David Gensler, CEO of the Keystone Design Union (KDU) and founder and designer of Brooklyn-based clothing brand Serum Vs Venom, talks to ZOOT Magazine about the return of his “street couture” label and the creative vision behind it…
By Lucy Mclean
Zoot Magazine: Where does the name Serum Vs Venom originate from?
David Gensler: It is rooted in Taoism – a struggle between two opposing forces, representing different sides of the spectrum. The brand is about duality… contractions and collisions. A love of design and a hatred of the modern state of consumerism. We are forced to find balance or simply close our eyes. Our brand is a long term experiment to find this balance.
ZOOT: What is the main concept behind the label?
DG: We originally wanted to explore the idea of luxury and utility in the modern age. We also wanted to focus on the craft and tradition of making fine garments. This time around we are exploring more of the same, but in a different context. The world has changed and it is now seemingly overrun by all things digital. I am not 100% against digital culture – but the reality of fashion is that it is a tangible thing which should stand in opposition to that which is a simulation. I guess we represent the opposition. We ultimately care to develop a business model that is more innovative than any garment we could ever hope to produce.
ZOOT: It has been over 4 years since the last SVSV release, has the brand philosophy changed since then?
DG: Our philosophy is the same – we want to develop the best possible garments within a system we completely control. We needed to honestly step back and allow some things in the market (and ourselves) pass. We felt controlled by the fashion industry, the calendar and the instant gratification of a new digital reality. Control is the new utility in the digital age – so we took back control.
ZOOT: Do you think the market has changed too?
DG: Four years ago, things were over saturated with sameness – now it feels the market is ready to explore new ideas and models. The consumer now is struggling to find value. They exist in a tangible world that is dominate by digital interface – this has created a numbness and confusion.
“We can feel an energy building which hopefully will create a cultural revolution against a 100% digital future.”
ZOOT: How did you begin your career in the world of design and fashion?
DG: I was formally educated in Photography, Industrial design and later Business Strategy and Marketing. I have very little formal training in fashion. I started in advertising and eventually moved into managing a few large entertainment based brands, which ultimately put me at Magic.
I had a great opportunity to merge my company with some prominent hip hop moguls during the hay day of “Urban Culture” and fell in love with fashion. Being from the outside, I think I was able to gain a unique perspective quickly and focus on figuring out a different, hopefully better way.
ZOOT: How and why did you come to create the KDU global network?
DG: I wanted to work with the best and hungriest talent across the globe. I built the KDU one member at a time. Each new member brings something new and for me personally brings great insights and inspiration. It is in all truth a global talent army that has great strength and speed.
ZOOT: Do you consider yourself an artist or an enthusiast?
DG: I am a Designer and Strategist. I have no idea if anything I do will ever be or rather should be considered art. I support art and respect it as a tool to communicate, but I do not consider myself an artists in any sense. In today’s TYPES:5-reel 9-line slots The objective of Zhao Cai Jin Bao is to obtain winning symbol combinations by spinning the reels. market, anything not attached to a well thought out plan is simply reckless.
“Maybe Strategy is the new Pop Art?”
ZOOT: How would you describe the SVSV boy/girl?
DG: Right now we are focused on menswear… but both sexes have always been part of the brand and a female collection is in the works. I would describe our customer as someone demanding of quality, truly authentic in taste and style and well travelled and educated. I would hope it is someone that ignores trends and fads and instead focuses on value.
ZOOT: What inspires you most?
DG: I would have to say travel. I am happiest when travelling with my fiancée and experience new cultures. Travel is so important to realize (and cherish) how different, unique and wonderful we all are.
ZOOT: What music are you listening to at the moment?
DG: I love all types of music. I guess hip hop plays most often in the ear phones.
ZOOT: We like the brands “Anti-mass Agenda”, do you think this is important in the fashion industry today?
DG: I do. The main industry has experienced so many failures in the last few years, why would anyone want to follow their lead? Huge debt and waste are not something you should ever allow, much less plan for in your business. Keep it small, focus on quality and your customers… this may seem old fashioned, but old fashion seems a lot better than the current state of things.
ZOOT: We know that you are one of the few design companies in New York to still have your own factory, how important is it to you that you maintain this production process? And how do you ensure the SVSV products remain top quality?
DG: We are not crazy enough to call ourselves a “luxury” brand – we do however know that to achieve and offer anything of value you must maintain constant control over every step of design and development.
When you relinquish control and become hands off, especially to cut costs and save money on production, you move into the realm of “luxury marketing” – which we feel is fraud.
“As a designer, how can you proclaim your product to be a luxury item when you don’t even know where or how it is made, much less by whom?”
If you are producing something worthy of demanding a higher price tag, then you should have no problem disclosing all steps along the way that add value. Our production is done in house, by highly skilled New Yorkers. If the customer does not ask the questions, 9 out of tens times, the brand is not about to disclose the answers. Consumers should learn to demand more from the brands they purchase. You would be shocked if you learned where most of the “designer” brands are constructed. How can a luxury brand participate in low cost labor and be a true luxury brand? Should “luxury” benefit the end consumer and the brand, while exploiting the crafts person who made the garment or object? I think not. Modern luxury is about full disclosure and total control.
ZOOT: What are the main challenges faced by new designers and clothing labels in NYC today?
DG: Finding their own unique voice and then getting people to hear and accept it
ZOOT: What is your favourite part about living in New York?
DG: I love Brooklyn. It is my home and it feels more real to me than most other parts. This is where my family is and where I wish to build my life and raise my children. I love so many cities around the world, but Brooklyn is home.
ZOOT: Do your designs reflect this?
DG: No, although I love NYC, most of the designs are based on travels or the demands of exploring new lands. The only essence of Brooklyn that makes it into the designs is the “F*ck You” attitude of ignoring convention.
“I prefer to do it my way than follow the flock of sheep off the cliffs”
ZOOT: What”s next for SVSV?
DG: We are currently activating new retail partnerships allowing us to sell around the world.
This is a very important step for us, since each garment and capsule is developed specifically for each retailer. Without dedicated retailers to serve as passionate middlemen to our customers, our brand will be forced to exist entirely online, which to us is not acceptable.
DG: I have been friends with Osa [Osamu Koyama – Creative director at Complete Technique] for many years. This was a way to realize a dream of working with a friend to create something that honoured the tools of tailors around the world, throughout history.
“I have a personal collection of over 800 antique tailors shears, dating back some 400 years.”
ZOOT: Who would you most like to form a collaboration with in the future?
DG: In regards to products, I would love to do something with a Military Spec company or an extreme outdoors company. Possibly bring the sport of fishing into the world of fashion. I would also love to collaborate with a motorcycle or fine boutique car builder like Morgan.
ZOOT: What’s the next big plan on your agenda?
DG: I am just going day by day enjoying life and trying to find the right partners to push our vision around the world – in doing so, I am hoping to demonstrate an alternative to the big, wasteful system that plagues the big label.