MUSTY'S NEW REGIME
WRITTEN BY ARMAN SHIRAZ
JULY 29, 2021
This past January, I spoke with my old friend, a recent MassArt grad, and an overall Boston celebrity, Tyrone Smith AKA Musty, about his upcoming fashion and design collection titled: “The New Regime.” After being hyped up over this past year, The New Regime has now finally been unveiled. In this interview, I talked to Tyrone about the influences that inspired his collection, his experience as a student-artist, and the way race interacts with his work.
*this interview has been edited and condensed for length
Do you have examples of certain scenarios that have really influenced your newest collection?
Oh, yeah. I know a big influence for my new collection is specifically Dutch workwear, that was definitely the weirdest one that I came across, especially for my silhouettes. My new collection is called The New Regime, and what I'm doing is creating my own system of government with its own constitution, its own everything. Essentially, it’s a self-analysis of systemic racism, and specifically the regime that is America.
It’s so funny because I started this before COVID, and it just goes to show how a lot of people obviously didn't realize all of these things have been going on for hundreds of years. I love to create a story in a scenario. In this story, my design company: “the developmental team,” is being asked by The New Regime to make their military uniforms. I'm taking silhouettes from Japanese cultures and I'm also taking silhouettes from Dutch workwear. Dutch workwear was definitely the weirdest to come along.
Another cool thing that I'm doing is a dye technique called Susuzome, which is Japanese soot dying. Essentially you take this burned ash from an oak tree in a specific province of Japan, and you kind of knead it into the fabric, and it creates this smoky gray texture. And I'm using that on some of my garments. I really just look throughout Pinterest. I'll look at a lot of old militaristic garments or aristocratic people walking in their knickers, for lack of a better term, and just things like that.
Where did you get the idea to create a whole storyline with your collection?
I feel like every artist, at some point in their lives, has a mental breakdown-slash-breakthrough, and I kind of had a mental breakdown the summer before my junior year started. I wouldn't say it was ego death, but it was. It was like an incredible existential crisis. I could not function, could not go to work. So when I came to school, the main thing that I got from this existential crisis was, I'm a black man, so my lotto card for life is shitty, and death is scary. The thing that's unfair is I have to fear life and death. Why do I feel that way? Why do I feel like it's almost crushing? That's when I started interacting with a lot of race in my work, because it's me. I didn't have any other way to communicate it, feel better about it, or ignore it than to do my work.
I remember the early designs for The New Regime were a lot more sculptural. They just seemed a lot like the garment was being crushed. And it was in pain and it was twisted, and I still want to use those ideas, but it kind of evolved into something a lot cleaner, because this will be the first collection that I legitimately release. I have one more semester left, and I'm releasing it right after I finish up for this semester. By that point, it will probably be like a year and a half of just that concept. Nothing else, just that concept.
And it's the first time I've gotten other people to turn the wheels in different places. I'm getting a lot of it manufactured in London, and a lot of my fabrics are brought over from Japan. I have graphic designers that I really looked up to that I can now afford to pay to do some work for me.
It seems like you're really branching out, using all these tools at your disposal. You made Musty something different now. That growth is beautiful.
I think the most helpful thing that I learned from interacting with other people is that it's okay to take a step back. I had this one professor, and he said something to me as a freshman that I never forgot. I remember it was this drawing class, and I was shit at drawing. I hated the class, because I came here for fashion, I didn't come here to draw, but it was a foundation, I had to do it.
I was like, “Dude, I'm just not good at drawing.” And I remember he was just like, “Yo, you know why you're not good is because you're so close to the canvas, you're so close to the paper at all times. Take a step back. Physically take a step back and look at it.” I had never done that before. So when I did that, it somehow translated into fashion. I haven't worked on my garments in almost a month because I was working on them so much, I started to hate them. I was having sleepless nights, like five days a week in a row. I’d look at these garments and you know, either Anya, or Elijah, or somebody else would just be like, “Yo, these are really good.” I’d think, “Really? I actually hate them. I think they're terrible.
You talked about how you're finishing up your senior year. How was your experience as a student? How did it affect your outlook on fashion and life?
The things that I got were irreplaceable. I would not be a designer if I did not take this path. It wasn't even about the things that they taught me, but it was more about teaching myself to take myself seriously, to treat it like it's a nine to five. That was the most indispensable, important thing ever. At the same time, especially being a student of color, there are a lot of struggles. You also miss out on a lot of opportunities, or you don't get certain opportunities, because we're still in that system, it's not going to change just because I go to MassArt and you go to BU. One thing that almost really made me quit fashion was that racial unfairness.
