Is he a customizer? A tailor? Not quite… To truly understand the concept behind DRx Romanelli, you have to delve deeper into the process and the fact that it is part archeological dig, where histories of brands and/or individuals come to life. It is also one of design, where piecing together something old with something becomes an art form in itself. And then there is the “mad scientist” Darren Romanelli, who made the transformation from a mere hoarder/collector to a curator of sort.
Ahead of the recent opening of Stussy Taipei, Freshness was fortunate enough to chat with the “Doc” himself on the creation of DRx Romanelli, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. More importantly, we spoke about his new Stussy project, where he spent nearly a year combing through the label’s archive for relevant designs. And while it is difficult to conjure a simple answer for the question of “what or who is DRx Romanelli?”. It might be easier to picture him as the Indiana Jones of the rag trade, sans the whip and fedora. Here is our conversation with Darren Romanelli, the mastermind behind it all.
What did it feel like to walk into Stussy’s archive?
It was good. I think for me, it was so casual. They have a warehouse where stuff isn’t so archived. It’s just stored throughout the years on crates. It was quite the experience going in and getting my hands dirty. Basically opening up boxes and it was like pleathera of each item. They had stock for days. I only had a day to go through a 1000 or so crates. I saw so many amazing pieces from when I was growing up that I grabbed a few of each of these different seasons. It was incredible because I’m from California and the brands from Cali, so to revisit my youth in an afternoon was great.
In your creations, especially the classic ones it’s a blending of vintage sports apparel. Was working with Stussy’s streetwear any different?
Yes. I took the same approach with DRx from embracing the vintage and then reworking it in the more modern silhouettes, so I stayed in tandem with the silhouettes I always work with, but obviously the textiles were more street. In some of the older pieces, Stussy was famous for their crazy patterns, so the pieces are definitely a lot louder. They’re more street than some of my more conservative deconstructive work jerseys.
It was mentioned that you spent nearly year on the collection. What challenges did you face while working with the archive?
I think for me it was making sure Stussy was into the collection. I just wanted to make sure that Stussy was happy, a); b) the Asian consumer would be into the collection so it was important to make sure the pieces are relevant. Then I wanted to make sure that my vision was in tact. It was more about keeping everybody happy and staying true to my vision. Does that answer your question? A little bit? What’d you ask me? I’m sorry.
Challenges of having spent the year on the collection. Were there anything that was harder than what you usually do?
Not really, to be honest. It’s such a process for me now. It’s almost like solving a mathematical equation where I just work it out in my head. I had such amazing textiles to pick from, bro. If anything I was more excited about it. It just is a long process from the time I got the items to photographing them before reworking them. Making the samples, bringing them to (David) Sinatra, talking to Ed (Edison Chen) about sizing… so for me when everything got organized it wasn’t so challenging.
Did you pull it completely from the archive or was there some parts of it that was your own as well?
No. All archived pulled.
What kickstarted DRx?
Basically, I graduated from Oregon in ’98 and I was collecting vintage Nike when I went to school with all their stores. I always collected sneakers and I was always a hoarder. When I found a brand that I liked I would go crazy with it. So, when I graduated from college I was trying to find a look. Just getting out of school, getting my hustle on. I started reworking Converse, reworking 501’s and taking apart varsity jackets just because I wanted something original. So it came from a truly organic place.
In the beginning, the pieces were really raw and a little hard to look at. I found a sewer and I went through four or five before I finally found someone who makes stuff that I like. It was just for me in the beginning. I didn’t make stuff to sell. I made stuff just to rock. Then once I was saw people were feeling it, I thought well maybe I’ll make some for some friends and then a store saw what I was doing and they said, and they said, “Can we buy some pieces?” I said, “Why not.”
For the first couple years it was Darren Romanelli. Then I figured out I wanted to come up with a brand name so Dr., my initials, D.R. … everyone called me D.R. so it made sense. Everything felt really natural.
That was like ’98, right after college?
Yes, ’98 I graduated from school. I kind of sat with the idea of what I wanted to do in ’98-99 and 2000 started the sourcing, but the brand Dr. Romanelli started 2003. It’s 10 years this year.
Same as Freshness, we started in 2003. What did you study in college?
Sociology. I was fascinated and I still am with how people interact with each other and the idea of conversation and community connecting. Why people act a certain way in certain situations.
That’s a lot of the reason why I did Pancake Epidemic, it was to build a hub. It was funny, when I was in school and I had to pick a major, everyone had always raved about how great the sociology program was at Oregon and I took a class. I remember I had this amazing professor and she made us observe ourselves in the classroom from an outside perspective and it’s the first time I ever really stopped and noticed myself.
Because you’re so caught in this constant hustle, you never really observe how or the reason we’re here right now and how we’re talking to each other. You throw fashion and art into the mix and it gives you different perspectives.
Maybe you can walk us through the creation of doing one of these pieces. What’s a typical starting point?
With a Romanelli piece?
There’s two sides to DRx. There’s the Bespoke side, where people commission me to make them custom pieces and then there’s the collection side, where I’ll work on a collection for a Brand or a company or a shop. If it’s a collection, I’ll source a collection of materials. I have this collection coming up with Coca-Cola now, similar to what Human Made did. Where I go to this guy in Idaho, Bubba, who goes out and puts his feelers out in the market and will collect a ton of vintage Coke pieces.
Whereas if an athlete asked for a custom commission, they might send me a garment, an old jacket, an old high school jersey.
When I get the garment or the collection vintage and then I order all the different components of the garment. Based on the vintage I might order copper zippers from RiRi or gun metal if it’s a dark jersey.
Then I’ll order the leathers, because those are the accent pieces that will highlight the garment that I’m deconstructing. Then I order lining, then I order fusing. There are all these different components that it’s like putting a puzzle together. Once I have all the pieces ordered, I have my studio at my crib, I lay it out on the floor and then I’ll cut into it with my sewer. I always look at the item as paneling.
These different panels … there’s all this real estate in the silhouette, I’ll create the custom panels and then voila, my sewer sews it together and the garments done. That’s the story, but it always starts with vintage. Ninety-five percent of my collection is made from vintage or that’s the anchor in the piece.
You just finished this collection with Stussy, would you ever consider doing a nonvintage collection with them? A mass market collection.
Yes. [speaking to David Sinatra] “Dave, he’s asking us if we can do some Dr. Romanelli x Stussy real pieces that aren’t deconstructed.”
[David Sinatra] Made but not handmade?
[Dr Romanelli] Like we do some …
[David Sinatra] Like some Romanelli printed…
[Dr Romanelli] Yes, some Romanelli printed shit.
[David Sinatra] You never know, right?
There you go. I’d love to do something. If it’s for Asia, I would much prefer it because that’s where I put my brand.
So you’re saying that Asia is a better market for you?
That’s always been my focus. It’s been Japan and Hong Kong … It’s just always been where… because the Asian consumer pays so much more attention to craftsmanship and the story that I feel here it’s a better market. So, I’d much rather do something for them. Specifically for Japan or now Taiwan. Not that I wouldn’t do it in the states, it’s just it feels better here.
Awesome. Thank you for your time.
Cool. Thank you sir.