Patrick Church's pieces are distinct. That word may be over used in some instances, but it applies here. Featuring his signature graphic prints of hand-painted, often crying faces, his collections of bodysuits, caps, speedos, handbags, masks, and anything else he decides to plaster his work with, they are easy to pick out, whether they are on the back of a global superstar, being sported by a RuPaul's Drag Race alum, or covering an Instagram baddie. But this ubiquity was in part planned: for the artist and designer, who works with models of all genders, body types, and races, there was never a doubt that his brand was going to be for everybody.
"It's really important for me to be inclusive and to be true to the integrity of the brand," Church says. "I want to remain very aware, especially with what's going on around us at the moment."
Disrupting the velvet rope mentality of fashion week, over the years Church has eschewed the traditional runway and kept everyone guessing by opting for innovative ways to present his collections instead. One season, he staged weddings in which models of all genders kissed against painted backdrops, and for another, guests from the public could choose to take part by putting on looks and posing for photos. "Fashion can feel really elitist and exclusive," he says. "I just never would want anyone feeling like it's something they couldn't be a part of."
Hailing from England, the artist moved to New York to be with his husband Adriel Church-Herrera. Unable to work for about 10 months because of his immigration status, he honed in on painting figures and sad faces in response to the loneliness he was feeling in the big city. "To feel so alone was very alien to me, because you're surrounded by so many people," Church says. "So I wanted to make a pattern that was everlasting, or an artwork series that was never ending, like a family of people that keeps growing and growing."
Thanks to his growing customer base - including Megan Thee Stallion, who wore the brand in a Saturday Night Live appearance - he has created the community he longed for. "People are often like, 'Who is your favorite celebrity you dressed?', and to me that isn't so important," he says. "It's often when I'm scrolling through Instagram and seeing these kids in small towns, because I was a kid in a small town looking at these designers and thinking it was so impossible for me to be able to be a part of that world." To wit, a quick scroll through the brand's Instagram page shows that Church sometimes reposts those kids or comments on their posts.
This year, his husband Adriel was able to quit his job to join the business full time, what Church considers his biggest achievement since starting the brand two years ago together on his bedroom floor. "That was a real pinch me moment, too, because we're such a small company," he says. "It's just me, him, and an intern, so for him to be able to do that, and for him to be able to do that was such a massive moment for the both of us."
As for what's next for Church, he wants to host another art exhibition once it's safe to do so again. "I would love to do another art exhibition because to me, the artwork is the heart of everything I do," he says. "Without the artwork, there's no prints for the clothes, and it's so personal to me."
"I want everyone who wears my clothes to feel confident and empowered," he says. "So many people say they get compliments when they wear their pieces, and it can be difficult for LGBTQ+ people to feel that way."
A version of this piece was originally published in this year's Out100 issue, out on newsstands 12/1. The issue has four cover stars: Janelle Monae, Wilson Cruz, Joe Mantello, and Janaya Khan. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News +. The first-ever Out100 Symposium, titled "How Do We Come Back From This" will stream on Out Friday and is set to be hosted by Janaya Khan. The first-ever Out100 Virtual Honoree Induction Ceremony will be Saturday, November 21, 2020 at 8 p.m. EST. You can watch live on the Out100 Live landing page.
Photography by Mikael Schulz