CHRIS HABANA AND HIS ICONS
In New York City, judging a book by its cover translates to judging an individual by their apartment – for me at least. One step into Chris Habana‘s Alphabet City studio walk-up, and you’ve entered the jewelry designer’s world. Fashion magazines and ’90s-centric DVDs stacked to the ceiling – check. Quirky, colorful art and photographs scattered all over the walls – yep. A wall designated for unfettered sharpie signatures and messages from his friends – that too.
And then there’s the jewelry, known for its emphasis on gothic iconography, early ’90s pop and queer culture. Habana’s home is also the workspace for his eponymous line, wherein a table is covered with sketches and the makings of studded crosses and the like. The real works of art in the room, the finished pieces, (like my personally coveted bones necklace), are hung and dangle from the wall above.
A few summers ago, I met Chris, who, for starters, stood out in one of his head-turning get-ups (I believe he was rocking one of his infamous nameplate hats that reads/screams “WORK!”) at a massive sample sale. I immediately purchased a killer necklace with a gilded band-aid pendant which turned out to be a timeless conversation/flirtation piece for which I’m very thankful. A few years later on the evening of our interview, we’re kicking it at his studio where he’s playing hostest-with-the-mostest – courteously smoking me out, blasting Madonna’s Bedtime Stories before giving me an aural lesson on Orbital and then showing off his Tank Girl-inspired latest look.
The 30-something Habana always emits an adorably passionate, childlike enthusiasm. This day he’s beaming with nostalgia and bracing candor and discussing his art college drop-out-turned-raver days in San Francisco, particularly the time in his life where the young, raver-kid Chris Habana often was neglected at the bear bars.
All photography shot for EVB by Eli Schmidt
Models: Janos and Tim D. [Request]
Alex Catarinella: Do you remember the first accessory you designed?
Chris Habana: Oh fuck, that’s hard. I made a hat. I didn’t have a sewing machine and I was in high school, so at the time, everything I made was hand-sewn. I was like 17, senior year in high school and I really liked making things. So, I got jersey that was striped mustard and burgundy, and then I got solid burgundy and I made a striped stocking cap – a super rave-y one. But it had four extra mini stocking caps attached to it so it looked like elephant trunks coming out of the hat. I wore it all the time. I was a raver. I used to make all of my own outfits. Lycra t-shirts. Anna Sui was really big with her Adidas stripes at the time, so I got really into Adidas stripes. I’d wear shiny, metallic, tight t-shirts and really big baggy jeans and sneakers and I’d wear a stocking cap and a backpack.
Alex: Were you out of the closet in high school?
Chris: No, and no one fucked with me. I drew for everybody. I was an illustrator. No one bullied me. One time in art class, I even painted these tubes tipped with helmet heads, and coming out of the heads were these white, squiggly things. And I was doing this in art class the entire time and these jocks walked by and were like, “Whoa, he’s drawing dicks!” And I was like, “No, no.” I wasn’t out to myself either. I came out when I was 19.
Alex: What were some of your music obsessions during your raver days?
Chris: I love Orbital, 808 State. There was also Goldie. I’ll play you Orbital after this. Those kind of bands. But I also liked Seduction, Exposé, Madonna of course. Of course! Fucking “Blonde Ambition” was amazing. Truth or Dare and then when Erotica came out and when her Sex book came out, that shit was amazing!
Alex: Wow, you own Doom Generation! You really do love the ’90s…
Chris: Yep. I love the ’90s, of course. That’s the kind of pop I’m kind of stuck in, you know? That’s why with pop now I’m kind of like, “eh…”
Alex: What artist do you always find yourself revisiting?
Chris: Everything But the Girl.
Alex: [As Madonna’s "Take a Bow" blasts…] Favorite Madonna ballad?
Chris: Hello?! “Crazy for You”.
Alex: What would today’s Chris tell 19-year-old raver-boy Chris living in San Francisco?
Chris: To hold on to his clothes and accessories. He’s gonna be wearing them again in 18 years – I’ve been channeling Tank Girl as of late.
Alex: Why did you move to New York in 2000? What was a day in the life of Chris Habana like then?
Chris: I was living in LA with my then-boyfriend. At that time we were together for two years already. He was moved to New York by the company he worked for and I didn’t hesitate to come with him. At the time, I was focused on our relationship, and building a life with him. In retrospect, I was a different person then. I had a full-time job, did the whole day-job thing, lived in Carroll Gardens [in Brooklyn] and didn’t really go out too much. But it wasn’t long ’till I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted and I started to make accessories and selling them to stores in New York, namely Seven (when it was on Orchard Street!). It all kinda kept going from there.
Alex: What are some of your more recent favorite jewelry ideas?
Chris: I don’t know if it was the best idea, but I came up with a small group for A/W11 of a cock and balls single earring – I think I was with friends when I came up with that. A nipple pin, and an asshole/taint/vagina ring – it was my fantasy jewelry collection realized. I also started doodling various handcuff shapes while stoned and came up with a small line of hinged cuffs with male/female symbols, sickles and razors.
Alex: Queer culture, religious symbols, goth punk, ’80s and ’90s pop culture, club kids – these are some key words in just about every article about your work. What are you intentions? Is your work a personal statement, a reflection of you?
Chris: There’s no other reason for it rather than the fact that it’s a part of me. I’m a Gemini, through and through. My logo is a Gemini symbol, in fact. Being that sign, duality and contradiction are inherent to me and my creations. There’s always this war in my head between what I want to do and what I think I should do commercially. It’s always a struggle, and I’m always happily surprised by the outcome.
Alex: Tell me about the creative process. How do your collections continue to evolve every season?
Chris: Well, I always infuse my life in all my collections, so inspiration comes a bit more easily to me. I really tap into what is happening to me at that time. I feel it is the most organic and effective way of developing a collection. I would hate to ever try and design something that wasn’t me at all. It would just feel forced, you know? As an example, my Spring/Summer collection, entitled “Mon Amour, Mon Ennemi”, focused on my life as a single man during the development of that collection. The group is full of romantic and lovelorn imagery such as thorns, roses, and pearls. My Autumn/Winter 2011 is called “Weird n’ Kinky” cause I met this guy on Manroulette who I befriended and ended up meeting a couple of times. He kinda helped me realize the more sexual side of my nature. He’s in almost every part of that collection. Regarding all the ’90s gothic and religious stuff, well, that’s always with me. I grew up Catholic, like Catholic schoolboy Catholic, so the imagery is ingrained in my head. Like I said before, I was always attracted to goth and my raver and club days gave the right amount of POP that’s still prevalent in my work today.
Alex: What are your thoughts on religion these days?
Chris: Catholic is my religion now, but it’s not what I practice. Although I find myself thinking about it more, which is so cliché. It happens when you get older and that’s what they all say. Someone asked me one time if they thought that religious people have bought my jewelry thinking I’m totally for God because I have so many crosses – even though some are upside down. I said, I bet you there are – I bet you there are religious people who see my shit and are like, “Oh My God, I want a big-ass cross because I love God.”
Alex: Describe the last time you had a really awesome day.
Chris: Easily my birthday. I literally didn’t wanna do anything because last year I had a big party in my apartment. So that Saturday the only thing I planned is that we were all going to do mushrooms and we were going to Central Park and we were going to trip our shit off. At one point I was rolling around in the grass – I wanted to be the earth. I could not get enough, I was rolling around like a pig in the grass. There was a patch of sun that kept traveling and we kept going to where the sun was. It was so amazing. And later, we went to Ladyfag’s party. It was an amazing, amazing day. I was so happy. That shit was great.