L.A.-based streetwear power couple Lanie Alabanza-Barcena and Bam Barcena visited their motherland for the launch of the Vans X Hellz Bellz collaboration. They take a break from their busy Manila itinerary to visit the STATUS HQ and give us the exclusive scoop on their love for design, the future of Hellz Bellz, and their new menswear line, GPPR. No one hustles like these two, so read on and take notes, cause they know exactly how to make it big.
You’re such an inspiration, Lanie. You’ve hustled your way to the top, and built a fashion empire from the ground up. Can you tell us what the beginning stage of Hellz Bellz was like?
Lanie: The beginning stages was basically me still working at another job—I was working at Rocawear as an art director. [It started] just as a hobby. I didn’t know I would have multiple employees under me, and there would be a lot of people wearing my clothes. It was very Mom-and-Pop in a sense that it was just me and Bam coming home from work, working [on Hellz Bellz] up until the wee hours of the morning. Another obstacle was that, cause I was a girl in the streetwear world, there were people that would ask Bam, “Are you doing all the graphics?” Like no one would believe that I have the ability to do graphics. There were people that were sexist toward me which is why, in the beginning, I didn’t let people know who I was. I just let my work speak for itself which is really important to me. It felt good once I got recognition and I had the work to back it up.
Hellz Bellz makes a really strong statement for all the females. Describe to us who the Hellz Bellz girl is.
Lanie: She’s edgy. She’s fashion-forward. She isn’t afraid to make bold statements. She isn’t afraid to push the limit as to what she’s wearing. She is an individual. She doesn’t follow trends at all, if anything, she’s at the forefront and sets the trends. She’s a strong woman.
What do you do when you get “designer’s block?”
Lanie: I… eat. When I get designer’s block, it’s usually because I’m not exposed to anything. It usually happens when I’m just in my office, so I’ve learned to separate the daily grind from actually being creative.
What was your design inspiration for the Vans x Hellz Bellz collaboration?
Lanie: This time around I wanted to do an 80’s inspired shoe, so I just did research and fell back into “What did I wanna wear really badly when I was younger? What shoes from my sister’s collection did I try stealing from her closet?” [The ones] that I had to have but, at the time, I was too young to have. I just added metal trim details-studs, zippers, zebra print.
Seems like you design for the tough chick/bad girl. Which famous bad girl would you love to design for?
Lanie: One girl that I love.. there’s this androgynous model, Omahyra Mota. She’s pretty badass. She’s a good example. She can be sexy but she has that androgynous, masculine feel. She’s hot. You could tell she has a strong presence. She’d be a perfect Hellz Bellz model. I know it.
Any guilty pleasures?
Lanie: I have a lot. I have some embarrassing ones that Bam hates–I love Twilight.
Bam: She loves it so much that she started her own Twilight blog.
Lanie: Yeah, I did. But I’m not really on it. But yeah, I love Twilight. The books, not the movies. What else? Hmm. I like to eat. I’m used to being around guys so I eat as much as the guys cause I don’t wanna be the only one not eating.
So now that Hellz Bellz’s successful worldwide, what’s the next step? What can we expect from the brand in the future?
Lanie: A lot of things. New projects. I really really wanna have more of a presence here in the Philippines, which is another goal and a big reason why we’re out here along with the Vans collab. We’re also in talks of bringing the brand out here whether it’s Hellz Bellz or a diffusion line made especially for the Philippines. I wanna expand—I think it’s that time. It’s growing, but there’s so much more opportunity for growth outside of the US, and I think the Philippines is where I wanna start—kick it off. I wanna give back.
Final words. What would you say to people who want to make it big like you have?
Lanie: I always say to follow your passion. If you’re creative, continue creating. Never stop creating. The moment you stop growing, you’re dead. Work smart, not hard.
Hey Bam! Can you tell us more about GPPR? What inspired you to start GPPR?
Bam: GPPR is a menswear brand, and then under that we’re going to have different collections that revolve around different accessories. One is gonna be footwear, then eyewear—those are the two that we’re gonna start with. The eyewear is called GPPR Frameworks, and we’re actually releasing that for this summer 2011. The footwear is the program we’re gonna start for Fall 2012 but I can’t say the name [for that] yet.
What inspired you to start GPPR?
Bam: The funny thing is I’ve been working at Hellz for so long. I see this edgy chick—it’s very feminine, and empowering. If I can translate a version for men, why not? I created GPPR for the guy like me who is GPPR, which is an acronym for four elements—Gentleman, Philosopher, Pervert, Rebel. It’s not that I’m saying I’m a pervert but, you know, a lot of men look at women in a certain way, positive or negative whatever it may be. It’s for the refined activist, the refined rebel—he’s not so young and crazy anymore, he’s a little smarter. It’s basically me at the end of the day.
What are your design inspirations?
Bam: Anything that has to do with the rebel like James Dean. Taking something classic like that and translating it to something now is kind of what we do. With Hellz we do the same thing, it’s taking basics and updating it.
In an interview with Corridor 40, you both said that you guys are always working 24/7, what’s that like? What is the most challenging and rewarding thing about working together/collaborating?
Lanie: We’ve been working together for so long that I don’t know any other way. We don’t fight about little things. We’re good at working together and not letting the personal get in the way.
Bam: The most important thing that I get from it is the honesty. I can really get her opinion. She’ll tell me like, oh you know that sucks. And it really helps take us to the next level.
What do you guys do as a couple on your day-off? Do you have a day-off?
Bam: Never not working.
Lanie: Even if you’re on your day-off, when you’re a creative person, even if we’re just like walking the dog, we’ll see something and be like, wow that’s a cool detail.
Bam: Design is a part of our lives. It’s something that we talk about everyday from the food we eat to when we’re packing clothes.
Interview and Introduction by Viva Gonzalez
Photos by Regine David