolated experience. So where do you cross the bridge in terms of building your friendship group and communicating with others?


In the neighborhood, I was known as the quiet kid. I have always been kind of quiet by nature. To make friends and earn my spot in the neighborhood, I was the artist. Kids would come up to me and ask me to draw Dragon Ball Z characters. I didn’t really talk but I could draw. That’s just how I kind of made friends [laugh]. I learned very young my ability to draw would say words I couldn’t speak vocally and get me into rooms that I wouldn’t think to put myself into. More or less, metaphorically, my hands have done much more talking than I have for the better half of my life.


It’s funny because I grew up very sweet and innocent. I think my grandma noticed that early on. Generally, in the essence of how society works, the sweet kid usually ends up demolished [laugh], especially if you live in a rough area, per se. My art kind of sheltered me and at the same time, it was a way for me to make friends. I stumbled upon this manga called Bleach by Tite Kubo, I noticed in every chapter, he would change the characters’ clothing and I never saw anything like it. That was really my introduction into fashion and the clothing was so good. Now the aesthetic is known as Y2K, but when I was a youth, it was super vibrant and the style that they illustrated, I think it kind of pandered to the mind of gender-inclusiveness. It introduced me to layering, it introduced me to silhouettes, I really have nothing to credit my interest in fashion but to Tite Kubo and his invention.

I understand. I mean, damn. I guess anime and cartoons can also lead someone to fashion as well. Do you recall the first time you visited Japan?


Yeah, I sold a couple of paintings and it brought me to Japan. It felt like I had already been there so many times already. I didn’t really explore but it changed my fucking life. I can’t even put it into words how much it brought in my lens, I just knew that was supposed to be where I ended up. I romanticized the fact that the first time I went there, I could be really loose. There was no ego, there was no scope on how I have to behave. Back in Chicago, 2017 I think, I was just under a lot of pressure, you know, to do my job well and be kind of a voice. And that was implemented by people obviously. When I went to Japan, I felt like none of that shit mattered and existed. It changed my life.

You know, we kind of have a similar background, black and asian people. In a sense that we have the same emotional just still. Most black and asian households, there is a lack of vocal outlets and so, we build our own outlets through self-expression because we probably didn’t have the best outlets at home. I guess our cultures are polar opposites in the exterior but, I think skin deep, it is pretty clear.


So let’s move on to your current life. The last time that we spoke, you were mainly operating as a visual artist; however, I feel like, at the length of just under a year, you have now begun to explore different artistic avenues which took on a life of their own. What sparked this shift?


It’s so interesting because I was talking about the idea of how everyone is sort of a hybrid of their past life right now. Everyone is so multifaceted to the point you think to yourself: “I think I was always multifaceted in a way, you know.” It’s just now I am blessed for having more ways of expressing myself, where I am actually able to do some of the things I always wanted to do in previous years, but I didn’t have the staff to get to that point. Now I can. This year, it’s been interesting [laugh]. I have people who just come up to me and talk to me about designing, they talk to me about clothing. Before this, the majority was about artwork.


Let’s just rewind a bit, last summer around July, you released a pair of shoes with New Balance. It was one of their newest models at the time. Come to find out, you had already collaborated with Nike on a shoe before. Just walk us through the experience of working with New Balance this time.

I was speaking to Joe **** over dms during Covid. We just became friends before we were partners. He sent me the first New Balances I ever had in my life. I never bought any New Balances and they were comfortable as fuck! I was like: “Yo, I like painting in this shoe!”

What transpired was it initially started with this space they had created in Tokyo called ‘The Teahouse Space’ and we had flirted with the idea of me doing an exhibition out there. And of course, with the idea of an exhibition, it would be even better if they were a shoe to go with the exhibition. This was supposed to be just a few pairs, friends & family, to accompany the announcement of the exhibition because this was a plan that developed during covid. So obviously, we were looking into the abyss because of covid, we didn’t know how long that was going to last. Nonetheless, that started the conversation of a sneaker, a few pairs and that turned into a few hundred pairs. And then, it turned into what it was at that point which is way more than that. I mean, I had such a large vision that I brought to the table and I give New Balance a lot of knucks for just being super down. They didn’t really give me pushbacks on anything, they just let me take over the ride and that’s a rare experience, I think. Especially for black creators, to have the platform to tell their story on a commercial platform.


Looking back, it really happened so organically. The whole process, I am so grateful for. I don’t know, it is a rarity to have authentic collaborative efforts like that. I’m very grateful for that experience and only wish to have future collaborations as smooth and family-like as that one.

Just this collaboration alone, it opened a totally new side of you to your audience, supporters and online community you’ve managed to build for yourself. Gone Homme, quite an enticing choice of name. When did you start pondering about the idea of starting your own fashion brand?

I’ve really wanted to pursue it since I was a kid. I went to fashion school and so, it has always been in the making. I just didn’t want to push something that wasn’t ready or developed. During the development of the photoshoot with New Balance, the name just came due to all my travels. I was pretty much an absent person in regards to how people referred to me. They’d say I was never here. I started to question what the idea of being home is. Did I even have a home? I was ideally homeless for two years. Honestly, my entire life I’ve been trying to find a shelter until I finally moved to Japan and it felt right. The whole idea of the clothing line is mostly focused on the idea of finding home. Whatever the comfort may be.

