The Obsessions of Brian Lichtenbergby Caroline Ryder
Auburn-headed fashion designer Brian Lichtenberg rocks the fragile indie-junkie look so masterfully, it’s hard to believe that beneath the torn sweater and drainpipe jeans lies a clean-living rap and R&B fanatic, who thinks Ludacris is the shiz. Known for his futuristic sportswear and holographic leggings (as beloved by M.I.A.), Lichtenberg loves to shop, but eschews the trendy boutiques of Los
Angeles for the thrift stores of South Central, where security guards carry real guns and hookers flash their asses to passers by. Another anomaly - he doesn’t own a car. Raised in Los Angeles, the city of freeways and low-lying smog, he has no idea how to drive. Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of Brian Lichtenberg. Caroline Ryder writes.
Obsession # 1: M.I.A.
Lichtenberg and Sri Lankan/British rapper M.I.A. have been having a fashion love affair since the summer. She was in LA on tour for her new album Kala when a friend of his who works for her management company passed some of his hologram leggings to her…and the rest is history. M.I.A. owns more than a dozen pairs of his leggings now, and some body suits, and has worn them throughout her tour. This love affair was meant to be - two years ago, before they started their collaboration and became friends, Lichtenberg appeared as an extra in M.I.A.’s Bucky Done Gun video. “I was walking down the street with my friends and someone came up and asked us if we want to be in the video. I freaked out when I realized who it was for.” Lichtenberg and seven of his best friends were driven out to the Salton Sea, an eerie saline lake in the desert just east of Los Angeles, where the video was shot. “It was like a fun field trip,” says Lichtenberg. “And we got paid for it too.”
Obsession # 2: Thrift-shopping in South Central
When Lichtenberg was growing up, he, his mom and his brother loved to wake up early on the weekend and go to yard sales. Now he heads down to South Central, to neighbourhoods like Compton and Long Beach. It’s his little secret. “I’ve gotten all these vintage jersey tank tops and fur coats and sequined dresses there,” he says. “I have scored Christian Dior boys’ blazers, Chanel belts, all this amazing stuff.” Last time he was there, he recalls being mooned by one of the prostitutes that hang out outside cheap motels in the area. But that’s about as gnarly as it’s ever gotten, for him at least. “I have never been fucked with at all,” he says. “People have that stereotype about going to the ghetto, like something is going to happen to you. But I realized that I have never been messed with, probably because I look like a junkie.”
Obsession # 3: Ludacris and UK two-step
Lichtenberg’s look may be all stripy Kurt Cobain, when it comes to music, he veers heavily towards the urban. “I love hip hop and R&B, and any black-influenced music,” he says. He has a crush on Ludacris, whom he thinks is genius. “At the end of the day, the songs are still about money and booty and alcohol and drugs. But they are lyrically clever and funny and the beats are more progressive than in any other music that’s out there." He’s also into Ciara, Dizzee Rascal, and UK Two-Step. He says one day, he too would like to make music, probably R&B. “I would love to make music and collaborate,” says Lichtenberg. “My grandma always says I have such a nice voice.”
Obsession # 4: Going to Japan a lot
Lichtenberg hasn’t traveled much outside the US, except to Tokyo - four times. He even speaks a little Japanese, having studied it at high school (which, incidentally, was where Beverly Hills 90210 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series were shot.) “Growing up I had friends from all ethnic backgrounds,” says Lichtenberg. “Now when I have shows, I always want to include someone of every ethnicity. My friends call it the United Colors of Brianton.” He was raised in the L.A. suburb of Torrance, which has one of the largest Japanese ex pat communities in America. “That’s where my interest in Japanese pop culture was born,” he says. He loves to go to Little Tokyo and immerse himself in the magazine racks. “The magazines in Japan are so visually stimulating, and they showcase such amazing young talent and street style,” he says. “So much amazing shit.”
Obsession # 5:Taking the bus in LA
“I don’t drive,” says Lichtenberg. This, in LA, city of freeways, is a revolutionary statement. “I have driven, like, three times in my life. I wasn’t really into it.” These days, his assistant drives him around. But before he had that luxury, he took the bus. He would make sketches taking the bus from Torrance to the boutiques of Melrose Avenue and Vermont Avenue, where he would shop at XGirl, the store where Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon once sold her line. Sometimes Lichtenberg would get inspired by the people he saw on the bus. And sometimes they would scare the hell out of him. “One time this guy pulled a knife,” he remembers. “He was older and there were these young gangbanger kids. He said ‘Oh, you guys think you’re tough?’ and got out this knife. It was scary. Another time this dude had a heart attack.”