Velvit Welcomes Michael Pennick of Gray Matter

Michael Pennick of Gray Matter explains his process of subtraction, his inspiration from the human form, and his primal voice as an artist

Velvit talked with designer Michael Pennick about his creative process with leather materials, his challenges as a label owner, and his earliest fashion-related memory (hint: it involves The Lion King).

Michael Pennick Gray Matter for Velvit

Velvit: When did you first start designing clothing? 
Michael Pennick: I really didn't start in fashion until my second year of college when I took a design elective. After that course I knew I needed to work with my hands. Since then I have not looked back.

V: When designing, are there any specific themes you focus on? 
MP: The body. There really is an endless amount of inspiration that you can draw from the human body and its function. My secondary theme would be ingenuity, whether that takes form within the garment's shape, function, or construction.

V: Do you design for yourself based on your specific taste, or for a specific audience?
MP: For me it's really about adapting my specific tastes and principles to fit the confines of each specific audience; in turn, I not only grow in my taste, but I am also able to expand upon each audience I design for.

V: What sort of statement are you trying to make with the pieces you create? 
MP: I'm really not sure what the exact statement is, but with each piece I’d like to think they’re making the statement of craftsmanship over trend. My voice is really just my own primal intuition; I rely heavily on my senses.

V: When designing a new line, what is your process for creating and editing your pieces? 
MP: My process is an agonizing one of constant subtraction. I visual my process in my mind, like a marble sculptor constantly chipping away until I feel at peace.

V: Are you working on any new pieces?
MP: I am currently working on a few projects; one is the Fall 2015 collection of Gray Matter and another is a range of raw-cut, second skin leather jackets called Missing Number.

V: What do you love about working with leather?
MP: Leather is just such a powerful material. From an artist standpoint, it can really help sell a wide range of emotions. 

V: What is your earliest fashion-related memory?
MP: The earliest [memory] would have to be a Lion King t-shirt I obsessively wore when I was six. I really loved that shirt. Other than that, my early fashion run-ins were all terrible.

V: What articles of clothing and accessories could you just live in forever?
MP: One of my basic gray t-shirts, black slim-cut denim, and my Gray Matter leather Fencing Jacket. For accessories, it would have to be my three silver rings. They’ll have to count as one accessory because I never take them off and I really can’t wear any more or less than three.

V: What living artist inspires you the most?
MP: I always come across great art that I enjoy. However, I’d say Richard Serra is the only artist who is a distinct inspiration for me. What is most inspirational isn’t just his astounding art and sculptures, but I also find the design principles apparent in his work most intriguing.

V: How do you balance your work and your home life?
MP: For me, balance isn’t much of a thought. I can't see myself doing anything else, and I really would rather spend most of my time working on the label or its side projects.

V: What is the most challenging part about what you do?
MP: The most challenging part goes back to the last question: Knowing when to give myself a break every now and then.

V: What memorable responses have you gotten for your work?
MP: I really cherish watching people put on a piece of mine for the first time. I love that "a-ha" moment like they have never had something fit so well or feel so great. Even with the most stoic personalities, when I can see that brief smirk of excitement, it validates everything I’ve worked for.

V: How do you feel about the outlook for independent designers? 
MP: I think more than ever it’s easier for independent designers to get noticed. The market right now is over-saturated with stylists positioning themselves as designers. But really, they're just buying private label designs, fixing them up in their color palettes, and then selling them to the masses as something new. Consumers are starting to see this too, even if they're only subconsciously noting that it's really all the same. So they're on a quest for something that isn’t just a copy of a copy. Once the consumer gets to that point, my job is to give them the alternative they've been looking for.

V: What was the best piece of advice you received when starting your line? 
MP: There really isn't just one; it's more of aggregate advice from all the designers I’ve worked with. The most profound was from Jona of Inaisce, saying, “Starting a business means you do about 95% administrative tasks, managing, financial planning, etc, and about 5% creative.”

V: For someone who is aspiring to design and create fashion, what advice do you have for them?
MP: Find yourself! The greatest challenge in design is separating yourself from others. Finding out what others are doing is easy, but realizing who you are and how you are different is the real challenge.

For more information on Pennick and Gray Matter, visit our Artist profiles and shop our Velvit boutique.