They say it’s always sunny and 76 in Los Angeles but that doesn’t mean there’s no darkness in the city of angels. Odyn Vovk, the cult fashion label by 23-year-old designer Austin Sherbanenko, is full of zip-heavy artfully constructed clothing. Since his first collection launched Odyn Vovk — pronounced ohdin vahk — in 2009 Sherbanenko has become the beloved black sheep of fashion. As he prepared for Fashion Week, we spoke to the designer about his influences, education and decidedly goth sensibility.
Where does the name of your label come from?
It means “one wolf” in Ukranian; it’s in memory of my Ukrainian grandfather, who escaped from a Nazi labor camp and brought his family to the States via Ellis Island. A wolf hunts to maintain its existence, and does everything and anything to keep its family alive: it’s about self-reliance. From the beginning, my label has been me figuring it out on my own—no-one else was helping me, I learned everything on my own.
Did you study at all?
I went to school for a very short time. I was at Parsons for one summer, then when that was over I moved back to LA and went to the Fashion Institute for about three weeks. While I was there I started a capsule collection. I kind of got the hang of it, luckily. I was running into sewing houses, meeting pattern makers and getting this done while I was at school—I felt like I was learning more on my own through trial and error than I was at school, so I left and started doing my label full-time.
Where do you work and how does it influence you?
I work out of a warehouse in Downtown LA—I was living there too, until recently. I’m definitely influenced by the mood of the place, it’s very industrial, and after 6PM it’s a dead zone—there isn’t a soul on the street. It also affects the design process because I’m not exposed to a lot of other designers’ work. I’m not in a fashion city per se, and because of where I work I’m not seeing other designers or walking by stores, looking in windows. I’m a strong believer in the unconscious: I like to stay here to design so I don’t unconsciously get ideas from other people—I like to be on my own page.
You’re into punk and black metal—is that where all of the black leather comes from?
Norwegian Black Metal is entertaining to me, I just like fast paced music and drums: when I’m tired it gets me amped up and keeps me going. It’s not so much about the lyrics, but I do like the screaming and growling part. But the leather in the collection is more influenced by my interest in motorcycles. That’s what I do in my spare time: ride motorcycles, research motorcycles, do maintenance on motorcycles, buy motorcycles… Everyone’s done the biker jacket with the typical zip and things like that, but my pieces are more to do with functionality—the back gussets on the jackets and the zippers on the cuffs allow movement: I have to be able to wear my stuff when I ride.
You seem to like a fairly minimal color palette…
I like to keep the colors simple and let the designs speak from themselves—black really highlights the details—but I am starting to use more colors. For light shades I’m doing something natural—not full white; for fall I took an animal skull to the dye house to and had them match the color. I also took a piece of rusty metal to do the same thing.
Did you always want to work in fashion?
I got interested at an early age. I was always altering my clothes, taking my pants in, cutting up T-shirts. I remember going to 8th grade graduation, and I’d never worn a suit or a button up shirt before: I begged my mom to let me cut off the sleeves of my suit, and she said OK. That was the point where I said, “I just wanna be me, I don’t wanna look like anyone else.”
So do you mainly design for yourself?
I do, really, but I think my stuff appeals to anyone that can appreciate quality and fit and can see past the materials and the look, and recognize that there is a lot of thought put into every garment. The line has been popular in Japan from the start. They see what I see in a way—they appreciate the quality and the fit and the fact that the rigidness in some of the garments is intentional. They’re into strong images, and I think we’re a strong image. The Japanese are very particular; they’re perfectionists, and so am I.
Visit our Odyn Vovk sale starting tomorrow, September 2, on Gilt Man