Here at Embodied, we’re always on the lookout for up-and-coming designers and stylish people following their fashionable dreams. Last weekend I had the pleasure of chatting with Phoenixx, an African-American, female-to-male trans* architecture student known as phoenixx23 on Tumblr. He recently launched his ready-to-wear label RISN with stunning success, selling out items across the board within a week. We talked a little bit about finding his true calling, gender identity and plans for the future.
E: Thank you for taking the time to chat. Would you mind introducing yourself to our readers?
P: Well my name is Phoenixx and I am 22 years old. I was born in upstate New York but I was raised in North Carolina. And I am currently finishing up my Master of Architecture at Hampton University, due to graduate this May. I spend a lot of my free time enjoying and participating in almost anything artistic.
I am also transgender (female to male) and I have been on testosterone for a year so far.
E: And it’s been an inspiration to see your journey. I understand that you chose Phoenixx as your name. Was there a specific reason?
P: As a bit of foreshadowing, I suppose. About 3 years ago I got a phoenix tattooed on my back. I felt completely connected to the mythological story of the bird. The idea of being reborn from the ashes of your previous self was very symbolic of the stage of life that I was in at the time. I was in the middle of my undergrad matriculation, growing and changing every day.
A year ago, as I started to come into myself, becoming more aware of my true gender, the story of the phoenix came back to me. It only seemed appropriate that I choose that name for myself. I added a second x to my name to honor the fact that I am a man who was born with 2 X-chromosomes. I was born biologically female, yet I grew and evolved into the man I am today.
E: And your new label, RISEN (or RISN), has to do with the phoenix symbolism as well?
P: Absolutely! I feel that the story of the phoenix is one that everyone can relate to because we are all constantly growing into ourselves.
E: Tell me a little bit more about launching RISN, especially since you’re not going to school for design. We all know how inescapable a degree title can feel.
P: Exactly. I was starting to feel smothered and stifled by my courses and field of study. Each semester that went by seemed to pull me farther and farther from my initial love of architecture. Because I have always been artistic, I began picking [art] up again in my free time to keep my sanity in the very strict and organized world of architecture.
But instead of putting paintbrush to paper, like I did for years in high school, I combined my artistic nature with the design skills that I learned in architecture and started designing digitally. One thing led to another and I found myself really falling in love with digital art. So I decided to begin walking in the direction of my goal of having a clothing line, something that I didn’t intend on working towards until well after graduation.
E: What changed?
P: My decision to transition is what changed everything. Taking such a huge step like deciding to medically alter my body to match the gender that I have always identified with really taught me to follow my heart. I used to push things that I truly want to the side in exchange for things that society says are more important. In the past year I have really changed the way that I live my life, truly making the most out of the little things, listening to my inner voice, and saying yes to myself more.
E: What gave you the strength to go through with such a life-changing decision?
P: I just told myself “this could be a piece to the puzzle that I never knew was missing.” I trusted myself and took a leap of faith.
E: What’s been the hardest part about transitioning between sexes?
P: The hardest part for me was/is seeing myself the way others see me. Going 21 years of being addressed and interacted with as a woman made it a bit strange for me when that started to shift. When strangers used male pronouns with me, I tended to have a delayed reaction before being like “Oh! He’s talking to me . . . Because I’m a guy and that’s what people say to guys”. It just took some getting used to. Also when you’re a guy you suddenly become everyone’s “bro”. Still getting used to that one [laughs].
E: Crazy. But you’re happy, now, as far as your followers can tell.
P: Extremely happy.
E: How about your journey into fashion, any unexpected challenges?
P: The biggest challenge has been advertising. Luckily, Tumblr is a great place for getting things seen across the globe; however, not many people go on Tumblr to shop. So that is something that I am still struggling with.
E: The first two releases seemed to go really well, judging by your Tumblr. It was wonderful to see so many different people engaged in your work.
P: Thank you! I am really happy with the response thus far.
E: Speaking of Tumblr, you post a lot about race politics, and it’s a topic that inspires your work. Anything you want to say about that?
P: I’m not sure if I would consider it race politics. I am just very aware of the history of this country. It is not something that I choose to forget or overlook seeing as it shapes much of my life on a daily basis. The Royalty T-shirt that is currently on my website reads, “Of Kings and Queens”. This isn’t anything political, rather a reminder to my community – African-American – that we are descendants of just that, kings and queens. Despite what our people have been and are still being dragged through, we must always remember who we are and from where we came.
E: Would it be acceptable for a non-African person to wear the Royalty shirt?
P: That’s a hard one. I designed the shirt with the outline of the African continent with the intent of making it for those of African descent. So I guess my question would be, with what motive would a non-African person buy and wear the shirt?
E: I suppose because it’s wonderfully designed shirt.
P: But it is more than a design on a shirt. It is a message. I would not feel comfortable wearing a shirt with a traditional Native American war bonnet on it because that is not my culture to claim and wear. Cultural messages aren’t always up for grabs by whoever feels they are entitled to it.
E: It is an eye-catching, heart-stopping design, though. What inspires you?
P: Ironically enough, my design eye comes directly from modern architecture: crisp, clean lines, simple forms, and avoiding excess ornamentation. Architecture school was good for something after all.
E: Making the best of what you’ve got!
P: Absolutely, I can’t let these past 5 years go to waste!
E: Let’s talk about the future. Any cool plans for RISN that you want to share with us?
P: I have an amazing collaboration coming up this summer that I am SO excited about. Be on the lookout for that.
E: Certainly will! In terms of distant pipe dreams now, what are you striving towards?
P: Simply having a expansive collection of pieces that I am proud of beyond measure.
E: Ready-to-wear or haute?
P: Ready-to-wear. Definitely going for a casual vibe. Having desirable pieces that are also affordable is really important to me.
E: A more-than-honorable dream, and you’ve come so far in achieving it. If you could go back and give your 18 year old self some advice, what would it be?
P: To always trust yourself. You know what’s best for you.