Meet Cali Thornhill Dewitt, the Designer Behind Kanye’s Pablo Merch
“I love the idea of making a shirt or something that two years later you could see on an old Chinese woman in the subway.”
Artist Cali Thornhill Dewitt is Los Angeles’ underground ambassador, who might be more recognizable if you knew his designs are imprinted upon Kanye West’s Life of Pablo merch. But there’s more to it than just that – Dewitt’s notorious memorial sweatshirts, West Coast gangs-meet-cult Hollywood, are “available” in Forever 21 and bootleg markets.
Dewitt sees it with good grace citing, “I love bootlegs. I love the idea of making a shirt or something that two years later you could see on an old Chinese woman in the subway. To me, that’s the reason to make a shirt.” He wants to make a bootleg so good that it becomes bootlegged by the people who invented it.
To Artist Thomas Jeppe, Dewitt opened up about his aesthetics, gold teeth and Pablo. Catch an except below and head over to SSENSE to read the entire interview.
You recently said, about your involvement with a lot of different subcultures over the years, that you are attracted to the thing that feels most honest at that moment.
Cali Thornhill Dewitt: Yeah, I guess I would mean what feels right, what I’m gravitating towards. It may not be conscious.
But then, with this quite immaterial aspect of honesty, it begins to make sense that you could be equally into things that seemingly clash with one another.
Cali Thornhill Dewitt: Although for me, I don’t think anything clashes. There’s a lot of rules, gatekeeper people who are like, ‘This is what you have to do.’
Which is the mechanics of a generation gap.
Cali Thornhill Dewitt: Your whole life, if you stick around, there’s a new crop of people who you see around. Generally, 95 per cent of them you see for two years, and that’s their time before they go get their real life started, whatever it is. You never see them again. The people who are not contributing are not around that long anyway. They’re like, living out. They want to have their picture taken in a cool outfit and be at Max’s Kansas City, or whatever. Most people want their version of that when they’re younger, and then that’s enough for them.
It’s interesting to think about these smaller scale activities alongside your memorial sweatshirts. Those were initially produced on a similarly intimate scale, but then at a certain point something clicked, and it suddenly spoke to a mass of people. It had the right chemistry at a certain moment that –
Cali Thornhill Dewitt: That Forever 21 made their version.
What’s their version?
Cali Thornhill Dewitt: Some people have been sending it to me – the text is a memorial for the Christian figure Simon de Cyrène. It’s not cool, but it’s funny. I love bootlegs. I love the idea of making a shirt or something that two years later you could see on an old Chinese woman in the subway. To me, that’s the reason to make a shirt.
Now that you’re focused more on your own work, you’ve got to face much more public attention. What are your thoughts on privacy?
Cali Thornhill Dewitt: I love privacy. (laughs) I think it’s important to know that you can just say no. Like with the Kanye thing, I don’t talk about it publicly. I just think some people really like the limelight, and they like to talk about themselves and post six things a day on Instagram. I don’t like to do that. Anonymity is super good, as much as you can get it.