In days of yesteryear or yore Wren Britton might have been considered a master of voodoo or a Wizard at the very least. He creates, concocts, cajoles and more than anything conjures up beauty and a quiet seductive magic from everything he lays his deft fingers on. He is not a designer. He is not a jeweller or an artist. He is All of these things, not because it will make him rich but because he has to do them or he’ll die. One of New York’s very most special sons, Wren Britton.
PP. So, tell me things that everyone should know about you.
1. I am nicer than I photograph.
2. I devour music like it’s food.
3. I spend exorbitant amounts of money on magazines.
4. I wish I never had to sleep… it’s such a waste of time and I have so much to do.
5. I love creating something out of not much and for a minimal amount of money.
6. I love all the attention I get from the way I dress although I will usually tell people otherwise.
7. I am a fierce friend and sometimes a fiercer enemy!
8. I like trash as much as I like couture, more even. I am sometimes more mesmerised by low-brow than high-brow. It always seems more real somehow.
9. I can appreciate the idea of minimalism but do not lead that kind of life. I thrive on clutter and love to be surrounded by many things.
10. I long to make my mark on this world, to be known. Not necessarily famous but I want to do something, anything that may live on after I am gone.
PP. Where does that desire to make your mark comes from?
WB. I guess growing up, when I did, in the eighties with idols like Warhol and Keith Haring, I saw that “regular” people could do such amazing things with just a small amount of money as long as they had talent and drive. They could make a mark on the world and change people just by doing what they loved. I guess I want to feel relevant in a larger way. I want to do things that would make people think.
I know so many people see “fashion” as frivolous and not necessary. I think very differently. Fashion gave me a voice, made me who I am and gave me the ability to express myself on a different level.
PP. Were you always interested in fashion?
WB. No I was actually studying to be an entomologist. I still have a huge interest in biology and it definitely invades my work. Believe it or not my fashion interest started with my love of comic books as a child. I started designing costumes and the costumes became clothing, and a young designer was born.
Luckily my parents were very encouraging and really helped facilitate my passions. My Mom taught me to sew at a very young age. Both my parents are extremely creative and open minded people.
PP. Not many people can say that for their parents, so you must be born under a lucky star. What horoscope sign are you? Do you believe in star signs?
WB. I am an Aquarius and very true to my sign but very near to pieces I think. Year of the rat if I am correct, 1972. I am not a close follower but it is amazing how much I reflect my sign. There are differences but the similarities are too close to discount and I have many Aquarian friends who are very alike as well.
PP. Were you born in New York?
WB. Yes. Well, ok, technically I was born in Pennsylvania but my parents are native New Yorkers from Brooklyn and Queens. We moved back when I was 2 and lived on Long Island mostly. There were those years on Staten Islands… Either way I always consider myself a native with a slight technicality.
PP. Tell me about those years on Staten Islands?
WB. Staten Island… woof! Its a small island right near Manhattan. It was tough I moved there in the middle of my 10th year of high school. It’s a very conservative Italian American Catholic place that didn’t take kindly to a Gothed out fag like me.
However I met some of my greatest friends there, people who I still am friends with, people who are part of my family. It made me who I am today. It made me strong. It taught me how to be who I am in the face of whatever came at me. It made me humble and it made me fierce. It planted the seed that would become what I do today. It forced me to find a creative outlet for my sadness and anger. And the more they made fun of my friends and I and the more they threw at us and tried to beat us up the more myself I became, the weirder I got, the more I opened that door to my soul and let it out.
PP. Let’s move to now. Tell me what are you working on?
WB. Well I am trying to go a little further with my jewellery and make larger statement pieces like wearable sculptures, neck corsets, giant headpieces. I am also trying to focus on my clothing more and am working on a men’s collection based on Lord of the Flies. Mixing that British school uniform tailoring with savagery and native energies. I really want to focus on doing more menswear. Men are finally sort of starting to come around to fashion. Even straight men aren’t scared of a nicely cut suit anymore. I also want to learn taxidermy to include pieces into my work as well as to learn the Victorian hair art techniques to add those to my pieces as well.
PP. Where can one find your magnificent creations?
WB. I have a website: www.purevile.com which will link you to the page where my jewellery is found and will soon have a link to order my clothing as well. Initially with custom orders only since I am a company of ONE.
PP. I have to admit your accessories and jewellery are extraordinary. Fairy tale like, magical. You use so many different materials like pearls, metal, even animal bones, dolls, old photographs. Do you look for these things and then make them into something exquisite? How does it work?
