HE(ART) OVER HYPE: Ali Saint Q Is The Designer Fashion Needs.
Art & business have always had an oddly nuanced, often tangled symbiotic relationship. Sometimes contentious, sometimes a fluidly binding embrace, they’re either spiteful enemies or wholly reliant on the other’s partnership. Art has, and always will, exist on its own plane & accord, and the same could be said for business. Art for art’s sake never needed a benefactor. The other side to that coin is best embodied by the relationship of Jackson Pollock and Madam Guggenheim. You how that shit goes. Regardless of pallet or pen, one almost needs the other to exist to any degree of notoriety.
Some artists are press whores, using the press in a Warholian manner to prop their art up, raising its value & profile from obscurity to the front page of the Times.
A shitty Campbell’s soup became far more as fate would have it.
If you made the case that Warhol’s business was his art, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone with an ounce of knowledge on the subject who’d tell you that you were wrong.
Then there’s the flip side of that.
Then there’s Ali Saint Q.
A fixture in the LA fashion scene that began in streetwear and evolved into a cultural lifestyle statement that far exceeded its concrete roots, Saint Q has bucked all the trends at every turn. His signature giant black beard, vintage Chanel oval shades & highly thoughtful energy has transcended the hypebeast culture since 2016. While his brand, Norwood Chapters, has been seen on the frames of everyone from Kanye to the coterie of today’s NBA style lords, he himself, is somewhat of a mysterious figure.
Ali & I first met in West Hollywood in 2017. He had recently designed & dropped the now-famous “IKEA Hoodie”- a piece made from the yellow and blue IKEA tote bag. That goddamn hoodie flew, launching Norwood into the hypebeast bootleg stratosphere. Then everyone knocked him off, paid for press for their IKEA bootleg version, all but forgetting who did it first, and best. Saint Q took it in stride and was far more excited to share his new collection, NORWOOD: Chapter One.
I was absolutely blown away how each piece he crafted for Norwood Chapter’s first drop told a story. Some authors use words & pages but Saint Q chose to tell his story on fabric. We walked Sunset before the actual sunset had fallen while he shared what Norwood Chapters would be, and more importantly, why it would be.
Norwood Chapters was intended to break the hypebeast mold by being a fully wearable narrative line. For as enigmatic as Saint Q can be and is, he’s also an open book. Norwood Street was the street he grew up on, and every collection was to be another “chapter” of his life. I instantly couldn’t wait for Chapter Two.
Saint Q’s influences from his youth in the 90’s on Norwood and ran the inspo gamut from hiphop, to skateboarding, to ska and punk, to hoop dreams. He tied them all in flawlessly. All pieces were connected to the story.
Saint Q with hiphop superstar & supporter Big Sean backstage (L) and with me (R) in West Hollywood at the start of Norwood : Chapter One.
Fast forward to now. Hypebeast, High Snobiety, WWD & Complex all cover his work. He’s had pop-ups in Barneys Japan, turned heads as the American newcomer at Paris Fashion Week, and counts far more celebrities than I could list as fans. Norwood Chapters has arrived, even though Ali will tell me it hasn’t and it never will. It’s all a process, and because the line is rooted in evolving narrative, there’s no end.
Saint Q doesn’t have some press machine behind him. He’s got no hype manufacturer paying off tastemakers. He’s rawly candid about mental health struggles. He’s not bottle popping and buying his friends. He funds all his work himself, sourcing and sewing every stitch, & sketches his concepts out on white pads until the wee hours.
He is everything that is right for the culture, and whether he wants to be or not, has become a poster boy for authenticity in an era where we need more of that and less of everything else. He’s got a lot to say, whether that communication is verbal or silk-screened does not so much make a difference.
In interviewing Ali, I realized something. I realized that maybe the relationship between art & business should be reimagined at a bare minimum. Maybe they truly compromise each other. Maybe we all need to tell our stories on whatever raw ass canvas we want & and not even give a fuck for the business. Business makes us eliminate the mistakes & edit the creativity down to a metric.
Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes. True art is knowing which ones to keep.
Maybe he(art) over hype is exactly what we need.
AX: So often we find that the little moments at the early stages of our childhood kind of become esoteric or swell in their significance as we get older? Tell us the story of your youth, come up, and what moments or influences lead to your path in life. Ultimately, that’s the creation of Norwood Chapters.
ASQ: Growing up was good, man. We didn’t have much early on, but I didn’t even know that because we had so much fun doing whatever we did. It was a lot of skateboarding, basketball, punk rock and hip hop. I am originally from Paris, but my family moved to the LA area and I grew up on Norwood Street. On Norwood, we had all of those elements, and because of that ultimately Norwood was created. I guess Norwood was being created this whole time and I didn’t even know it.
AX: So from Paris to SoCal is kind of a culture leap. The “City of Light” became the city of neon signs, so to speak. What was the hardest part of coming to a new land, and what was the environment and energy like?
ASQ: Best of both worlds right? Honestly, my parents had my older brother Shahram and I enrolled in an “English school” in Paris. They always had the plan to move to LA so when we did, we just fit right in. I knew the language and the general culture. I was really young, so I don’t remember too much of how it was growing up in Paris or then moving here. I think my brother felt it more. From Paris we moved to Glendale.
AX: So Norwood is the street you grew up on in LA. Share some of those Norwood tales that kind of inspired Norwood Chapters to come to fruition? Unpack, if you can, what wrote the “Chapters” in the Norwood book so to speak?
