Artists of Theory: Brian Downey & Falcon Bowse
When we were kids the amount of influence we had on our clothing options was limited at best. Downright disregarded in most cases. For some this lead to drastic experimentation during those awkward teen years and into the early twenties. Over time our tastes change, mature and to reflect what we feel and how we want others to perceive us. Our knowledge of how and where our clothes are made influences how and where we put our money. The combination of awareness and the tight knit nature of our community has brought a new wave of skater made goods that bring sustainability into the mix. Decades ago the idea of a conscious brand was tried, some of us still remember that brilliant light called Half-Life that made hemp clothing (hemp has a softer environmental impact than cotton) and used recycled plastic bottles in their sweatshirts. This new generation is combining re-purposing and environmentally sound production to make items for skaters and non-skaters alike.
The subject of this interview is no stranger to creating wearable items from scraps of cloth and cardboard. His first well known project created hats from old shirts, giving new life to old cherished relics. Dedication to what he does and limited resources means he is his own workforce and while that daunting task might sour some, Brian's positive disposition helps him power through even the most mundane tasks of the manufacturing process. His desire to make each item as special as possible can be physically seen in every stitch in every hat and shirt he has made. Attention to detail and quality craftsmanship are what make his work stand out. Because of that he has cultivated a loyal following of shops and individuals San Francisco to NYC. Style is at the root of what we choose to wear, Falcon Bowse resonates because it represents a certain style that appeals to a base human instinct. To be a part of something unique, special and made with soul.
Interview by Isaac Mckay Randozzi - MyDumbLuck.com
Where are you living right now?
Greenpoint Brooklyn with my girlfriend Emma.
What are you doing for work?
For the past four year I've been working on high fashion photo shoots in the art department. Lately though I've been working a lot more with a luxury interior design firm as an upholstery consultant. And for about 5-6 years I've been doing Falcon Bowse the hat and clothing brand.
So how does having a Katie Perry obsession segue into getting your job?
Well I was visiting New York City after ending a cross country skate trip and Caddo said he could get me a job and so I interviewed at this photography set design studio. I figured I probably didn't get the job so I drove out to Pittsburgh later that day to skate and stay with Scumco haha. A few mornings later I woke up from a super vivid intense dream where I was on a yacht with Katy Perry. It just felt very normal and really fun like we were old friends having a great time, nothing sexual and I only say that cause she's known as a sex symbol and that's probably what popped in your head. I don't know I kinda forget now but I woke up thinking like what the hell cause I never really thought about her at all before that. I started googling and researching and found something that she had a lot of ancestral ties and connections to Pittsburgh which I thought was pretty random.
Wallride Photo by Chinner
That morning I got a call back that I got the job and can I be on set the following morning. So I drove back to New York and the next morning I show up to the shoot not really having much information just taking directions setting up the props and what not. They ask me to set up a new skateboard complete for the person to have in the photos. I'm setting the board up thinking man this is some bullshit, like... great now I'm the person adding to the dumb model holding the skateboard on the Marie Claire cover or whatever. So I thought I can put the trucks on backwards and no one on the shoot will know the difference but anyone who skates and happens to see the photo will think it's funny and know that they now a man on the inside ready to put up a fight haha. Then the photo shoot is starting and out walks Katy Perry and then after a bit they call for me to give her the backward trucks board. Watching what felt like to be this dreamy manifested situation I was pretty blown away at the coincidence and just the weirdness of the photo shoot at the time. And then Katy and I got to talking and she invited me to an after shoot party on her boat, na I'm just kidding haha. Anyways so I'm not sure what if anything it all meant but doing this type of work for years now I can safely say this is no where near the strangest day on set I've experienced. That world is a circus.
Where did the name Falcon Bowse come from?
The first inspirations for the concepts and the quality for Falcon Bowse clothing were taken from Native American traditions of weaving and organically hand dying natural fabrics. With the falcon in Native American culture meaning vision, success, higher connections to nature and the spirit world, all things basically also in a way meaning boss. So falcon boss was kinda perfect but then to make it more obscure and gangster it turned into bowse. And so Falcon Bowse was born.
You seem to be a wandering soul, living in Florida, San Francisco, New York and Chicago. Where do you call home and where did you start skating?
