“When anyone goes ‘I need to be some weird hot sexy alien’ they’re like, ‘Okay, it’s time to call Asher.'”
Over the past half-decade, fashion designer Asher Levine has made a name for himself as the go-to guy for any pop star looking to flirt with the future. But while the celebrity stamp of approval certainly helps, it’s the young designer’s interest (read: obsession) with the future of tech, how it continues to embed itself in our lives, and how we choose to express and reflect its presence via our fashion choices that have blessed Levine with his own measure of fame.
“I really see computers integrating into all aspects of our life,” the designer says over the phone. “People want tech jackets — it’s just right now it’s so labor-intensive and it requires using a lot of techniques and technologies and materials and weaving them all together.”
While we’re still years out from the type of future Levine imagines, current production limitations haven’t stopped him from bringing some truly next-level design work to artists like Doja Cat, Demi Lovato, will.i.am, Lady Gaga, and most recently, Lil Nas X, who he helped transform into some sort of cyberpunk Mr. Freeze that makes Schumacher and Schwarzenegger’s rendition look tame by comparison.
On the heels of his work with Doja Cat at last year’s VMAs, Levine got to work on translating his high-concept futurist vision into a collection of streetwear essentials he’s dubbed Tetra. As a new year begins and new style drops roll out, we linked up with the designer to explore the collection and discuss the future of fashion and how he sees tech impacting how we dress.
Before we get into your more radical work, let’s talk a bit about your new streetwear collection Tetra. What are you going for with this more ready-to-wear collection?
I’m wearing my sweatpants right now — I can’t take them off. If you’ve seen my designs, I really like nature and scales, and I love skins — specifically reptile skins and fish skins — so I wanted to take that approach and merge it with comfortable leisure styles. After I did Doja Cat’s VMA performance, I used streetwear graphic techniques to create her full fish suit. After that, I said ‘why don’t I use that fabrication technique and make some more attainable styles?’
That’s how I came up with Tetra.
Your design work for artists is so tied in with their personalities, how do you go about approaching a look for someone for the first time?
Most of the time I get called when an artist wants something futurist or avant-garde, cyberpunk, etc. Those things are the coolest, and I’m flattered people come to me for those designs. I already have that future tech aesthetic, but I like to listen to what they and their stylists are going for. With the Lil Nas thing, they came to me and said “we need something superhero meets Mr. Freeze.” And I’m like, “Oh, I got you” because obviously, I love the Batman series and that Batman was one of my favorites.
When it comes to tying into their aesthetic, it depends on what they’re going for. Lil Nas X wanted to be a superhero so we made him a muscle suit — that’s public, he posted a picture of him in the undersuit I made for him. If you’re a superhero you’re going to want some extra muscles!
With Doja, she was like “I want to basically be nude” and that was the challenge. “How do I dress her but make her look nude?” I’m really happy how hers came out, some people said to me things like “Oh my gosh, I thought that it was basically a bunch of crystals glued to her skin” but that was the whole printing and fusion process that gave that illusion. I always like to listen to what the artist is going for, but most of the time they come to me for my aesthetic because I’m kind of the “future guy.”
So how did you and Doja settle on that alien fish goddess look?
Brett Allen Nelson creative directed that whole number. He’s been her stylist and now he’s working with her more on a creative direction level. We’ve known each other for almost ten years now, so he gets my alien aesthetic, he knows my weird mutant future vision, and so it was really them, specifically her, who were like “I want to be on an alien planet, and I want to be some alien fish pink mermaid goddess.”
When anyone goes “I need to be some weird hot sexy alien” they’re like, “Okay, it’s time to call Asher.”
Where does this interest in futurism stem from?
It’s a strength and also a weakness. I feel like I’m constantly living in the future in my head. I like more science than pop culture, and I really feel like there is a convergence of the two that we’re moving into but I’m secretly more of a nerd. I rather read Scientific American than Vogue, no offense to Vogue — I love them all over there. But that’s what interests and fascinates me. Science is the closest thing that we have to magic. The majority of people who are using their cell phones don’t even know how their cell phones work.
It’s using, basically, radio waves which are also on the electric magnetic spectrum, which means they’re essentially light. So we’re using light, beaming it through the air and it’s being picked up by the antennas of the cellphone companies, that are sending it through light pulses into their servers, and then you’re connected to all the other serves through fiber optic cable all over the world at the speed of light.
Fashion, what’s the purpose? The purpose is to bedazzle or communicate who you are. We’re always looking towards what is next and what is new. To me, technology and science and the merging of all of that is what feels new.
Ten is when I first learned to sew. I really enjoy making 3-dimensional sculptures with fabric and I like making people feel sexy and confident. It’s the best feeling when a rock star, who is already a rock star, puts on one of your pieces and looks in the mirror and they feel even like an even more elevated rock star. I like how line and shape create psychological feelings in yourself, and how other people view you.
Let’s talk about your mask work, I saw Doja Cat’s pink leather dragon mask, and the Lady Gaga mask, did the pandemic influence your interest in making high fashion conceptual masks?
I was definitely a club kid 10-15 years ago. I always loved concealing my face. I always thought there was a cool and mysterious aspect to it. Before the pandemic happened, we are and have been working on a very special accessory. Transforming leather into new types of exotic skins has been a process we’ve been refining over the last eight years.
We actually have a patent that we filed in seven countries of how to take normal leather and even lab-grown leathers and create our own skins. That’s how we created the dragon skin and the geode texture, using this leather molding process that really no one else can do at the production scale. So when the pandemic happened at first I was like “these masks are annoying” but then we were like “wait, hold on, this is actually a new lifestyle accessory!” That’s when we shifted our position from working on a tech bag to going with the flow with what is happening in our environment and the market.
The first mask was the dragon mask, and then we did the geode mask because the dragons were really popular and we wanted to offer a new option to the fabric masks. Similar timing when we launched the dragon masks, we saw that Louis was coming out with a cool leather mask.
The trick here is how do you make it breathable, so we have vents. It’s easily washable, the leather snaps off and you can launder the fabric liner. Especially now they’re more popular in the wintertime because you know it is leather and you don’t necessarily want to wear a leather mask in the hot summer.
Obviously, fashion is always in flux. As someone who made a collection that is more fitting for the street, what kind of trends or new things do you want to see going forward in the realm of streetwear?
I really see computers integrating into all aspects of our life. If you take a look at the Vault collection online, it’s basically filling the gap of high-priced outerwear. Instead of fur, we’re using tech. People want tech jackets, it’s just right now it’s so labor-intensive and it’s using a lot of techniques and technologies and materials and weaving them all together.
People want a light-up jacket, but they want it to be affordable. That will happen in the future, but it’s not necessarily something I can do right now through my studio… I see technology really permeating fashion and that’s really been my focus over the last couple of years.
We started getting into it because will.i.am wanted some light-up jackets, and he was like “can you do that?” And being such a yes-man I said “yeah, totally I can do that” and I managed to do it, and this was eight or nine years ago, and I realized I’m really able to and understand how to work with engineers and really embed technology into jackets. Having technology in our garments is something I’m passionate about and I see it happening more extensively.
For me, it’s difficult to focus, I do so many different things. We’re doing the masks, we do the Street, we do the Vault, I have ADD when it comes to future design…Between working with these artists and coming out with these new capsule collections — it’s what keeps it exciting for me.