ASQ: Norwood is a brand right? But it’s really everything that I’ve learned growing up until now. In life, we have a lot of chapters- good and bad. With having a brand, you’re going to have a lot of “chapters” as well so God willing, if things go the right direction with this brand, I want people to see all the chapters.
The tales of growing up on Norwood were going to school, beating everyone on the basketball court, doing homework, then skating around until the night came, and doing that all over again the next day. My brother Shahram and I have a best friend named Eric Silva — he’s lowkey our other brother …he was our Norwood neighbor and we all did everything together.
ASQ poses with Space Jam era Jordan, a huge influence on Norwood’s core creative roots (L). Saint Q with rebellious fashion legend John Varvatos (R).
AX: A lot of people obviously now know of Norwood as a brand, but they may not know how influential you were in the LA streetwear scene that really exploded in 2016–17. You were, in my opinion, the most creative, hardworking & humble dude in that ecosystem. Ironically, it took you a bit longer to pop off than your circle and counterparts. A lot of the concepts, from design aesthetic, to narrative, that became hallmarks of the “LA street luxe” look began in your head.
To be honest, I always saw that you were the super creative one that other people poached from for a long time. I watched you kinda play second fiddle on the shit you did first. You didn’t have the budgets that some of the other well-funded hype brands in LA did. You’re an open book about mental health struggles. How did that affect your motivation or mental state?
Yeah it’s crazy… a few people today with really huge brands were my friends early on and a lot of what they’re doing was stuff we all use to talk about it. I mean, look, they’re also very creative because they’re at the top for a reason. Even if I’m not cool with them now, I still wish nothing but the best for them. At one point they were my friends. If they have 10 horses, I hope God gives them 10 more. Their success does not affect my success. I won’t lie, sometimes I think “why has it been so hard for me, and not them” — but I guess we all have our paths.
Honestly, I think my purpose in life is going to be much bigger than being a “clothing designer.” That is not the apex for my soul. It is all just adding to my journey. Sometimes I feel a few steps behind because I have to be true to myself. These people have the budgets because they’re 1000% okay with being super fake, having to make fake friends to get what they want, and that’s something I can’t do.
It’s taken me longer but it’s because I’m doing it the right way. If I wanted to do it the fake way then I’d be right there with them. I’m not friends with a lot of these guys anymore because their way of doing it was to be super fake, and I had to move away from that.
AX: The universe has a funny way of showing that leaders will always be leaders. Plus, we both know there’s no shortcut for simply doing the work. You have not only persevered as a creative leader, but you did the fucking work. End of. What is the ONE slice of advice you can give an emerging designer or creative?
ASQ: I’d tell them to get ready for a lot of long days and even longer nights. Getting into this stuff is something that’s going to make them question so many things. Do not take any of this in a negative way. Understand this is a process that really takes time to unfold. Spend time learning everything about this craft, you don’t have to be good at everything, but at least know the nuts and bolts so you are confident about your work.
I’d also say don’t let something hold you back because you don’t know how to do it. Learn, ask questions. Put the fear of looking stupid behind you. As soon as you remove that fear you’re free to allow good things to happen.
AX: That was filled with real gems, bro. I think in the era of accessibility, a lot of emerging designers put the hype over the art and miss a ton of steps. Doing it for the gram should be a crime. You actually don’t do any of that, and I think it’s a brilliant living example to young cats.
I would definitely say to a young designer, don’t get ahead of yourself to that point. Don’t post on IG that you’re this grand designer and doing big things when in reality you know you’re not. All you’re doing is taking time away from yourself to really become who you want to be. Don’t misplace your focus.
AX: I mean, speaking of accolades, you’ve been racking them up lately by doing exactly what you just said. What was the moment you knew you were really on to some next level rad shit with Norwood? Was it a cultural icon like Kanye rocking your pieces? Was it one moment or just a slow build to popping off and not one decisive moment?
You know man, to be honest, when celebs rock Norwood I can care less. We have to post it because we live in such a fake world but on the inside I don’t care. I went to Target the other night and saw this kid wearing a Norwood hoodie…it’s moments like that are really cool. That meant more.
It’s the slow build for me. I’m really excited that I just have the opportunity, God willing, to keep living this life. The brand I’m building is what gives me the feeling I’m onto something here. It’s honestly the slow burn of the process over any bottled moment.
AX: Now everyone from Russell Westbrook to Bad Bunny, Wale, Taz Arnold, Steph Curry, and Maluma proudly rock and support Norwood. Your “Norwood fan list” is legit the who’s who of music and sports. Is it surreal seeing the fabrics you cut and sewed populate the culture organically now?
ASQ: It is sometimes for sure. Again, It’s not something I care foremost about, but in the era we live in, you’ve gotta have that aspect to your brand. I 1000% respect and thank these people for rocking something I created. I will say this, I am proud that the people who have worn my pieces have all been organic. I don’t have any PR, or some hype press machine on payroll — none of that. Sports is my true love so when NBA guys wear Norwood it’s pretty cool. That I really love.
Travis Scott, Kanye West & 2 Chainz in Norwood Chapters 1 & 2.
AX: The last question is going to be super simple. Ironically it will be the hardest shit to answer. WHY do you do what you do?
I’ll compare this to the love Kobe had for basketball. I saw an interview with Kobe once and he was saying that he loves basketball so much that he even fell in love with how the “net” looks and sounds after the ball goes in. I love everything about how clothing is made. The early morning factory hours walking in hearing the machines, the smell of fabric being cut. The process of pattern making from start to finish. I was born to do this, I was born in Paris, France the fashion capital of world. This is something that’s just in my DNA.