“My parents were clotheshorses,” says the New York-born fashion designer Andre Walker, remembering the wide-lapeled sport coats his father would import from the London tailor Cecil Gee. Walker shared their interest from a young age, poring over his mother’s issues of W magazine and selling his own designs — hand-painted T-shirts and repurposed medical scrubs promoting his imaginary band, “Jimmy Sick and the Anemics” — on the streets of Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, when he was just 13. Two years later, in 1981, Walker launched his first runway collection of androgynous shifts and jackets at the neighborhood nightclub Oasis.
And so began a 37-year career, during which Walker has designed for the likes of Marc Jacobs and men’s designer Kim Jones while keeping his own name alive by collaborating on special one-off collections with brands such as Comme des Garçons. Last fall, he remade a number of his early silhouettes — draped, billowing floor-length capes and tunics — for a collection with Pendleton that showed in Paris, and he recently completed sketches for an upcoming collection for Virgil Abloh’s Off-White.
Now, at 52, Walker is contemplating his next move, perhaps as the creative director of a house other than his own. He’s a man of eclectic tastes, appreciating everything from the angular designs of ’80s hair artist Robert Lobetta to the illustrated children’s books of the 20th-century British poet Ruth Manning-Sanders. And yet he doesn’t like his influences to be too evident. “Sometimes I feel inarticulate because I’m working so hard to avoid the reference. I like things that appear to have come from nothing,” he says. Still, Walker is preoccupied with questions of creation, whether they concern a belted coat or the universe as a whole. This, too, is part of his inheritance: Walker’s mother is a hairdresser and a pastor, and, in addition to owning a record store, his late father was an ordained minister. “I like to think I’m striving for conceptual purism, for an ethereal kind of ideal.”
Here, Walker shares some of his many inspirations.
“Here I am on the porch of my family’s home in Ditmas Park. The vinyl chairs are from the ’70s. We were going to have them redone or get rid of them but haven’t gotten around to either.”
Left: “This is the short-back cape I did for my line with Pendleton last fall. We spent about three weeks just deciding how to position the stripes — nightmare. But it turned out.” Right: “One of my early shows, in 1983, was at the Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village — we used the balcony as a runway. In this picture we’re backstage, and I’m finishing off a look with a scarf. I knew the model, Oslene, from Brooklyn Tech High School.”
Left: “I love the photographer Phyllis Galembo’s pictures of ceremonial African dress. They’re like nothing you could imagine existing until you see them. This was taken at a masquerade in Benin in 2006.” Top right: “Marc Jacobs taught me all the questions I needed to ask to design this shoe from my Other People collection in ’99. It has a masked instep, which makes it look as though the wearer is really standing on the balls of their feet. I added a hole in the heel as a sort of beauty mark.” Bottom right: “Nina Simone’s ‘Folksy Nina’ (1964) is my favorite album, and ‘The Young Knight’ is my favorite song. I’ve been listening to it over and over for years. It’s kind of a medieval folk tune but to me it might as well be ‘Disco Inferno.’”
Top left: “The first issue of my ‘object-zine,’ This Is What It Made Us Think About, came out in the spring of 2009. I wanted it to be a real art object and used at least 15 different types of paper — tissue, rice, card stock. The cover was inspired by the catalog for ‘The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age,’ a 1968 MoMA show about kinetic art.” Right: “Philip Johnson’s country shack is beautiful for its simplicity. It reminds me of my studio, but with less stuff — inspiration for my dream of decluttering.”
Bottom left: “I like objects with a figurative aspect, like this galvanized brass cube by John Dickinson, which resembles a catering table with a floor-length cloth. I was a fool not to buy it on 1stdibs years ago. Someday … ” Middle: “Growing up, I’d sketch the runway reports in W magazine. When I started making my own clothes, I looked to the French designer Jean-Claude de Luca, along with Thierry Mugler and Anne-Marie Beretta.” Right: “The invitation to my March 14, 2001 show featured the World Trade Towers — I was thinking about what it takes to be a global brand. Sept. 11 happened six months later.”
Top left: “This was taken on a family trip to Atlantic City — I’m on the right, and that’s my sister, Sandra, on the left. We thought it was going to be a sunny day, but it rained the whole time, which could explain the somber expressions.” Bottom left: “Inez van Lamsweerde’s 1995 cover for Camera Austria, one of the first forays into CGI imagery, is so over-the-top glamborgeous it’s an outrage. I collect magazines and got this one right when it came out at WHSmith on Paris’s Rue de Rivoli.” Bottom right: “When I lived in Paris I often took weekend trips to visit friends in London, where I loved to walk through Hyde Park to the Marble Arch, marveling at the openness and vastness.”