Hollywood Gifts Is the Brand Taking Over Your IG Feed

Photos courtesy of Miranda Stein

How should you characterize Hollywood Gifts? “High-impact graphic tees” is too general. “Internet-inspired” discounts the artistry. “Occasionally post-woke” feels like clickbait. “Humorous” belittles the layers of interpretation baked into a simple phrase like “Men Rule.” Madeleine Kunkle, the founder the of the apparel brand, was kind enough to invite me over to her home and studio in Hollywood for her first interview since starting Hollywood Gifts during the pandemic. I’d become aware of the brand about a year ago and have since noticed it popping up on friends, musicians, It girls, It gays, podcasters (the cool kind), randoms at the coffee shop, and hot people at the bar. Online and off, Hollywood Gifts clearly has momentum, and I was curious to learn who was behind the brand. Here, the designer talks taking a year off social media, what people don’t get about Hollywood, and the “Oh, fuck” moment that turned a hobby into a business.


NICOLA FUMO: I’m trying to have a smooth-brain moment—no news. I’ve been watching a lot of Kardashians.

MADELEINE KUNKLE: The new Hulu one is so smooth-brained. It makes me feel lobotomized in the best way.

FUMO: There’s too much going on. And everything feels very hopeless.

KUNKLE: In a way, that’s what made me start doing Hollywood Gifts. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was so overwhelmed—I mean, as everyone was—and when everything hit in early 2020, I was like, “Nope.” I got sober from substances, took a year off of social media, was barely online, and just completely smooth-brained.

FUMO: How was that?

KUNKLE: It was great. It allowed me to get back on some Artist’s Way shit, back into my natural way of working. The fear of getting offline is being detached and uninspired but, for me, it allowed me to get in touch with the intrinsic motivation and inspiration I’ve had since I was a kid. Having that constant barrage [online] gets in the way rather than inspires a lot of the time. I feel very conflicted about it because as you can see with what I do with the meme-able tees, I’m so inspired by online. But it’s confusing because there’s a threshold where it becomes a detriment to creativity.

FUMO: I love taking social media breaks. For me, it’s just regaining all that time back.

KUNKLE: It yanks you into reality. Going offline, you realize your real life is the person you’re talking to when you’re getting coffee or your annoying coworker. Once you log off, all that online stuff literally ceases to exist. It’s bizarre.

FUMO: Everyone should do it.

KUNKLE: It’s a nice recalibration. You get a reality check about your actual priorities and what makes you feel good in real life.

FUMO: When people are like, “Twitter isn’t real,”—or fill in the blank with whatever social platform —I’m like, it is though. It is part of the world, it influences the world, and you can’t divorce the two. But as time progresses, more of life will be online, and I think we should appreciate the divide while we have it.

KUNKLE: I feel it more and more. Especially with Hollywood Gifts—it’s scary that it only exists online. If Instagram and Shopify went down, there would still be the objects that I make and my “art practice,” but the idea of Hollywood Gifts would not exist. I feel part and parcel with that, that’s kind of why it’s so influenced by memes and online culture. I’ve gone through phases of being full-blown Luddite vibes. Then other times I’m like, this is part of the reality of life, let me not judge and critique myself for engaging in it. There are times when being on TikTok is literally making me smile and laugh and think of funny, fun ideas. And then there are times when I’m like, I literally feel my brain cells leaking out of my body.

FUMO: I’ve been seeing Hollywood Gifts more and more across my feed in the last year, and then I saw the other day that Addison Rae was wearing the brand, which, these days, that’s such a celeb.

KUNKLE: I know. I actually love her.

FUMO: How did that happen?

KUNKLE: She straight up DMed our little account from her account with literally 40 million followers or something insane like that. I was really stoked and sent her some stuff that she liked. I’m intrigued by her. Her taste surprised me. She asked for the Scream mask tee and it has a huge knife and slash marks.

FUMO: I saw that and was like, why did that appeal to her?

KUNKLE: It’s funny, and it kind of speaks to the nature of TikTok. She became famous for doing these little dances or whatever, but it’s so illusory. Like, who is she actually? There are hints about her that make me feel like there’s more to see there. And I’m intrigued by what’s going to happen with her.

FUMO: She’s only like 19 or something, right?

KUNKLE: Yeah, I think so. I have a dream of collaborating with her on a shoot that’s really off the wall compared to her image.

FUMO: That would be so cool. She would be a great muse.

KUNKLE: She seems not uptight. She seems down to try out some freaky, weird shit.

FUMO: You just have to find her right when she’s ready to do some kind of pivot.

FUMO: Backing up though, how did you start doing this? What’s the Hollywood Gifts origin story?

KUNKLE: I’ve always dabbled in different art forms, mostly painting. Before the pandemic, I was working three service jobs, supposedly in service of my artwork. Over the years, I would draw on clothes for friends and for myself. It was this very instant gratification, impulsive thing. I would see something in the world or in an old magazine or a movie and be like, “I want to wear that tonight.” Or my boyfriend would be like, “I want a shirt that says this,” and I would just make it. There’s something just so satisfying about making a shirt in five minutes and me or my friend wearing it out.


FUMO: What do you think is the Hollywood Gifts ethos?

