Front row with Dylan Chiro of Degenerate
Towards the end of last month, I managed to catch-up with my next interviewee for the Front row series. He goes by the name of Dylan Chiro: a Cape-Town based fashion designer and third-year fashion design student. The below is a brief recollection and summary of the encounter, followed by an interview between Dylan Chiro of Degenerate and Odwa Zamane of FRONT ROW MEDIA.
Within the space of five minutes, we found ourselves settled within the conversation. This interview was probably the second or third formal conversation I had ever had with Dylan, and oddly enough, it felt as if we had previously communicated these exact same thoughts and ideas to each other, on various occasions.
We managed to trace our steps back to his formative years as a creative; from selling bootleg Drake OVO merch (at insane prices as well) back in his hometown of East London, right through to his enrolment into fashion design at the Design Academy of Fashion (DAF) here in Cape Town.
In the interview, we also discuss the initial ideation surrounding his fashion brand Degenerate, plus some details about his fast-approaching final year collection at DAF. Dylan also explains the relationship between himself and creative collective ADULT CONTENT DREAMS: a crew of multi-disciplinary creatives, who use different art mediums to explore several subcultures, such as music and fashion.
** Image by Odwa Zamane of FRONT ROW MEDIA **
The interview: Front row with Dylan Chiro of Degenerate
Odwa: So for everyone who doesn’t know who you are and what you do, please introduce yourself. Just your name, surname, and what do you do.
Dylan: My name is Dylan Chiro. I’m a fashion designer, well, currently still a fashion design student in my final year. I’m actually about to start my final year range (very excited for that), which is also going to be included in the first Degenerate collection. It’s going to be five looks, keeping it real small and simple so that I can get production to be as optimal as possible.
** The above images are screenshots of posts on the DAF Instagram page: @dafacademy **
Odwa: So, starting off.. I would like to know: when did you actually get into fashion? And what was your actual reason for getting into it?
Dylan: I’ve always been into fashion; it has always been a thing for me to try to dress well, but it was probably around 2016, 2017 when fashion really began to take over. I was running a cap brand with one of my homies (which eventually fell apart) and that all happened within that “in-between phase” before finishing high school. That’s when I kind of started considering what I could do next, which was still clothing-related. I was like, starting a new brand basically falls in-line with me studying fashion design, so I studied fashion design.
Odwa: And it’s actually interesting you say that, because when we initially spoke about it, I found the story surrounding your cap brand so interesting. So, could you share a bit more of that story with us? Where were you when you made that brand? Who did you make the brand with? And how did it end?
Dylan: Uhm, so this brand started in late 2015 or 2016 (I’m not too sure about the years), but when I was in high school. Basically what happened was, I was talking to this girl, trying to “mack” on her with some creative talk. I told her we should both make these “Mami” and “Papi” type of caps, but in that Drake, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late font. Eventually, I worked on the idea with a homie and we eventually started selling the caps, for a couple of months to maybe even a year. We were making so much money, but we weren’t focused on expanding the business at all. I think we were a bit young and immature for the amount of money we were getting.
Odwa: So, the cap business, which was super lucrative at that time, basically fizzled out? If I remember correctly, you said that this was just before you went off to university – correct?
Dylan: Not really. More like the first quarter of my matric year. From then on, I was trying to think of what I was going to do next. I always knew that I wanted to have my own brand, but I just didn’t know how serious I was at that specific point. So one day, I literally scribbled a bunch of words and phrases down, and somehow, I came across the word “degenerate”. I immediately knew that was the name I needed for my brand; I didn’t even know what the word meant, but it felt right.
Odwa: And that actually segues well into my next question: why Degenerate?
Dylan: This is a tough question; one which I even struggle to answer myself because, the reason why I picked the name is because there is no clear way to define it. The best way to define Degenerate as a brand is as a community; one which welcomes all, especially the outcasted. I’m half-Mozambican and half-Zimbabwean, so predominantly growing up in the Eastern Cape, a lot of the time I felt like “the outsider”.
Odwa: Isolating that to your creative process and how you produce, how would you define the ethos behind Degenerate? What drives you to make clothes? And even when you make clothes, how do you pick your garments and materials?
