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This surrealist fashion brand dreams up freakish meme-iverses

Peep the recent Steve Lacy music videos. Front and center is the man himself, goofily bopping around to his slinky guitar riffs as he’s chased by a dog or lifted by a crane into the blue sky. Front and center on the man himself is a slightly oversized button-down shirt that looks like it was ripped straight off the bargain rack at Nordstrom, emblazoned with a big black “S” on the front.

The “S” could stand for the 24-year-old artist’s first name or the dollar sign it makes when worn with a black tie — but it could also stand for Stylo au Plafond, the upstart Philadelphia-based fashion brand that styled the shirts for three videos promoting Lacy’s new record, Gemini Rights. The bright red target on the back of the button-down is unintentionally symbolic. The pair of designers behind Stylo, Matthew Michaud and Kieran Sutton, took their shot when presented the opportunity and hit a bullseye.

Read more: How Blazzy brought more awareness to the dangers of fentanyl with a T-shirt

“He was our third customer,” Sutton says. A couple of weeks later, Lacy and his team asked them to design shirts for the upcoming music videos, using Dead Kennedys as a reference. Stylo obliged, with Sutton flying out to Los Angeles to personally deliver their work.

[Photo via Stylo au Plafond]

It was a rapid jump in exposure for a brand founded in April. Michaud and Sutton first made shirts for a going away party for Philadelphia band Joy Again, best known for the song Looking Out For You,” who were embarking on a spring tour. The initial T-shirt poked fun at Marc Jacobs’ HEAVEN clothing line by replacing the logo with a two-headed hydra of cartoon dads Peter Griffin and Homer Simpson.

Michaud and Sutton now scour local thrift stores for high-quality button-ups, clean and sanitize them and use waterproof fabric markers to etch their designs. The pair dove headfirst into outsider humor, sketching eco-terrorist Sonic the Hedgehog, sexy Black Rock summer internship and the Utah Jazz/Raytheon Technologies hybrid that caught the eye of Lacy. Each new shirt felt more entrenched in the dizzying experience of scrolling through social media, where the line between genuine posts, memes and advertising blur. 

Even the name Stylo au Plafond is dipped in irony. “I wanted it to sound like high fashion, something French or Italian. I thought it’d be a funny contrast, what the content was versus what the name was,” Michaud says.

Sutton also had a memory from seventh grade when a fellow classmate showed him how to toss a pen so the point stuck perfectly into the ceiling. He typed “pen in the ceiling” into Google Translate and voila.

[Photo by Nick Pedro]

The fashion pieces embody that contrast of low and high fashion through ridiculous meme-like content splattered on a classic piece of menswear. But when it comes to the designs, Michaud and Sutton go off instinct, and that often takes them to profound places. “We’ll think of the funniest thing to reference and connect it to something irrelevant, that’s also kind of relevant,” Michaud says. 

Take Stylo’s Hyper Pop Cafe as an example. You initially double-take — the logo you recognize from one context is ripped from its typical techy white backdrop and recolored in snotty green, split by the eponymous text. Peel it back another layer, and you realize that, well, hyperpop music is created and performed with the help of a laptop, so the reference makes sense. Irrelevant but relevant. But then Sutton takes it one step further, hinting that the shirt references the Hard Rock Cafe restaurant chain, ditching its guitar iconography for an Apple logo. Think Losing My Edge in 2022.

Such meme-ing encapsulates something romantically middle school about Stylo’s designs. Not only does the name harken back to seventh grade, but the illustrations exist in the emotional middle ground between childhood and adulthood. There’s that preteen longing to grow up that manifests itself in crude South-Parkian humor, alongside wistful homages to things and places that slowly fade from sentimental importance to aging irrelevancy. Case in point: Stylo’s reimagining of beloved characters like Sonic and Kirby as eco-terrorists and warlords and the oddly moving portrait of nowhere America gas stations and fast-food joints that line stop-start suburban highways.

[Photo by Nick Pedro]

It’s no surprise that others attach nostalgia to Stylo designs, then. After Lacy’s music videos came out in late June and early July, the stylist for Glass Animals commissioned a piece based on the lyrics to the group’s new song Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” which describes singer-songwriter Dave Bayley’s childhood in Texas. Weeks later, Bayley performed at the Brooklyn Mirage Aug. 8 clad in a Stylo original that referenced the cartoons AAAHH!!! Real Monsters and Pokémon and the sugary snack Dunkaroos. 

The Stylo guys are surprised by how fast it’s all happened. Michaud calls it “failing upward.” Sutton credits “expecting to be lucky.” On top of designing a shirt for the cover art of Christian Taylor’s single Why Am I (In California) .cass,” they hope to capitalize on the momentum with the first official Stylo au Plafond drop soon to be announced. 

Regardless, they’re just happy to make clothes that people want to wear. “We’re either making a shirt for Steve Lacy or we’re making a shirt for my stupid friends,” Michaud jokes. “​​We’re pretty lucky to be friends with really awesome artists who share our stuff and are supportive.”

[Photo by Nick Pedro]

[Photo by Nick Pedro]

[Photo by Nick Pedro]

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