Designer Patrick Church Talks Boy Dresses, Tragic Glamour, and Modern Romance
It’s a tale as old as time, a rags-to-riches Cinderella story — albeit a gender-fluid one involving hand-painted tiger-print dresses and knee high boots. For fashion designer Patrick Church, a three-time art school dropout from London, the mythos has become his new reality. The designer’s hand-painted leather jackets, T-shirts, and Birkin bags have earned him cult status among the fashion-forward (and very queer) elite enclaves of New York City that include Teyana Taylor, Aquaria, and Christina Aguilera.
Nearly a year after launching his first collection from his bedroom floor with the help of his husband, and fellow creative, Adriel Church-Herrera, the 27-year-old has rolled out his Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, “Dearly Beloved,” inspired by his mom’s AbFab style, the “stupid” limitations of gendered clothing, and his own love story. The line features two hand-painted dresses modeled by “bride boys,” as he calls them, and a foray into patterned and printed T-shirts. Interview caught up with the emerging designer to discuss modern romance (he met his husband on Instagram), the inherent tragedy of glamour, and making dresses for boys.
MACIAS: You’ve only been designing and creating collections for roughly a year. How did it all happen?
CHURCH: Everything I make is a personal point of view. I started painting canvas in London, and I wasn’t really getting anywhere. I always use my artwork as a way to document my life. I guess it was like a diary to me, and then it all changed when I ended up meeting my husband. We met on Instagram, two years ago in July. He lived in America and I was in London. We met for the first time together in Italy. We spent a week together, and then he asked me to come to New York to stay with him for a little while, and I never left, and we got married after two months of being together.
MACIAS: How did that experience translate into your clothes?
CHURCH: I’m learning as I go along, but everything sort of stems from what I would want to wear. I could never find anything I wanted to wear. I’m quite extra — really flamboyant and ridiculous. And my Mommy, she used to wear the most hilarious clothes when I was younger. Matching Versace outfits and lots of prints. She’s quite like Absolutely Fabulous, so my style and collections are very insightful, and inspired by her.
MACIAS: Let’s talk your latest collection. Obviously your Mom’s influence is all over it, but I want to talk about the wedding dresses that you made.
CHURCH: While I was designing these clothes, I just felt like everything was a bit flat and one dimensional, so I decided to work with a dressmaker to create these two wedding dresses, and completely hand-paint them. My work has to have analysis because I am an artist more than a fashion designer. I think the two boys being married was the real sort of idea—two boy brides really embodies my brand, because so much of it is about my personal love story. Having these two boys in these hand-painted centerpieces really tied everything together, and made sense—especially in this political climate. It really was about this really romantic love story in my head.
MACIAS: You’ve casted non-traditional models to show your previous collections. What is it that you look for when casting models for your presentations?
CHURCH: I don’t really think about it too much. It’s often more about the person themselves and their personality, than what they look like. I love to use people that are often overlooked or considered unconventional. At our last show, we cast all women who were over 60 or 70-years-old. This time I just wanted like a group of strong, confident people, all from different walks of life. Different sizes, genders, and races — just anyone and everyone, and bringing people together and making them feel empowered and beautiful. Diversity is so important to me.
MACIAS: Why is it important to have different people wearing the clothes that you make?
CHURCH: I feel like the people wearing the clothes are just as important, if not more so, than the clothes. It’s important to have a really strong individual wearing the clothes, but also someone that I connect with. I need to feel a connection to the person because they’re wearing my artwork.
MACIAS: You titled the collection “Dearly Beloved,” and you created this sort of wedding ceremony around your presentation.
CHURCH: So basically there were the two boy brides at the centerpiece of the presentation, and they were surrounded by other couples. It’s the idea of modern romance and how everything is fluid. Celebrating those partnerships and love between people.
MACIAS: You paint these exaggerated faces all over your clothes. Who are they?
CHURCH: They’re all self-portraits. Even when I’m painting a woman, I’m subconsciously always painting myself, this exaggerated version of something in my head. I don’t use reference images. Growing up, my mom and auntie were so glamorous, and I used to look at them getting ready as a young gay boy, and it would almost make me burst into tears because I just wanted to be them. It’s this idea of glamour, but it is kind of tragic at the same time, and kind of really shallow and, like, gross.
MACIAS: Tragic glamour. Are all your clothes hand-painted?
CHURCH: Initially everything was hand painted, but I just couldn’t keep up with it, so we decided to take some of my artwork, make patterns on a computer, and print some pieces. All my leather jackets are hand-painted and they always will be because I feel like that’s a signature piece from the brand. Painting to me is like an old friend that I can always love, that’s always been there for me, and will always be there for me. Sometimes when you’re feeling so hideous inside, it’s nice to be able to paint a pretty picture, but have it be kind of ugly at the same time.
MACIAS: Art can be like that. Are your clothes gendered at all?
CHURCH: Gender is stupid. It disrespects everything. I was always flamboyant and stuff, but until I met my husband, I never felt like I could wear a dress and have a man want me. I’m exploring that feminine side of my sexuality, and that’s how it comes through. Gender is so restricting. I want anyone to be able to wear my clothes without even considering gender. When I did the first collection and put boys in dresses, it was this like a big deal. To me, I hadn’t even thought about it. I just wanted the boys to wear the dresses. I always wore dresses when I was little. You know what I mean?
MACIAS: So what’s next for Patrick Church?
CHURCH: I think I’d be really fun to travel with my husband and introduce my clothes to a new audience. I’ve only ever been to Miami when I was 13 years old, and New York, so I really want to see the West Coast. I want to paint near the Grand Canyon and just see what happens. That’s so interesting.