Home Is Where Your Stuff Is

Words by Apryl Fuentes
Images by Samone Zena

The physical plane, the mental plane, the emotional plane - all spaces are containers for thought. I’ve been pondering how the age of covid has completely altered the way we experience proxemic realities and our relationship to space. Having spent much time in varying states of isolation [I’ll get to that part later] I arrived at the question: what does “home” mean? For many artists and freelancers, working from a “home” space has blurred the line between what signifies work and when one can retreat to their personal life under the same roof. Is it a destination or a feeling? Maybe, both. My own answer is in a constant state of flux. Now more than ever, I find myself looking to my peers for connection. This desire grows stronger as shared physical space starts to feel more unattainable. It sounds funny but, this idea takes me back to none other than Tumblr. So much cultural conversation and connection can be attributed to the website where online community peaked, in a pre-ad-driven social media terrain. We connected through cyberspace as a means of feeling seen and expressing our interests through fashion, personal style, the art we created, dialogue, and our shared connection as visual aesthetes. So many of the people I met on that platform have gone on to accomplish great things within the realms of art, fashion, cultural critique, film, music, and writing. This is a timely reunion with a Tumblr friend.

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Glimpses of James Flemons’ creative exploration are shared on his personal Instagram in a grid of archival runway fashion posts, nostalgic pop culture references, and iPhone selfies modeling his own designs. All these aspects of his artistic practice inspired me in ways that felt reminiscent of an internet epoch long before platforms commodified the digital space that artists built with our original thoughts and interactions. With so many people relying on Instagram as a determinant of income, it has become a performance in several ways, where exchanges of critical thought are rarely given space to take center stage. Refreshingly, Flemons takes to his social media to share personal sentiments about the complexities of running a business while finding time to nurture himself in this era of high demand for ethical fashion where little regard is given to the artist behind a brand.

Los Angeles in June.

I’d been looking forward to this moment for some time now, ruminating on the conversations I wished to have with the person sitting in front of me. It’s been a long time coming for us to connect IRL, which isn’t unusual considering how we met. James and I were first acquainted in the blogosphere where his eponymous brand grew and presently continues to shape arts & culture through the lens of independent fashion.

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We’re sitting somewhere under the shade of a tree in what’s soon to be my favorite park. Beyond the foliage, exists a glimpse of the city’s skyline, clouded by a layer of smog that paints LA sunsets their signature gradient pink. At the time, I was dwelling on a move from Portland to somewhere, not knowing I would end up here. I don’t believe in coincidences. During our Zoom link-up some weeks prior, I presented James with the concept of “Home”, an exploration into settings and spaces as inspirations for one’s practice. More than anything, I’d been curious about his aspirations and wanted to delve deeper into who James is when he’s not working on his beloved brand - Phlemuns.
James spoke of how creativity runs in his family, with his mother being a tremendous source of encouragement and support in all his endeavors. As I was babbling in the park about my aspirations of switching career paths and becoming an interior decorator, James lit up and said “that’s what my mom does.” He recalls growing up in a home with Wassily chairs before even knowing the significance of the chair. They were just fun to sit on, as a kid, with their obscure chrome frames, a now coveted design.

"I need a space that's just for me to do whatever. Just a room with my things that's not meant for any specific thing other than what I want it to be for. To have that freedom."

Earlier in the day, I stopped by the unofficial Phlemuns HQ, where a bright yellow ottoman caught my eye. It’s a piece of furniture I’d seen several times before in the background of James’ fit pics. That yellow ottoman is one amongst several furniture pieces his mom “Frankensteined” as he put it, experimenting with upholsteries and originality. I’m patiently waiting for the Phlemuns furniture collaboration with mom to make its way into the world for other fans to experience. Our shared chair obsession wasn’t the first time we dove excitedly into tangential conversation.

As I tour the space that has become a hub for all things Phlemuns, it’s impossible not to notice the amalgamation of colors, textures and memories coloring the space that houses the designer’s expansive creative eco system. Upon moving in, James mentioned the studio was broken into with everything caught on camera. It was weird, among many feelings, to see strangers walking the rooms where his work was strewn all over racks and sewing tables. They didn’t take anything which in ways felt way more violating than if they had made away with some backless tees and sewing equipment. It left him with a sense of unease knowing that the spaces we regard as our havens can be trespassed, with little to no regard for their meaning. An odd way to welcome the idea of a new studio. Fast forward to the present, many pop-ups and community-oriented events have livened the space with its intended purpose. 

