Eli Russell Linnetz is more than a designer – he’s a a storyteller. For his ERL collections he creates mini-narratives. This season’s stars an architect looking back on his youth. In the look book pictures, which Linnetz casts and shoots himself, there’s a dad and three boys – “mom’s left and it’s just the guys”- surfer and skater kids from the neighborhood, and a love interest. They wear a mix of Venice-Beach-cool essentials like tie-dye tees, peasant dresses, grungy flannels, and corduroy flares airbrushed at the hems with beach scenes. Then there are the ERL staples—waffle-weave long johns, star-dyed denim, striped mohair sweaters, tube socks. The comic strip pants and matching bedspread that open this slideshow will be as collectible as the vintage 1950s comic book he lifted them from. A collage print of surfers at sunset turns an otherwise basic slip dress into an object of interest. And the clash-up of neon camouflage puffers, shirts, and skate pants is hard to resist. There’s a lot of potential for ERL and Linnetz, a creative who has his feet planted both in Hollywood and the fashion business. His collaboration with Dior’s Kim Jones last spring established his name in the industry even further. Linnetz’s next step? Directing his first feature-length film. When he gets around to making that project, he’ll naturally be designing its costumes too. Expect the unexpected.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
You could see the crest of a 30-foot blue nylon wave from several blocks away on Pacific Avenue in Venice Beach, part of the impressive ocean-themed runway set design that was constructed for Dior Men’s show last night. With Californian designer Eli Russell Linnetz of ERL signed on as the house’s latest guest designer, it made sense that creative director Kim Jones would choose to show the capsule collection against the backdrop of this well known Los Angeles beachfront. “I grew up in Venice Beach, I came to this street all the time,” said Linnetz speaking at a preview before the show. “This was basically my backyard.” Linnetz’s story is straight out of Hollywood. A film student turned designer, he cut his teeth in Kanye West’s artistic studio, directing videos for the likes of Teyana Taylor. Since launching his ERL brand in 2018, his fanbase has swelled year on year and includes the likes of A$AP Rocky and Hailey Bieber. He’s also one of several bright young finalists up for this year’s LVMH Prize. “We have lots of people in common,” said Jones, explaining that the pair were introduced by mutual friends and started the conversation over DM about a year ago. When Jones arrived at ERL HQ in Venice Beach to work on the capsule, their creative chemistry was almost instant. “I was 99% excited at the idea, 1% scared that I would lose myself, just because Kim has such a strong vision of the world and his collections are so refined and striking. My world is so much more chaotic,” said Linnetz. “But the second Kim came to the studio, it felt easy, seamless.”
The pair used Linnetz’s date of birth, 1991, as a jumping off point for the collection, mining the Dior archives for clothes created that year. “I think people would assume that I would be more into the Galliano archive because it’s so theatrical, but actually through my research I become more interested in diving into something that hadn’t been touched before,” said Linnetz. They landed on the maximalist elegance of Gianfranco Ferré’s designs for the French House, the kind of opulent tailoring you might have seen sauntering down Rodeo Drive at the time. Cue the opening look, a gently padded silk satin suit in Dior’s signature dove gray created with the lining twisted inside out and worn with wide-legged pants puddling over chunky skater sneakers. It was a sweet marriage of Parisian executive realness and SoCal cool, or what you might call “California Couture,” a slogan that appeared on at least a few cozy turtleneck sweaters. Several of ERL’s quirky design flourishes were filtered through a sophisticated lens. There were baggy skater boy shorts galore, only done for evening with an eye-catching beaded trim. Clearly Linnetz and Jones had a lot of fun dreaming up the accessories. According to Linnetz, the pillbox hats worn backwards with beaded veils were a cheeky nod to Jackie O. Strung on a heavy duty gold chain and worn across the body, the tiny tinsel saddle bags were a very elevated take on the classic skater keychain wallet that are bound to be a hit with Dior Men’s streetwise fashion guys alongside those ingenious sneakers. The yin-yang motif Linnetz is known for got a look in too and was rendered in an intricate embellished wave on a gray marl hoodie. “It’s interesting to see how Kim works because he really approaches everything like a film director,” said Linnetz. “And that’s very familiar to me.” In a sense the bigger picture here felt decidedly fresh, an example of what can happen when two creative minds from seemingly different ends of the fashion spectrum – and different sides of the world – come together to exchange ideas and find common ground. In the new fashion landscape, playing it safe hardly feels modern. Exchanging ideas in a freewheeling way is the new wave.
