Photography by David Sessions
British designer Elliot Joseph Rentz breathes with a relaxed ferociousness when discussing his art. Wearing a loose tank top and easy smile, he sits down among sketches and garments, a knee pulled up to his chest, to chat on a recent summer day. He was only 16 when, deciding to skip formal schooling, he moved to London to pursue a career in fashion. Quick to admit that his path hasn’t always been straightforward, Rentz says there are definitely things he would have done differently. But four years on, both he and his work are becoming increasingly recognizable in an international setting. He’s been featured in W and Candy magazines and ODDA and has collaborated with the likes of Edward Enninful and Rankin. One of his clients, Lady Gaga, has already likened him to the iconic Alexander McQueen.
Now 20, Rentz is gearing up for the launch of his second Elliot Joseph Rentz women's wear collection, a rebrand he unveiled last year. He’s had quite a ride, so we caught up with the young talent to ask our 10 most burning questions. From childhood fancies to police encounters and, of course, fashion, we covered a bit of everything.
Out: To start off, you moved to London when you were 16. What was that like?
Elliot Joseph Rentz: I was always travelling when I was younger—always on a mission to find Prince Charming. And then I was actually thrown out when I was 16 during my exams. So, initially, it wasn’t the idea of leaving home which scared me, it was more the thought of being an adult which was terrifying. And it was terrifying, but no one in this industry is going to hold your hand, so you just have to do it.
London is a very cold place. I think I moved there for a reason, I moved at the right time, and I got it out my system — and I can’t complain. I live in Brighton now, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. My work is the best it’s ever been. I’d rather spend all my money on work than on living in London.
When was it that you really started to get noticed?
When I was 16, after the European Meeting of Young Designers. Elle magazine flew me to Istanbul for it, and I was actually arrested because my collection was termed “sexual discrimination.” So I was there for five hours. I literally arrived, the police took me back to the airport, and I was put on a flight out.
Honestly, it was the best press I could’ve asked for at the time. When I got back, I started getting commissions and then getting loans for the odd big publication. I guess it all really just fit into place.
What is it that draws you to women’s wear?
It’s always been villains that I’ve dreamt about. And when I think of a villain, I think there’s nothing sexier than a woman. If someone asked me to design something for a man, I really wouldn’t know where to start. For me, women’s wear is where my heart is, and it’s what my imagination lets me do.
A striking aspect of the looks you create are your headpieces and masks. Can you talk us through where their inspiration comes from?
There’s always a character behind each collection I do, that’s how I start, and they’re always alien-like women. So until I can find a woman who’s like, eight foot tall and has eyes on the side of her head, I’ll put them in masks. I think there’s something sexy about concealing the identity of a woman, and I always like my characters to look a bit more…unrealistic.
Do you see your artistic interests as being confined to fashion, or is there more you’d like to explore?
Fashion is where I like to ground myself, because it’s very easy to be taken the wrong way when you title yourself as anything other than a designer. But for me it’s about visuals, which is everything: music, videos, photography. Anyone can be taught to make a dress. I think the thing that separates a lot of people is how they present it. You’ve got to push boundaries.
Not having studied fashion, do you think you maybe ignore more boundaries than others?
It’s difficult. I’m always asked this question, but I can’t compare it because I’ve never been to university or college. What I know is that I’ve learned everything through my mistakes. At college and university, you’re not taught to make mistakes. I don’t see anything wrong with failing. I think, fashion aside, it’s what we do in life — we learn from our mistakes and we move on. If I’d gone to university, I’d still be there now and I wouldn’t have any of this work behind me. I don’t encourage people to throw themselves head-in like I do… but I’ve learned my own way, and that’s all I know.
What would you say it is that drives you — in your work, and in life?
Oh God, what drives me… I do what I do because it makes me happy. That’s the only reason I do it. Until recently, it wasn’t about making money. I take a lot of reference from shit that’s gone down in my past, and I’d love to encourage others to broaden their imagination. It’s very easy to create a collection inspired by flowers and romance and love, but not everyone is inspired by that.
And if you had to choose a spirit animal?
What are you most looking forward to for the future of your brand?
Releasing this collection. I’ve got it all around me and I’m really happy with it. There’s more depth to it than my last one — it’s got a much deeper story behind it. I’ll be adding more garments to the Rentz clothing line, which is available for the public. There’s going to be a lot more visual. I’ll be doing some more work with David Sessions, some more campaigns and publications. So yeah, it’s all exciting. Stressful, but exciting when I look at it in the long run.
You said you moved around a lot as a kid, and then you spent a few years in London — do you think there’s another move on the way?
I’ll never live in London again. For now, I’m happy here. I’m happy living my happy life by the beach with my cat, making clothes and then occasionally picking up a magazine and seeing my work. It’s rewarding here. I don’t want to give it up in a hurry.