I mentioned how I missed driving around LA, it’d been nearly a decade since I left.

“LA is massive. That is my space, it’s my car. I’ve been driving since I was 15 so I have such a connection to my car and the music and driving. Just drive. I’ll make up somewhere to go. I feel like it’s a California thing. It’s just the nature of it, you live in your car, you adapt.” 

Photos of Sheila, James’ now broken down white convertible named after the legendary Sheila E., live way in the depths of his personal IG page. He hasn’t gathered the strength to get rid of the car body sitting in the driveway, despite 3 years of pleas from his dad, because of the memories it holds. Like so many of us, James has an ever-growing creative endeavors list. Somewhere between Phlemuns Home and painting is an idea for an art installation featuring Sheila. Maybe a studio space or independent museum would house remnants of the car body as the art piece it is. To James, it’s more than just a hunk of metal.

In attempting to define the concept of home, my mind wanders to the places that encourage thought and creativity, where we can be and nurture ourselves in uninhibited ways. Home is a conversation of the multiplicity of spaces and places that we feel comfortable in. It’s not always the literal space, but rather an esoteric place to call our own. I am curious about the meaning home occupies in James’ creative practice and inspirations.

Shiela was a vehicle for solitude before the car was fully out of commission. James’ car is his retreat in the in-between moments of managing his independent business. The white Nissan holds memories of driving his beloved nephew around on fun uncle days or listening to Brandy as loud as he wants for a little sonic catharsis. An LA commute to the studio 6 times out of the week offers ample quality car time, for a contemplative James. 

When talking about his family, he radiates love and appreciation for having grown up with their support. Anyone who knows James has witnessed this closeness in the way he shares moments with his loved ones through photos and videos, accompanied by words of adoration. To be an uncle is a joy, a sentiment he conveys to me excitedly. Showing his nephew the possibilities of creativity and what love and support can do for one’s sense of self and personal expression, is a value he wishes to pass on as it was given to him. Home within family is where James lovingly returns to even when he is busy being a cut and sew connoisseur.

“As a creative who has been “referenced” and on many mood boards throughout the years of my career the internal dialogue of being copied is a continual thing. Although it’s something I’ve adapted to and rarely think about these days along with finding ‘contentment’ in it I’m always trying to grow and look for insight especially in the digital age we exist in now when you’re completely exposed with everyone’s eyes on each other whether conscious or not. I know a lot of artists who are originators constantly feeding their respective industries and thought this was a nice bit of fruit to share for some perspective guidance.” - caption from a video post of an Amerie interview, shared on James Flemons’ personal Instagram page.

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James Flemons is undoubtedly a vanguard of Los Angeles’ fashion scene and truly the blueprint for much of today’s subversive basics trend. He is candid about the time and dedication that has gone into building a business from his brand, often leaving little time for different modes of creation.

“At the state of where the business and the brand is, I have to be all these things. I can’t just be an artist and creative. That’s the main thing I’m working towards giving to, is when I can immerse myself in creativity and inspiration again. I was just having a conversation with my mom earlier this week, I need a space that’s just for me to do whatever. Just a room, with my things that’s not meant for any specific thing other than what I want it to be for, to have that freedom.”

That day in the park, I thought I would be moving anywhere but California, a moment in time that lent itself to the nostalgic tinge of our conversation. Ironically enough, I’m writing this from my LA apartment. I mentioned it was timely because it seems that my reflections on “space” were parallel to that of James’. Despite having recently moved into the new studio space, he exuded an eagerness for more spaces, more art, more inspiration, more support. Not shy to share his wishes for creative connection and greater appreciation for the labor that goes into his craft; James is carving out his corner of the world. My rumination spell that went into writing this has led me to answer my initial question on the meanings of home and space. Both are transcendent, sometimes it’s a feeling or the view of a smog-tinged sunset; undoubtedly it is shared.

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