I grew up and started skating in south Florida and then at around age 15-16 I started to go out to California to skate. I knew Brian Delatorre from the skatepark in Miami and he was on Satori out of SF and I guess I was like I want to do what he's doing! So with the connection through Dela I got in touch and shared my tape with the owners of Satori and they said they were going on a Florida tour and that there was no room in the van. But if I had a car and would do it on my own dime I could follow them around and skate with everyone. So I scraped together whatever gas money I could and drove my Jeep around Florida with them for like a week and skated the best I could and became good friends with everyone. They said I should come to SF soon and so I did! A few trips back and forth and then I just never left!
We had a big Florida group out there back then and actually still do, at the time it was Dela, Ben Gore, Yonnie Cruz, Brad Cromer, Jimmy Lannon and others. It felt kinda like we were the advanced group at like a skate school or something on a big long field trip. Haha I don't know if that makes sense but it was really cool we were out there at the same time doing it all together and I'm so proud of all those guys! They all killed it! But yeah growing up in Florida it's totally flat and I just remember seeing the first Seasons video (rip Trevor Prescott) with the SF hills and being totally awestruck and convinced that's where I needed to go. Then a few years later Dela and I both had parts in the Seasons 3 video, that was a really cool circle to complete and to me it seemed to make that transition and part of my life feel like it was best spent and in a way that it was meant to be.
Was only in Chicago for 2 years right after a year or so in San Diego and honestly it was kinda of a my way of hiding from skating after the trying out the SoCal experience. I had a long distance girlfriend in Chicago at the time which ended soon after moving there but then I had two good friends move up and then met some great people in Chicago and skated the ramp at the old Beerics warehouse a ton and played a lot of music. Was pretty fun all in all looking back.
Now I'm in New York, I've been here for 3-4 years and it does feel like home in a way. There's a ton of work opportunities and I do love skating here and there's a big group of old friends always around. But I don't think it's for me forever. Where to next I don't know though. Probably back to California or Florida I guess. Really whatever my girlfriend wants to do I'm down for. Still crave the wandering but just not alone anymore.
Big ass ollie, Photo by J-Hon
What happened with Yellow? Seemed like it was going strong for a little while there.
Yellow was awesome. It was a sister brand of Satori and Creation skateboards co-owned and art directed by Lucian moon. I don't want to speak for him for two reasons, I wasn't the artist for the brand and he doesn't like me too much anymore haha but to me the concept was like a kinda post apocalyptic government issue version of a skate brand. Like government issue yellow cheese. So that was some of the graphic and then some were a warning of that possible future and so on. It was an amazing crew with Nix, Abair (who I'm again team mates with on Scumco) John Buchanan, Johan Stucky, 80s Joe and Mike Espinosa. We came out with a Yellow brand section in a larger Satori video and a 411vm section, it had a ton of potential. I'm not exactly sure how it ended; one day it was just like we're done here. I actually was about to get my pro board when it happened, the graphic was done and everything. Happy though, to think now that that didn't happen until a couple years ago with Scumco and sons. But yeah Yellow was really fun and I wish all those guys the best and thanks for the good times.
When did you start sewing things together? Did you start with hats?
I didn't start with hats actually. Growing up my mom made some of my siblings and I's clothing which was cool. But then I would rip them skating or playing in the woods or whatever and she was like you can fix it. So I learned how to hand stitch holes and rips first and how to put on buttons and stuff like that. Then I guess I started making hand stitch embroidered pillows and learning how to use the machine my mom had.
Who inspired you to make things to wear and how did the t-shirt/hat project come about?
Well I was really into painting and sculpture as a young kid but then seeing Bjork music videos and falling in love with the costumes and the clothes, (and the music and her in general haha) but it was the first time I can remember making the connection in my brain that clothing can be art. Clothing can be a painting or a sculpture.. it can be anything. Then I wanted to make my own stuff.
Downey on the ones & twos
So I had been making my own hats for a bit (not very good at them yet to be honest looking back) haha but for fun I made one out of an old t-shirt. I just thought it would be cool cause it already had a screen printed logo on it. I had to figure out how to back the shirt fabric to be able to be structured enough to be a hat, worked that out and then I was like well damn it worked. After making a bunch of them I just thought hmm everyone has old t-shirts that they keep in their closet but can't wear anymore, so this could be their way to wear it again! Then I got pretty obsessed and formed the idea for the Kickstarter. I thought, man the only way this is going to work is to get the whole skate community involved with social media. So I started making all my favorite brands shirts into hats, ended up making like 100 hats for this part. Then got all the product shots of all of them, organized them with a little instruction email about the project and if they wanted to be a part of it and get the hat mailed to them they would just need to post the hat with a link on Instagram exactly when the Kickstarter starts. And then some how it totally worked!