WB. It is very organic. I just look for things I love and I piece them together. Things tend to tell a story when you put them together. So I let the pieces dictate what I turn them into sometimes. Other times I do look for specific pieces. I don’t like to force anything. I like it to just happen. I scour flea markets and antiques. I wake up early and search the streets for lost things. I mix in some family pieces too, parts of things from my grandmother who just passed. Everything has a bit of me or my family in it.
We live in such a throw away society. I am trying to make things that could be new heirlooms, things with a history and a soul, something that tells a story.
PP. You certainly create magic. Do you believe in past lives? For some reason your work urges me to ask such question. I don’t know why?
WB. It’s strange. I don’t adhere to specific dogmas but I do wonder why I am drawn to certain things and pieces from certain eras? So perhaps I do feel like things do hold on to people energies, not specifically like haunting but like if someone loves something so much I feel like they put so much personal energy into it, that energy stays around. That’s why certain objects speak to me more than others I think, and why my pieces speak so deeply to people. I have had more than a few people tell me its like I made the piece just for them.
PP. Who are your clients?
WB. I have a strange and varied clientele and they are not who you might think. It’s not all crazy goth girls or foppish young men. A lot of times its just “regular” people with a refined taste and an eye for the unusual. My mom and a lot of her friends buy from me, though my mother is a slight eccentric. I do like that the little goths are buying it too. There’s so much drek out there, just the same old same old. I mean why buy a silver bat necklace when you can have a real taxidermy bat necklace? I made myself clothing and jewellery because there was nothing for me out there, so I am trying to do the same for others. I don’t want my designs to be defined, it’s either for you or it’s not. I make jewellery for the individuals not for the masses.
PP. One thing is certain, you LOVE hats as much as I do. Do you ever go out without one?
WB. Sometimes, very rarely. I have quite a collection. A few pieces over a hundred years old! I just ordered 2 custom hats online and my friend just became an assistant to a hat maker so I’ll be keeping her busy. As a youth I had huge Siouxsie/Robert Smith back combed hair. I think I’m just compensating now.
PP. Do you consider yourself to be eccentric?
WB. I guess in context with the rest of society. The thing is, as much of a dreamer I am and an eccentric I may be, I am living in reality whereas I feel like some eccentrics live outside and create their own world. I’ve made my place in society. I’m trying to change the world from the inside out. I made a vow to myself when I was young to live my life the way I wanted no matter how hard it would be or how alone I would feel. And I have. I want to be a part of the world, just on my own terms, and if that makes me eccentric than I am.
PP. How exciting is to live in New York today?
WB. Well it’s more exciting than it had been for awhile. Things seem to be finally happening, the club scene is getting exciting again. I work with a friend of mine doing Dances of Vice, one of the more creative nights around. So many great local bands. So many cool little boutiques and restaurants. New York always has such an amazing energy for me, which is why I guess I’ve always lived here. The counterculture is becoming interesting again and I’m glad I am here for it. When I was young it was so sparkly and new and it entranced me. As I got older it seemed to fade but it’s becoming so magical again!
PP. What is your definition of magic?
WB. Magic is a feeling I get in my stomach that makes me think of the first snowfall. Magic is remembering the strong hug of my Aunt Marion. Magic is doing something not because it will make you rich but because you have to do it or you’ll die. Magic is the feeling you get in your fingertips when you think about touching the person you love. Magic is the taste of lychees in the summer. Magic is not so hidden it can be anywhere, in anything even the ordinary, especially in the ordinary. Magic is dancing alone in the rain.
PP. Do you remember your dreams?
WB. Sometimes. I really don’t sleep enough to remember them. I do a lot of daydreaming, that stays with me. I tend to have horrible nightmarish dreams so those I would rather not remember. I usually only sleep 3 or 4 hours at night. I don’t like sleep as I am very restless. I have trouble relaxing.
PP. What relaxes you?
WB. Music, baths, kissing, snow, sewing, reading… all at once… or separately. I like to multi task.
PP. Tell me your secret. How do you kiss, sew and read a book at the same time?
PP. Are you happy with your life?
WB. Yes. More than I have been in years. Yes! I say that with as much conviction as I can. I love my life for all its worth for good for bad for everything. I worked so hard for so long and it’s so amazing to see things finally happening. It makes it all so worth it. I cannot wait to see what the future holds. I’m ready and welcoming it with open arms.
Images: © Wren Britton
Text: © Predrag Pajdic, 2009