Art, anti-capitalism & Kanye, with COME TEES' Sonya Sombreuil
The indie LA designer TALKIN’ BIG TOPICS ONLY
|Oct 8, 2020||7|
Los Angeles’ COME TEES: It’s one of the dopest lines in the game … if yr anything like us here at Blackbird Spyplane, u may periodically suffer from “GRAPHIC TEE EXHAUSTION SYNDROME,” but Come’s Sonya Sombreuil transcends the GENERIC WEAK S**T with distinctive design after distinctive design.
Nothing else out there looks like her clothes, and even though Rihanna & Kanye r among the cultural JUGGERNAUTS who have rocked her joints and gotten PAPPED UP in the process, she’s stayed true 2 the idiosyncratic-vibe-riding ethos she had when she first kicked off the line in 2009, selling books thru Printed Matter and super-limited-edition tees at art fairs…
Oh yeah and along the way she happened to make the most iconic POLITICAL JAWN OF 2020 with the tee she designed in support of the movement to elect Bernie “Would Have Won” Sanders …
Come Tees’ vibey “Stained Glass” hoodie, left; right, the “RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE” Bernie tee on an M.D. putting in work in the damn field
Since we r the No. 1 source across all media for “unbeatable recon” on dope under-the-radar joints, we asked Sonya to tell us about a rare & cherished possession of hers — she sent us pics of a button with a handwritten WARNING : “I’M AN ARTIST — YOUR RULES DON’T APPLY.”
We hit her up to talk about this button; Bernie, Ye and RiRi; the future of “left merch”; community mutual-aid efforts; the redistribution of wealth; and the ups and downs of having a rule-allergic creative soul …
Blackbird Spyplane: Tell us about this pin & what it means to you…
Sonya Sombreuil: “This is something that just speaks volumes about my psychology. When I was 7 or 8, my dad bought me a pin with this phrase on it: ‘I’m an artist, your rules don’t apply.’ And I lost it. So when I was in my 20s, he visited me in this little town where I was living, and we went to the little art store there. The guy had a button machine out, and my dad remade the pin for me.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Why do you think the idea stayed with him?
Sonya: “It sort of encapsulates the way my dad saw me — which created a lot of confusion in my reality, because I really don’t think the rules apply to me. Like, some people, when they’re told no, they back up. There’s certain laws about the universe, and a lot of people learn them — but I didn’t, and I refuse to. There’s two sides to it: Being impervious to rejection and believing in yourself are good things. Defiance of the status quo is great. But on the other side is not letting go of things when you need to let go of them — like, there’s a rule in the universe that things change and you need to be in flux with them, and I pretend that isn’t true. So when I saw this pin the other day, I really thought, Yup!”
Rihanna at Heathrow and Venus X in NYC, both in Come Tees denim…
Blackbird Spyplane: You’ve talked about moving from painting into designing t-shirts as a way for you to transmit yr ideas that much farther, and how for years you’d set up tables at art fairs and be the only person selling t-shirts. Obviously that market has gotten crowded, to the point of over-saturation — and you’ve since made stuff like denim, baby clothes, perfumes, and skateboards… Do you feel any fatigue when it comes to graphic tees these days?
Sonya: “Yes and no. T-shirts sort of keep me on the threshold of art making, and there’s some kind of psychology there — for some reason, I’m hanging back from getting deep into my art practice again. But I’ve always been obsessed with things like album art, or books — the whole package, all the things that accompany the content, all the material things around the ethereal thing. And t-shirts are a really great version of that, because they have all these little conventions that it’s fun to play with. So I do feel fatigued but it’s general — consumer fatigue, over-stimulation.”
Mutual friends of Rick Rubin and Blackbird Spyplane have forwarded Rick this newsletter on at least one occasion … Rubin once took a walk with Kanye while he was rocking a Come Tees joint… and you are currently reading a FIRE Blackbird Spyplane interview about Come Tees… THAT is what we call the mf “circle of life” baby !!!
Blackbird Spyplane: Who had the biggest impact in terms of blowing up Come Tees to a broader audience — Kanye, Rihanna or Bernie?
Sonya: “Well I wish it was Rihanna but it was probably Kanye — Kanye is a quote-unquote influencer the likes of which we’ll never see again. The Bernie shirt was a cool experience, but the audience I got from it — put it this way: Whatever visibility I got from any of any of those 3 people, that’s not the audience that stuck with me. Like, 10 million 19-year-olds might have bought bootlegs of the Come Tees shirt that Kanye wore, but they’re not Come Tees fans. I feel like I have the pleasure and privilege of intimacy with my actual audience.”
Blackbird Spyplane: People got excited by the Bernie shirts during the primaries because they were so loaded with meaning: a cool independent designer made them; when you wore one you felt connected to a broader movement; and in terms of actual dollars they helped his campaign, not just symbolically but materially—
Sonya: “Oh my god, I truly thought the money I donated was gonna put Bernie in office. It felt like so much money.”
The very dope new Come Tees x 8Ball Community tee — a portion of proceeds goes to the South Central local of the L.A. Tenants Union, “an autonomous, member-funded union that fights for the human right to housing” by “organizing tenants against evictions and harassment, with rent strikes, direct action, and media campaigns.” Link below.
Blackbird Spyplane: We did a big post a few weeks back about the intersection of jawns & anti-capitalism. Do you think we’ll continue to see left-populist causes generate merch?
Sonya: “I don’t even like to refer to my politics as left, ‘cause that’s still in relationship to the establishment. But ppl I know, even just on an interpersonal level, have been doing and are still doing mutual-aid stuff. The thing about the Bernie movement was — I really want you to attribute this to my friend Ezra, he told me, ‘Even Defund the Police is an austerity measure.’ What we need to do is take the wealth that’s been disproportionately accumulated by an incredibly tiny subsection of humanity.
“To me that’s what Bernie was talking about, and little brands like me, I feel the spiritual onus to donate, and releases of mine going forward will have a significant donation attached to them. I recognize that’s mostly a symbolic gesture, but it’s in alignment with what I think needs to happen on a broader scale.
“When you’re within capitalism and put out a product, it’s really hard to parse what’s performative and what’s contributing to your image and — I really try to live within my values, but I accuse myself of performative activism all the time. Am I out protesting all the time? No, I’m working, and that sucks.
“And I see s**t that has to do with environmentalism in new products and I go, There’s no way that making anything new is sustainable. I don’t want to hear it. I used to, like, upcycle, and that wasn’t sustainable for me — I literally couldn’t eat when I was doing that.”
Blackbird Spyplane: California garment workers have been fighting for better pay this year, complicating what we think of when we see the words “Made in L.A.” — what can you tell us about that aspect of the L.A. fashion scene?
Sonya: “I have a lot of compassion for people who own small factories who treat their people fairly, but the term ‘made in LA’ — which I use — can reek of ethical marketing. The real problem is that we have truly gross inequity, and we need a total reboot of society. I’m dead serious about that. The issue can not be contained to the issue of garment workers — the reason we all need higher wages is because the cost of living has been made untenable. We’re never gonna get a minimum wage that keeps up with the pace of life. So that’s the really radical idea: Redistribution.”