I remember working on The Common Man, the tiny little couture collection I did right before this one, and I was so sure I was gonna get this one specific award, and I remember not getting it. And the reason for not getting it was just they didn't want to have that conversation, because one of my pieces had a white dude wearing a noose on his neck. I remember not getting the thing that I had worked four months to get. I remember just sitting there and just being like, “I’m broken. I don't want to do it anymore.” Because, when I do it, if a white kid does less work in less time, and it's objectively worse, they will get the thing that I've been yearning for.
When I feel like I win something, I don't feel like I'm the only one that won it. I think that everyone that's cheered me on has won it. My ancestors have gotten me to this country, to this college, to these ideals, they're the ones that I do it for. So, when I feel like I lose, I feel like I lost it for us all. And it can kind of be a little bit of a crushing blow. That’s the really negative part of me being a student. You should never stop being a student. Those values of pass and fail will always translate throughout my whole life, and so will my reactions to passing and failing.
You mentioned how the school just didn't want to have that conversation, and obviously, the new collection focuses really heavily on systemic racism. Would you say that in response to the decision of MassArt not wanting to have that conversation, you decided to make one of the main topics of your collection race?
I was done at some point. I didn't want to work that hard ever again. I remember one time I was talking to some kid, we were just outside. I remember telling him, “Yo, I just don't want to do it anymore.” And he was like, “Yo, dude, you are loud. You are a voice. You caught their attention on your first try,” and so, “on the second try, you don't expect to catch more of their attention?” And that's what really got me. Another thing was a lot of the homies were telling me, you know, my work either inspired them, strengthened them, or gave them hope. And I can't turn away from that.
A part of me really, really, really died when I didn't get that award. I'm gonna be honest, I was traumatized. It was so painful. I remember, they told me to take off the noose and the burlap sack. They didn't want that, and I remember coming back into the room after my review, and all the white kids went silent. I'm like, “You see what I'm talking about in my work? It's real life. That's what I'm talking about. When you guys go on winter break, and you just forget this, and you go have a great time, I will never forget this. I will be telling my kids about this experience. That's unfair. Don't forget this. This happened.”
Everything that I talk about, everything that I make, this happened. Ironically, I don't even have the garments anymore. The school took them. The garments are enslaved.
They took them because they were upset that you made them?
I became a token. “This kid's making really well done, really well read work, and it seems like the donors and the other people that are coming into this building like this work, so we're going to put it in the show.” I was like, “No, I don't feel comfortable putting any of my work in the show because you silenced it for my reviews.” And I'll never forget this. They were like, “Technically, we own your garments about slavery.” They own my garments. Haven't seen them since.
That's poetic in the worst way. I can't believe it.
They literally have my garments. I don't have them. And those garments, their meaning to me, and the BIPOC community that surrounds me at all times, is insane, and I don't even have them.
It seems like you're really branching out, using all these tools at your disposal. Everyone's super excited for this and you've garnered so much hype for it. You seem to have the whole focus, the whole concept really locked in. Do you have anything that you want to end with?
One of the really important things that I want to mention is the name Musty, because I think a lot of people are gonna be like, “No, I'm not gonna buy this,” or “I'm not fucking with it,” because the name is Musty. I don't think a lot of people know that core mission statement. You have a lot of these designers, let's say, Yohji Yamamoto, Gucci, Dior, Prada, these are all people's names. They're all European names too, white euro names. My real name is Tyrone Smith. Tyrone is an Irish name. Jamaica was occupied by England, through like, while my grandmother was alive. Obviously I appreciate them giving me that name, but I will put no more Eurocentric, euro-inspired idealisms within fashion.
I especially won't put it in the avant-garde section. And that sounds a little hypocritical, because I'm getting my things made in England, but the one thing that matters to me is the name: Musty. That is a negative connotation in the English language. My mission goal, like my life, and the other BIPOC lives, is to change our connotation in a Eurocentric world. That's why I picked the name Musty. That's why it's staying as musty, because either I make it as a designer named Musty or I don't want to make it at all.
There you go, perfectly said.
That's the last thing, I think.
You can check out The New Regime collection and keep up with Musty’s work at @mustycorp on Instagram and at www.musty01.com