Dylan: Personally, I generally use virgin fabrics; like a bunch of metres, and then just cut that up. And then from a garment perspective and how I choose them – feeling and instinct play a big part. For example, even though I wouldn’t classify myself as only a menswear designer, I know that most of my silhouettes are masculine. Speaking about my design aesthetic, I call it the “cut-and-paste”: analysing details from a wide variety of designs, with the intent of incorporating functionality at the end, and reworking certain elements in different places.
Odwa: The ethos behind your design philosophy resembles a lot anti-fashion, more than anything. It very much goes against the grain of ‘convention’ – very much 90’s Antwerp-Six bravado. You also previously mentioned that your second year collection was actually inspired by Raf Simons’ Spring/Summer 2003 “Consumed” collection; characterised by outward, visible zippers and pockets – presenting the possibility of a local avant-garde streetwear brand.
** Left image: a look from the Degenerate 2019 collection, taken by an unknown photographer; right image: sourced from the Vogue website**
Odwa: On that note, where do you see the future Degenerate fitting into the greater South African fashion market? Do you have any intentions of expanding the brand outside of South Africa?
Dylan: Where I would like to be, as a brand, is more luxury and ready-to-wear. Right now, now I’d say it’s definitely streetwear, and that’s just based on the raw essence of it – what I’m really doing, and the process behind it. I’m going to add hoodies and t-shirts in this upcoming collection, and I guess that immediately puts it within that streetwear bracket.
Odwa: I’m excited! I’m so keen to hear you say that. Not gonna front, but please make some fucking tie-dye hoodies bro.
Dylan: I’m doing all of it bro! I go back to print this week, so when I get the samples back, I’m just gonna do some random shit.
Odwa: Which actually segues well into my next question, since we’re speaking about DAF. To give the audience some context: Dylan won a very prestigious prize at DAF.. a scholarship actually. I won’t share any more details; I want you to maybe speak about it yourself?
Dylan: So basically, I won a scholarship from the Nicholas Coutts Foundation. As many of you know, Nicholas sadly passed away last year, so his family opened up the foundation with the intent of donating a full scholarship to one third-year student, including mentorship. Funny story; when they announced that I had won the prize, I was actually on Uber Eats busy ordering a bottle. So when they called my name out as the winner, I wasn’t actually listening, because I was preoccupied on my phone. So when I eventually walked out to the stage, and there were cameras and eveything, I was like oh wow: they chose actually me. I couldn’t believe it.
** Images by Odwa Zamane of FRONT ROW MEDIA, pants by Degenerate **
Odwa: Wow, that’s amazing. It’s so dope seeing a person of color winning such a prestigious prize – congrats man.
Dylan: Thanks bro. Winning that prize meeting was that wake up call I needed. That was the the trigger which showed me that I am doing something right, but it’s time to start trying hard now. I told myself: “If I could get this without trying my best – imagine what I could get if I tried my best everyday”.
Odwa: Big facts. And from my side, another aspect of your life, and Degenerate, that I wanted us to speak about is ADULT CONTENT DREAMS (also known as ACD). For context, this is the creative collective which Dylan forms a part of, and I personally found it so interesting that there was this collective which literally did everything; from photography, DJ’ing, through to fashion.
Dylan: It’s all under one house; one roof. What happens in Degenerate is most likely going to happen in ADULT CONTENT DREAMS, and vice-versa. It filters through.
Odwa: The collective is super diverse, and you’re the dude making the clothes. It just seems like everyone is able to play their own role so well within it, which is refreshing to see from the outside. Me having worked with Sabz before as well – like it’s fucking dope to see.
** The above images are screenshots of posts on the ACD Instagram page: @adultcontentdreams **
Lastly, is there anything which you would just like to share with people? Something which has been plaguing your mind maybe? Plans for the future?
Dylan: I’ve got two. I haven’t these broken these two ideas down into their rawest forms yet, plus I still need to iron the kinks out. Right now, everyone knows that sustainability is a very important thing, so I am planning to use old Degenerate samples and repurpose/upcycle them, in between each collection. Using all of the waste from older collections, making something new and also making money outside of the collection. I’m also thinking about having some sort of recycling initiative, but that will have to play out over a longer period of time.
Odwa: Awesome man. That’s all from me, thank you for freeing up the time to do this.
Dylan: Thanks bro, appreciate the platform.
**end of interview**