Elizabeth Ammerman and Eric Schlösberg would have terrified me in high school. They aren’t bulky jocks or juvie felons, they are simply just too cool; Hot Topic goth trampled by vintage technicolor furs and Kool-aid colored hair. Their joint label, Ammerman Schlösberg, blurs the lines between luxury wear, plastic bagged Party City costumes, and the make-believe realms of The Matrix and otaku culture. The brand has quickly won the hearts of Opening Ceremony, Purple, Interview and Vice, and it’s no wonder why. On top of crafting the ultimate Alice-on-the-Red-Pill chic, the pair is both sweet and infectiously funny. As we left the tiny LES coffee and tea shop where Ammerman Schlösberg squeezed in my interview between a full day of appointments and business dealings, Liz and Eric were giddy with one-liners and self-deprecating humor. “People always see my sneakers”—LIFE SUCKS is scrawled on toes of his battered Chuck Taylors in Sharpie—“and tell me to ‘chin up’ or that ‘it gets better.’ It doesn’t!” That might be true, but at least Ammerman Schlösberg knows how to LOL about it.
What is your process in producing a new season?
ELIZABETH AMMERMAN: At the very early stages we’re just sketching [by ourselves]. Then, we’ll come together and feel out where we’re both heading. We’ll start to think of shapes and silhouettes, narrowing down certain details and inspirations.
Are you ever sketching in totally opposite directions, then trying to find a common thread between your individual work?
ERIC SCHLÖSBERG: No, never!
EA: We have the same telepathic connection.
ES: By the time we come together, it’s usually so on the same track. We have a very weird shared brain.
You both first came to New York for art college, and it’s only natural that you would begin your label in the city. But do you think NYC is still the place to go for up-and-coming designers, or artists of any sort? Has it boxed those people out?
EA: I think it’s getting there, boxing people out. It was even there when I first got [to New York]. It was hard, and I think I had to really fight for it.
ES: I think the New York scene is lacking so much right now that it needs people coming here to be creative and t be young and to be themselves and change it from what its turned into.
What exactly is it lacking?
ES: Creativity and Imagination. There’s definitely a lot of wonderful people doing those kinds of things, I just don’t think they have the voice right now… The fashion industry has just become so—
Even with the egalitarian presence of the internet?
EA: Even more so with the internet.
ES: Exactly. And, all of a sudden, anything with any kind of… inventiveness becomes “internet.” If you’re doing anything that isn’t [mainstream] commercial fashion, you’re “internet fashion.” And that’s not always a good thing. I don’t like to think that we’re [purely] internet fashion…
Just because you incorporate “underground” or “subcultural” elements—
ES: Because the place where they have that voice and life and visibility is the internet. And somehow that makes it separate.
Do you think you’ve had to change anything about the brand since you first debuted to accommodate the New York fashion establishment?
ES: There are things we know we should change, but we are very uncompromising to ourselves. We have a vision, and I think that if we continue to do what we love we’ll find success within ourselves, and that’s more important than any kind of financial success… personally [looks at Liz]. Right?
EA: Yeah. We have a vision that we’ll stay true to.
ES: But we’ve been told so many times to, like, “Make T-Shirts!” or do something “simple” but that’s just not us. We’re not simple people, we don’t wear pants, we don’t really like to wear plain T-shirts… It’s just not us. So why would we do that? I think it’s the people doing all of that conforming that makes [the New York Fashion world] what it is.
EA: I think we’re just trying to have fun with it. I mean, at the end of the day it all doesn’t matter. You might as well have fun with what you’re doing and love it.
ES: These clothes don’t define you. At the end of the night they all come off.
Is there any pressure to make your garments more affordable, or more accessible to the average consumer rather than more commercial?
ES: I think Elizabeth and I both have a love for really fine fabrics. We’re just two gals with expensive tastes! [laughs] But going forward, for SS15…
EA: We’re going to challenge ourselves to get the price point down.
ES: Just to make it more approachable. I think we have a really strong aesthetic that people gravitate towards. And we would love for more people to be a part of that… We don’t want to compromise fabrics or quality, we would just like to explore and tap into different sourcing and materials that get our message across without exclusively using fox fur and crocodile trims [laughs]… It’s very luxe right now.