I started the Kickstarter and almost every brand I emailed posted their shirt hat photos and link that day, was so cool. It really propelled the project to success. Ended up also getting gifted a pop up shop for the month the Kickstarter was going on in Brooklyn from Joel Meinholz, Rachel Yaeger and Jill Borenstein. Was such a fun time and the Kickstarter ended up being funded, but then I needed to figure out how to make all this hats! Like I said I kinda sucked at hats at the time but it was such a cool idea and I though I just have to do it the best I can. Hats are hard to get right, it's a lot of details in a small area. So I'd say probably 6 months later I finished all the hats (with a few apologetic casualties). I kinda went into the project really light and just thinking how fun it would be to see everyone's favorite old shirt but then I realized how important something like a t shirt can be to someone. I got a lot of shirts from passed away family members or memorials stuff like that, which is really humbling to be trusted with doing that I just didn't really fully think about it like that when I started the project. One of the coolest ones I got to do was actually for my friend Brandon Kuzmas grandfather. It was like 6 hats made out of his grandfathers world war 2 uniform. His grandfather was not doing so good and this was so he could wear his uniform again in the hospital bed. I got some photos of him and his family all wearing the hats in the hospital, apparently he loved it. That was really special I'll always remember that.
As someone who has known you the better part of 7 years now I have to ask, do you have an aversion to filming? I say this as a fan Brian, I love seeing your footage.
Well thank you Isaac haha, I'm a fan of yours as well. I actually really like filming, it's just never been easy for me to get footage. (And yes I know everyone says it's hard to film stuff) But for me I can say with only probably a hand full of exceptions every trick I've ever gotten has been a mental and physical ordeal. Just countless hours of ride ups and flailed attempts until I'm almost too exhausted to actually try the trick altogether and then I commit to one and then I might actually get it fairly quick. However I've never been able to figure out how to get to that end part without having to go through that first part but it's always felt like that process validates the overwhelming feeling of utter relief and success when I do ride away. And being able to watch your completed full part, if your happy with it is a pretty amazing feeling. So yeah I do really enjoy pushing my limits to film stuff because of this but yeah it does make the footage kinda rare.
Who are your favorite people to film with?
Matt Hoewing, Bagel, Atwood, Ryan Garshall,John Valenti, Zack Chamberlin, Mikey Bueso, Yoan Taliander, Cheddar Bob, Waylon Bone, Josh Stewart, Big Paulie Films, Tons of Fun Max Mattoon , Colin Read and Joe Perrin.
Best thing about skating for Scumco & Sons?
Scumco is authentic, it's the real thing that other companies try to mimic. From the graphics to the amount of labor that went into the board and the full concept. It's like the deference between hand dying, hand sanding and letter pressing 400 boards or doing that to one board and taking a photo of it and printing that on 400 boards. Thank you to Joe and everyone at Pennswood for all the hard work and creativity. Other than that the team is great. All the guys are genuine, talented and unique drug addicted/alcoholics. Haha, na they are great guys. But really, for me Scumco is the home I always looked for during my skating life. With like what happened with Yellow brand, I had like almost fit in or something fell through or it just wasn't working with other teams and I had actually legitimately given up on caring about being sponsored or trying to push to make things work that felt kinda weird or really anything pro skating anymore. Like being successful in most things it can just come down to that X factor that either happens or just doesn't to some equally talented passionate people and I was okay with that fact at that point, it was actually freeing. Then I started talking with Nick Scumco and we became fast friends and he just wanted me to be me and skate and make art the way that makes me happy. I feel very lucky to be able to do that and be a professional and just thankful to be apart of Scumco & Sons.
Nick is a grumpy hairy genius. Is it true that he lives off of India ink, cigarettes and mescaline?
He's one of a kind for sure! A true artist. Depending on the month he'll either be on cigs, booze and chicken wings or tea, mushrooms and eating healthy. I like both Nicks. He's been a great friend.
Do you make everything for Falcon Bowse?
I do but my girlfriend helps and knits the beanies sometimes.
As someone that makes every item for Falcon Bowse, has a thing you loved to do at first become a burden?