ERL‘s collection look-books always have that unique, beautifully disturbing, theatrical quality. Browsing through the autumn-winter 2022 line-up, one might have an impression of watching a coming of age school play – which went full art-house. Eli Russell Linnetz’s propensity to confound and inspire is what makes him an engaging designer to watch. He crafts entire worlds for even the simplest garments and images, attaching stories to even mundane items. The forthright, yet whimsical clothing he makes goes against mainstream understandings of jeans, tees, puffers, and prim plaid dresses. Basic garments are often stripped of their magic, divorced from beauty, and reduced to mere stuff. In championing “normal clothes,” Linnetz continues the great American design tradition of Calvin, Ralph, and Dapper Dan – making the ordinary extraordinary. Linnetz signatures, like worn-in denim, printed tees, and pastoral skirts were all here, alongside new pieces like a camouflage patchwork puffer, knits in ombré patterns, crisp little cardigans, and star jacquard denim in tonal blue and the colors of the American flag. A collaboration with Salomon’s snowboarding imprint brought kooky color-ways to the collection. Plaid flannel shirts were styled to evoke Victorian bustles, shirts were strewn with pins that riff on Vietnam War protest paraphernalia, and the quilt Linnetz upcycled for ASAP Rocky at the 2021 Met Gala was reinterpreted as bulky, blocky puffer jackets. All together the collection contained many wantable, wearable things, each representing a thread of ERL’s story.
ERL is on everyone’s lips. Although Justin Bieber and Dua Lipa wear it on the daily, and Chloë-the-queen-of-style-Sevigny shared her love for the new collection on her Insta-stories yesterday, it still feels somewhat niche and off-the-radar. It’s not available in every store yet, so there’s a feeling of appeal-driving deficit. Eli Russell Linnetz’s name causes conversations – and you hear a spectrum of feelings, from delight and reluctance to excitement and skepticism. One thing’s sure: ERL is thriving, and it’s just the start. The California-based brand, now in its fourth full season with Dover Street Market Paris, is not just clothing – it’s everything. A way of being, of putting an ab-skimming tee with tatty, low-slung vaguely Hollister-ish jeans, sure, but also a method for re-assessing your life and your style. Theatricality, time, and obsession are important tenets of ERL-ism, emphasis on obsession – these are some maniacally pored over garments. “Cross-dimensional hitchhiking, making the way to California” and “a romantic blowing in the wind journey across all parts of America” were two ways Linnetz described his spring 2022 mood. He’s taken his surfer boys and plopped them in a pickup truck, scanning through the hayfields and mountainsides of mid-America, with pit stops at prom and football matches along the way. The ERL dude’s got a new passenger too: Linnetz is launching womenswear, and it’s an equally manic trip through the codes of casual American style. Tiered do-si-do skirts in acid trip colors clash with girlish cotton tops and school picture day knitwear, dotted with embroidered flowers. Most of the collection is shared across the genders, giant shearling pieces and wide wale cords offering something humble, while radioactive tuxedos and Fogal tights printed with archival Rudi Gernreich patterns looking aggressively kitsch. Linnetz photographed the pieces himself, in his Venice Beach studio, on street-cast models. Earnest-faced, obvious hunks and wallflowers who skew young, almost disturbingly prepubescent. Can a real guy ever look as good in an orange V-front cable knit polo sweater? Can a real woman capture the kookiness of a half-blazer half, floral top? ERL is tapping into the American Dream of a new generation: to become the character you say you are.
Eli Russell Linnetz is the fresh, Californian blood in Paris. The multi-hyphenate visual artist, stage designer, photographer, and director, Linnetz began working on his own label, ERL, at the encouragement of Dover Street Market’s Adrian Joffe and Ronnie Cooke Newhouse. Now in its third full season, the collection has expanded: it includes ERL takes on everything from swimwear and long-johns (quickly becoming the “it” item of the men’s season – see Prada!) to tuxedos and silver puffer pants. Linnetz makes apparel for everyday life which is far from being basic. That seemingly infinite potential is what makes the things Linnetz does do all the more interesting. Titled “The Final Frontier,” his autumn-winter 2021 collection riffs on the Space Age, the psychedelic 1970s, showy 1980s culture, and a sort of timeless collegiate Americana that always permeates his work. The thread that marries such disparate items as a frat sweater and spiky ski bum hat is Linntez’s irreverent sense of humor. A sense of levity and surreal bit of nonsense is welcome in the at-times far too serious world of fashion. Linnetz’s intimate photography and cast of true Cali beach boys only help make the case for his clothing. Scantily hanging off the dudes’ bodies, the clothes telegraph the laissez faire lifestyle of the West Coast. Wide wale corduroy jeans have a constructed slouch, hoodies feature seaming that mimics wave patterns, and fluffy shearling is actually made from a new corn-fiber material to be more sustainable. The collection also includes a ski collaboration with Salomon, neoprene cowboy belts, and a full range of swimwear. There’s an element of costume, of dressing up, and of changing your clothing to change your life. It’s a sort of everyday escapism, finally available to menswear.