For some, a t-shirt could be considered a symbol of purity. Hanging on the line, made of crisp cotton, it's an iconic symbol of the working commoner. BJ "Roses" Fougere and Keith "Relic" McLeod, designers at Estate Family Guilds, don't entirely shatter this theory, but they do re-imagine it. Instead of the bone-weary-but-with-a-heart-of-gold working stiff putting on his skivvies, they create clothing for the blue-collar layperson who took a dark turn somewhere after the Industrial Revolution.
Inverted crosses, burning Bibles, occult, Satanic and funereal imagery, all on their signature black on black add up to a very exciting, but very grim, line. But it wouldn't be fair to pigeonhole them into the category of t-shirt designer. Skateboard decks, pendants, pins, hoodies, button-up shirts and knives are all fair designing game. And if one of these unholy objects catches your eye, you'd better move like a bat out of hell. Each garment is made in a single edition of 13 pieces, some of which sell out in a matter of minutes.
When EFG was launched in fall of 2010, there was nothing in town quite like it. With no business model, the two carved out their own niche, with a lot of local support---from Pro Skates and Soled Out Sneakers, specifically. Fougere and McLeod are currently based out of Toronto, but their roots run deep in Halifax.
Estate Family Guilds began here, where Fougere and McLeod were raised. Specifically, at NSCAD, where Fougere (who constructed the pieces) and McLeod (who screenprints) hammered out the first few prototypes that would become their refreshingly consistent line. "Ever since that first season, (we) have been steadily growing," says McLeod. "Not leaps and bounds, but a steady growth both intellectually and conceptually. We realize now that the more honest we design, the more rewarding the experience is. That first fall we took taught us a huge lesson in what being a brand should be."
Fougere and McLeod find one of their influences in William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement. "His motto, 'Joy In Labour,' inspires us to love the trade and respect it. Morris also thought that the designer should have an intrinsic understanding of the process used in order to design for it. What I take away from this is that a t-shirt design should be designed for the screenprinting process," says McLeod. "If we are creating jewellery, it should look like jewellery. We don't try and attempt something that the medium won't appropriate well."
Artistically, their interests are a tad darker. "We draw a lot of inspiration from Aubrey Beardsley, and a lot of Art Nouveau styles," says McLeod. "I love looking at matchboxes as well as dorky antiques and things. It usually distills into my obsession for the Freemasons, secret societies or heresy of any kind."
This season's line---in an effort to "pare things down," says McLeod---is made up of four t-shirts, two cut-and-sew items, a zip-hoodie and a chambray shirt. They also crafted the hardware on the garments, a zipper pull and handmade brass button.
Little touches like those, right down to the screenprinted envelopes they use to mail their pieces to customers, are what help these dark horses stand out and thrive. "Creating a brand like ours has such a high failure rate, and still being around after almost two years is an accomplishment for us," says McLeod. "Halifax is, without a doubt, the foundation of this accomplishment.
"The climate two years ago is still quite similar to today's zeitgeist. For so long hip-hop has always gone hand in hand with sneaker culture, and skateboarding with metal or punk cultures. But these last few years, everyone is listening to everything and it seems that everyone's appreciating everyone's subcultures," says McLeod. "Ideas, music, artwork and everything in between are really colliding. This is what allows us to express ourselves much more freely, and we can cross boundaries without offending anyone."