But really, it’s more than a brand, it’s a social commentary. The whole essence of the brand is being in the now and also, what is the now? It kind of feels more like an art project than a brand. I haven’t dropped anything and I could have dropped something and I could have made money but honestly, I am just letting time guide me and I want to make the best design possible. I am not forcing it and that’s how I like to do everything. You know, you put in the work and you hope that time aligns with everything you desire.

Are there any direct references that come to mind at this instance?

Nah… [laugh] I’m going to be real and that is probably the one ego thing I would say in this conversation. I am the moodboard so I don’t really need a moodboard [laugh]. A lot of things I desire are within my swag. It’s the swag of an old man walking in the street with leather pants and a dress shirt on, and like a furry blazer or some shit. It’s not because he’s trying to stand out, it’s because he’s trying to stay warm. And that is the warmest clothes he has in his closet. It is moreso a nod to those people who are literally just surviving.

You have quite a distinctive approach. I don’t know a lot of artists who express themselves in a similar manner. How did you find your own voice?


Honestly, I have nothing but to credit my grandmother. If it wasn’t for her constantly knocking on my door and bringing sketchbooks, I would have no voice. She noticed I would draw in my coloring book all the time. My entire life, I’ve been just trying to put myself in other people’s shoes and my art has really just been that.


So let’s address the elephant in the room; you have an exhibition in two days to be precise. What is that all about?

Is it two days? Damn. Man, it is a lot of work… Coming to a country you’ve never been to and like as soon as you get out of the plane, ok, it is time to exhibit and let’s start putting things together. For me personally, I wanted to make the entire exhibition in Berlin. I redid a lot of work and I got rid of a lot of work. Some I did in the US and said: “I’m just going to make it in Berlin.” I literally worked on more than half of the show in Berlin at the last minute. I just wanted it to be authentic to how I feel now, I wanted it to be authentic to my environment and honestly, I am just a tourist in their land. The best thing I can do is bring a slight of my perspective while also respecting theirs.


There was homework I did and translated into German. I’m just trying to fully immerse myself as much as I can on a ticking time and that’s always a little bit of a challenge. I guess making a present show in such a short period is so crazy but also, it is the most adrenaline I had in a long time versus my days in Tokyo that are abstractedly luminous. They’re just very calm [laugh]. Out here in Berlin, it is just gray and smog. Outside in the winter time, the sun goes down at 3pm, everyone here is 8 feet tall for some reason [laugh]. It’s such an odd place! I’ve been eating the same meal everyday which is pasta and brisky meat in it, I don’t know, it is just bland [laugh]. It has no flavor in it but I’m just really locked in on some militant time. I’ve been working for 17 hours everyday and going to sleep for 4 hours. Waking up and watching like a couple episodes on Amazon Prime and then going straight to work.


You really have no time to look through the lens of what it’s like to be a person living here. I’ve been imagining what that’s like while living in this place. I don’t know, how do you even have a conversation with these people? I’m trying to engage it all. And I am doing an art therapy right after on Saturday, the opening is Friday. That’s even crazy because a day after the opening [laugh]. I’m gonna essentially take down the exhibition to do this art talk and we have to put it back up. This is all madness… But I am appreciative.

My next question would have been why you chose the city of Berlin but, even more urgently; you’re telling me you never tried the Berlin Döner Kebab over there?

I won’t try it before the show. I met my friend **** who runs Numéro Berlin and I can’t recall where we ever met but since, we’ve been kindred spirits for such a while. She’s been with me day in, day out, every single day. Without her, I don’t know what the experience would have been like making this show. I never thought in my life that I would do a show in Berlin! It just kind of happened like this conversation, it just happened. In a way, it’s so authentic.

This is your first solo exhibition in a while now. What are you addressing this time?


I think in the midst of over-consumption, there is a big lack of identity. I don’t know if it is even a generation thing anymore, I just see it as a societal thing. You have to question amongst all the ruckus you consume everyday, are you really present? Are you here? In my circumstance, with all my travels and all the conversations, all the people that you meet, you begin to kind of feel gray from it all and so used to everything that you wonder how you’re really feeling. Are you alive? Are you here? Am I really feeling anything right now? There’s plenty of time I am thinking; “Am I really feeling this?” Like I know we’re here, I see you right next to me, I’m talking to you right now, you’re lying right next to me but, am I here? I guess the show is me answering the best way I could. Whether that answer is yes or no, I’m still trying to figure it out. I guess this chapter is me and Berlin, and the next chapter is in Tokyo. Hopefully, I’ll have an answer for myself by then.

Is there anything you want people to take away from this chapter?

I just want people to remember at the end of the day, we’re all humans and we’re learning day by day. It’s ok to sway away from the flock, venture into your own mind and your own thoughts and ideals. With the influence of the media and the influence of everyone around you always shoving any ideas down your throat and shoving expectations, it is hard to ever feel satisfied with anything. I really want people to be happy with what they have and be driven for tomorrow I guess, whatever that looks like for you. Whether it would be small or large things. I have come to terms with that and it has made me a lot happier.


I was just at a bar and I asked a friend if she was happy and she kind of struggled with the question at first, being vague. It’s yes or no. And she said: “No.” She asked me and I said: “Yes.” And the reason why I have come to term is that I am just happy to be alive. I am happy to be here. I hope everyone can find that same happiness, one way or another, whatever that looks like.