It’s very luxe, but it also has this costume element that most people associate with Party City polyester Halloween dresses.
ES: I have spent all morning online looking for a really nice men’s schoolgirl costume. And it’s been impossible. There’s so many of them, but they’re all so disgusting. I would never put them on my body. And that’s something that we also try to bring people.
EA: It’s difficult because we love costumes… I know it’s not a market for everybody, but there’s something so special about costumes, something so unique. It might be a specific 1%, but I think there’s a market for people who love those kinds of clothes but want them made with quality fabrics and construction.
ES: Right. And something we want people to realize, when they look at our runways or our lookbooks, is that we might be styling them for how we would wear them ourselves but, piece by piece, it’s actually a really wearable collection. I mean, our moms really like it! [laughs] There are things for just about everyone. Not everyone has to wear the all gold sailor/lolita dress. There’s a beautiful pair of green silk trousers in our new collection that are well tailored and well put together [on their own].
Even within the commercial fashion realm, many houses have actively reacted to the recession. Comme des Garçons launched BLACK as a direct response to the economic collapse, and houses like Margiela and Phillip Lim have done capsule collections with H&M and Target. Do you foresee yourselves marketing a diffusion line of some sort to accommodate a different audience?
EA: We eventually want to do a diffusion line. Called AS If. [laughs]
ES: I don’t think we’re ever going to be doing T-Shirts. Not watered down, just more accessible.
A side-step. Like the Skipper to your Barbie.
ES: Exactly. [laughs]
Your previous collection drew heavily upon the aesthetics of The Matrix, and Lolita fashion. I’ve found both the Matrix and Lolita have the same kind of fashion philosophy: Once you understand the “rules” of those universes, you understand you have the power to transform yourself into whatever you want without any boundaries. At the same time, you’re often interviewed about your “Ideal Woman” or the “Ammerman Schlösberg girl.” Do you find yourself designing for that transformation fantasy or for an ideal client?
ES: I think that we do have a girl in mind…
EA: And that’s still evolving. We’re still figuring out who that is.
ES: But I think that that fantasy is still a lot of what we do. That girl could be completely opposite to what we think the Ammerman Schlösberg girl is, but I think they share that sense of fantasy that they want to slip into. And our clothes allow that transition. I don’t think it has anything to do with purposefully shocking people. It’s definitely about finding that comfort level. But it’s a different sense of the word bravery. It isn’t flipping off society and making everyone question what you’re doing… It’s more like confidence.
EA: You have to be confident in yourself.
ES: And know yourself.
EA: And love yourself.
ES: We sound like we’re selling positive affirmation clothes. “It Gets Better!”
Do you ever think about a dream Ammerman Schlösberg man?
ES: Confident in himself, confident in his sexuality. Like we said earlier, a garment doesn’t define who you are, and an Ammerman Schlösberg guy would get that. Really laid back and unafraid.
EA: I can see a grungy, hot guy wearing a schoolgirl outfit with vans…
ES: And, like, a dirty old Nirvana T-Shirt! And face-tattoos! If things go as planned, hopefully we can get a few Men’s looks into our next collection. As a guy who likes to shop in New York, there are not a lot of options. Stores like Opening Ceremony do a really good job at trying to stock really special pieces for men, but [I’d like to do do] something that isn’t so blazer-and-trouser oriented.
If Ammerman Schlösberg gained creative control of any historic, big-name design house, which one would it be?
ES: Oh God. Could we have a minute to discuss this?
[The pair discuss]
ES: You know, Ammerman Schlösberg is composed of two elements… Saccharine sweet and slutty bedroom costume.
EA: Also feminine and modern. And sexy.
ES: Right. So I think if we combined those elements with, say, Valentino it could be amazing. And then Dolce and Gabanna would be the other end of that spectrum. I’m thinking of all of those bustier dresses that are skin-tight down to the ankle and then criss-crossing up the top with black satin and a lace overlay… We would gladly take an offer like that. Dolce and Gabanna, if you’re listening… [laughter]
Ammerman Schlösberg can be found online and in-stores at Opening Ceremony.