Photography by Joel Barhamand for Yahoo Style
In menswear, it seems, the hottest trend is womenswear. While designers like Public School have been flirting with androgyny for years — dropping pants crotches into quasi-skirts and T-shirt hems into demi-tunics, all with an insouciant tongue extended at the Mad Men look — some of the newest acclaimed designers have gone full-out ambisexual.
One of them is 29-year-old Rio Joe Uribe, the creative force behind Gypsy Sport, which made a splash during the last New York Fashion Week Men’s in July, and again on Tuesday night during the women’s collections. He’s been nominated for the prestigious CFDA /Vogue Fashion Fund Award for menswear, alongside Thaddeus O’Neil (one of his brethren in gender-blurred designs), and David Hart. It’s been won in the past by Tom Ford, Public School and Thom Browne.
We’re in the Gypsy Sport studio, tucked away in the basement of a building in the Garment District, on the literal hottest day of the year. It’s 90 degrees in the studio, easy.
Uribe mentions that he just showed Anna Wintour around.
“Did she sweat?” a visitor asks, perspiring heavily.
“I don’t think so,” he laughs.
The soft-spoken, calm Uribe isn’t stressing, either, and why should he be? “I think I’ve got a shot,” he says earnestly. “No one is left out of the Gypsy Sport brand. It includes everyone,” he says. “It’s the people’s brand and I think that people can recognize that. I have nothing against whoever else wins, but if Gypsy Sport wins, I think it’s just going to be the beginning of more of a connection with the consumer than a lot of other brands out there.”
His show for Fall/Winter ‘15 was inspired by the circus. He sent real NYC breakdancers and street performers careening down the runway. There were off-the-shoulder tops for men, lots of leggings, giant sweaters and knit bellbottoms. The spring show took the ne plus ultra of butch fabric — basketball-uniform mesh — and reworked it into midriff-baring tops and a knee-length shirt with knit lace sleeves. There were silky boxers stitched together with a crazy quilt of prints and painstakingly stitched peasant tops paired with bottoms that incorporated bball-hoop netting.
He shows off sketches of his next collection, which is inspired by camping. “And military camps in particular,” he says. “I really like the idea of tents and your clothes hanging outside of the tent to dry. Fishnet was on my mind. I created a dress that looked like a tent, a couple of utility vests.” There are skirts for men and women, and some of the men’s looks combine army netting and silk. He has a mood board of baroque fabrics, which range from sharp geometrics to giant paisleys. “A lot of people commented that this is ‘70s-inspired,” he says. “But to me it reminds me of my grandma’s couch.”
You can see why he has caught Wintour’s eye; his vision is singular to say the least. (He and his two employees are active on social media; when he got bad reviews, they turned quotes into memes on T-shirts and sold them through his website.) Are his designs a response to the current state of menswear? “It’s a funny question because I’ve never considered Gypsy Sport to be a men’s or women’s brand,” he says. “I just hoped that anybody would like it and want to wear it and to this point, I still consider it to be non-gender specific brand.” To that end, he was inspired by Opening Ceremony and the client it attracted.
Uribe didn’t go to school for fashion, aside from design courses in high school. He moved to New York City with meager savings and landed an internship with Balenciaga, where he was part of the visual merchandising team for five years. “I really got to see what it was like to be a designer, what kind of schedule you live on, what kind of sacrifices you have to make but also what kind of opinions you have to consider for marketability.”
He left to start Gypsy Sport with the brand’s blessing. “I think I grasped onto the word ‘gypsy’ because it represented a culture that was global and nonspecific to a race, and it represents outcasts or alternative people,” he says. “Two of the ideas that inspire me the most are diversity and adversity.”
This is a reflection of his personal background. He grew up in California with people who were much wealthier than his family, bused to an upper-middle-class school from a poorer neighborhood because his family wanted him to get the best education. Being the only Latino in his school was a challenge, as was his family’s uber-religiousness; he was an altar boy for a time. “When I came out to my mom as gay, she thought it was the end of the world,” he says. “She said, ‘You’re going to hell. I can’t let this happen to you.’” She’s cooler now. “Way cooler,” he says. “She’s like, ‘You need to let Gypsy Sport have a break and find yourself a nice boyfriend.’”
Not likely; even as Gypsy Sport is taking off, his entire staff is two of his friends, who work largely for takeout lunches and a communion with Uribe’s vision. “I’d say the things I grew up with are things I still face sometimes, but it also has so much to do with the stories of my friends and the people that I surround myself with,” he says. “Our upbringing was, in some way or another, different than what was the status quo. We felt like we might be weird or different, and that feeling is scary.”
He pauses. “And maybe still today we’re all a little different.”