Need to Know: Hi Fashion
By Jerry Portwood
Photo by Shawn Smith
You've probably heard a Hi Fashion song and maybe don't even know it. The duo's addictive single "Amazing" was in Drew Droege's Chloe videos and it turned into a viral sensation. It's one reason the twosome—Jen DM (as she's known) provides vocals and Rick Gradone, who handles much of the rest that you hear (as well as costumes and visuals)—decided to wait until they released their own video for the song, which also happens to feature a cameo by Raja (winner of RuPaul's Drag Race).
"Drew's the reason that the song got out there first," Jen admits. But Rick, adds, "With 'Amazing,' we always had a fantasy of a Marie Antoinette expression, so that's why we held off on making the video. We didn't have the dancers, and the budget, and it wasnt in place yet."
It's this highly evolved aesthetic sense in their videos and stage performances, something that harkens back to the exuberance of the '80s and early '90s with its mix of experimental theater philosophy and conceptual fashion trappings—that have garnered them a rabid fanbase hungry for more. The fact that they both identify as queer and can bring a distinctive point of view also helps.
While electropop had its heyday in New York City in the late '90s, with Larry Tee coining the term Electroclash, and groups like Peaches, Adult, and Fischerspooner becoming the most prominent ambassadors of the synthy, funtime sound, it has now become much more accepted in recent years. Both Jen and Rick—who both used to live in New York City before transplanting to Los Angeles, where they have lived for the past decade—have been on the scene long enough that they remember those early electro days (Rick says he also has played with Scissor Sisters in the early years) and can appreciate how far it has come.
"Electronic music IS pop music now. It doesn't feel like its own trend on the side anymore," Rick explains. "It's spread out across the whole business. There's electronic folk now, that was not anything that happened before. Electro was inside of a box, but it's not a narrow trend."
Looking at their videos, it's no surprise that both of them come from deep backgrounds in performance, dance, and fashion. Rick had a costume design career and designed for dance companies. Jen trained in Grotowski movement in London and say that references to Wooster Group, Richard Maxwell, and Butoh are all there (just watch the video for "Special Delivery Love" for a perfect example). But don't think that means they have a pretentious air about it all.
"I love performance, being on stage. I love the energy of a live show. I love group projects," Jen says. 'They're the most satisfying for me."
Rick says they end up developing new choreography and costumes for most shows ("We get bored, too," he says), and they often tap new dancers in the city where they go. That's one reason they both credit social media and the evolving social networks for making it all possible.
For this week's two performances, for example, their choreographer made a YouTube video to send to volunteer dancers, some who are not even trained in dance. They've been rehearsing in preparation for their arrival. With all the time and money and energy invested in this project, what do they hope will happen to get them to the next level?
"We'd love to tour with Robyn. We love her and she needs to call us," Jen says, only half joking. "I do love her and I think of her all of the time."
"We will definitely answer that call, if she does," says Rick.
EXCLUSIVE: Listen to Hi Fashion's 'Special Delivery Love (Purple Crush Remix)'