KUNKLE: I always want to avoid irony, which might seem surprising because this kind of stuff gets situated in an “ironic teen” context. But there’s something really soulful and earnest about it to me. It’s my actual doodles and that’s such a kid doodling in class, kind of wholesome, precious, personal thing. And it’s born out of making these actual drawings, wearable drawings, for friends and loved ones. People think about ironic tees of the ’90s with some pithy, sarcastic slogan, but I also think there’s something so sincere and earnest about the concept of wearing a slogan on your shirt. The way I feel about it is, I’m so obsessed with the phrase “make yourself hard to kill.” I love what that means to me and I want to wear it and rep it so hard. Like the feeling when you’re a kid and you’re like, “I have to wear this Justin Bieber shirt to let the world know I’m obsessed with him.” There’s something about wearing your heart on your sleeve in this way, that I feel is behind it.

FUMO: There’s something that speaks to you deeply in a way that you’re like, “I must possess this.”

KUNKLE: Exactly. I want to externalize it.

FUMO: When I saw the “Unemployed Girlfriend” hat, that resonated with me. Now I’m an employed girlfriend, as of very recently, but that’s something I would wear because I’m okay with being that character in the world.

KUNKLE: That’s the fun of the specificity of phrases like that. Taking something like “Unemployed Girlfriend” and taking ownership of it in this way shows the world something about your philosophy or something. You’re this proud, I don’t know, drifter. With the more statement-y stuff, like “Follow Me, I’m a Cult Leader,” or, “Shadowbanned,” I really like that people also use the clothes to have a moment. It’s not necessarily about wearing the “Make Yourself Hard to Kill” shirt in your day-to-day life. It might be, but it’s also making a post where you’re slaying in it or whatever. I remember this girl ordered a custom “Make Yourself Hard to Kill” tube top. She was like, “I want to make sure I get this in time for my ex-boyfriend’s show because I really want to make myself hard to kill.”

FUMO: I love that.

KUNKLE: I love participating in a moment in someone’s life. Or someone being so excited about the “Shadowbanned” shirt that they’re doing a whole photo shoot and posting it on Instagram. That makes me so happy, that it’s an exciting piece to own.

FUMO: Everyone’s a little creative director.

KUNKLE: Yeah, totally. When there’s something that’s really a statement piece that I’ve made, or one of the hand-drawn dresses or corsets that are so intricate, and someone’s wearing it for a moment in their lives, I love being part of that storytelling. Everyone is their own creative director/model/stylist at this point, and has created this whole world and aesthetic on their social media and in real life as well, and it’s really fun to be contributing to it, to see a kernel of something that was inspiring to me be part of that.

FUMO: What or who inspires your work?

KUNKLE: Well, I live in this neighborhood that’s right off the Walk of Fame. I love that it feels like it’s always been the same in a way, that strip, and I love the seediness of it and the folklore and the gift shops. That’s what the name is from. There used to be a store that was literally just called Hollywood Gifts that closed. I mean, they’re all called a variation of that. I love the idea of outsiders, freaks, washed-up stars, all of the reality of what Hollywood, as a neighborhood, is, and then also the residue of what we think of as Hollywood.

FUMO:  What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about Hollywood?

KUNKLE: People think of Hollywood as people chasing a dream and how tragic it is if you don’t make it. But what really characterizes L.A. and Hollywood, to me, is what happens to all those people, and what it feels like to live with so many people that have that dreamer quality, wanting to be seen and wanting to be near some kind of shine. What actually happens to those people—the stories they have and where they’ve ended up now.

FUMO: What’s been the most popular piece so far?

KUNKLE: It’s definitely shifted, but right now I think it’s the “Targeted Individual” tee. And people really like the pink “Sick Puppy” thermals.

FUMO: Do you draw all of them?

KUNKLE: I used to draw every single one, but it became unmanageable. Now I scan my drawings and then I work with a printer to print them in such a way that it hopefully mimics and still captures the hand-drawn quality. I still hand-draw some of them. We’re figuring out which ones we want to print and which styles we want to keep hand-drawn.

FUMO: What’s your thinking as far as growth? Do you want the brand to be big? Do you want it to stay small? Do you just want to ride whatever wave happens?

KUNKLE: I would love it to be big because I would love the means to be able to do more cut and sew silhouettes and really make collections. That would be sick. I think the coolest thing to do with fashion is what Marc Jacobs did with Bleecker Street in New York. You know the tags that would say, “Marc by Marc Jacobs Created by Marc Jacobs.” I would love to collaborate on merch with my favorite musicians.

FUMO: You should do Lana merch.

KUNKLE: I’m obsessed with her. That would be the biggest pipe dream collab, honestly.

FUMO: That’s a good transition for my ending, which is a lightning round. I’m going to name some of your designs and you tell me a celebrity or a public figure you would love to see it on.

KUNKLE: Okay, cool.

FUMO: “Targeted individual”?

KUNKLE: Alex Jones.

FUMO: “Shadowbanned”?

KUNKLE: Azealia Banks.

FUMO: “Men Rule”?

KUNKLE: The Red Scare girls.

FUMO: “Follow me, I’m a cult leader”?

KUNKLE: Vincent Gallo.

FUMO: “Proud to be cringe”?

KUNKLE: Taylor Swift.

FUMO: “Unemployed girlfriend”?

KUNKLE: Kim Kardashian.

FUMO: “Satan is real, I fucked him”?

KUNKLE: Miley Cyrus.


Nicola Fumo is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor focused on fashion and culture, and the host of cultural commentary podcast Identity Crisis.