Well it's never felt like a burden it's just always hard to get done everything you want to. I feel like I've learned so much first hand by doing it the slow long way of being self taught. Now I'm working on figuring out how to transition into keeping Falcon Bowse as hands on and high quality and creative as it ever has been but with outsourcing in areas that won't hinder but add to the over all products that way I can hopefully do more, have more fun with it and get more people to be able to enjoy the clothing.
In recent months you've updated your website and present a more professional look on-line. Has refining that presence helped people see and purchase your work?
Thanks yeah the site was updated with a collection I did for a video shoot with Milk Studios and then shot by Logan Riggs. It set the bar higher for how I want to present Falcon Bowse moving forward. Thank you to Nick Bean, Tess Travis, Bette Adams for the video. (Now playing on FalconBowse.com) This collection was definitely my most well received to date.
Since clothing is such a personal item, it represents how we want others to perceive us and how we view ourselves. It shows others our idea of style and for some, a belonging to a certain group. What do you think your clothing says about someone who wears it?
I've always tried to have little visible branding for Falcon Bowse to let the clothing speak for itself. I want the wearer to feel special and proud and comfortable. I want them to feel they are cared about and to show others they care about themselves and others.
How has the response been from skaters?
A huge amount of support and kindness. If funny like on some Scumco trips I would be knitting beanies in the van on long drives and you would think that that's behavior you're basically just asking to get made fun of by a van full of guys. But I guess they all see hard work and think the clothes are cool??! So they back it. But yeah with my clothing being hand made of designer fabrics it's a tough thing for skateshops to afford to put in their shop and for skaters to buy. But for the shops I really love I've always just said my hats range from 75-125$ on my site but just sell my hats for whatever you can sell them for in your shop, cause ultimately I want people to be able to enjoy my hats and clothing.
Is the Evan hat named after Kinori?
Yep haha, not sure if he even knows that but yeah. I made 50 of those hats in his studio in SF a while ago as a gx1000 collaboration that never happened and then they ended up fitting in this Falcon Bowse collection. But yeah, Eva's the man. So proud of what he's been doing with his label ‚Äì www.evankinori.com
How did the Warkod graphic come about? How many people have tattoos of it?
Man I've been drawing Warkod for at least 15 years. I've spray painted it hundreds and hundreds of times and I've tattooed it maybe 20 times so far. I'm going to be using warkod more coming up as a Falcon Bowse logo.
As someone who has no independent financial backing how hard is it you to advertise Falcon Bowse? I'm sure social media has helped but would you like to advertise in magazines?
Yeah that would be great. It's just expensive and yeah I don't have any financial backing. But I'm about to do a collaboration with my friend Richard Hart who does Push Periodical and we thought it would be cool as a work trade hats for ad space which is rad I'm excited for it.
Do you have any upcoming plans for the new year? Heard rumors of a Scumco full length, care to comment?
For Falcon Bowse I'm going to keep trying to be better and more creative at making my clothing and trying to find different ways for people to enjoy them in their life.Plan on skating a lot more when it's nice out again, hopefully get enough stuff for a video part. A Scumco full length video would be insane if it happened, I'll look forward to that.
You and Colin Read teamed up to film the Falcon Bowse commercial, how did that idea come about?
Well I'm always just cutting random stuff up and making hats and I thought it would be a fun little video to run around in the streets and cut down anything we see and make a hat out of it. So I pitched that idea to Colin and he's like yeah that sounds cool I'll get back to you. Then maybe an hour later he came up with and had everything ready to go on the idea for the barrow bird voice over and the whole concept being like a nature documentary. I was like holy shit that's exactly where it needed to go! You're a genius and now we definitely have to do this it's too good not to.
How long did it take to complete from concept to final edit?
We filmed it in one day just running around Greenpoint and Williamsburg Brooklyn, was really fun. I was channeling my inner barrow bird. Taylor Nawrocki and Connor Kamerer and some other guys came along and helped out too. I'm not sure how long it took Colin to edit it, the initial edit seemed pretty quick like a day or two but it's been I guess 2 weeks since we shot it. Just today he sent me another version that he said is better than the last one. The change was probably something I would miss but he is truly amazing and whatever his process is just keep doing it Colin haha. Can't thank you enough!
I assume you didn't get permits to film, did you have any problems from cops?
Ha, nope no permits. I guess no one cares if you run around with 13' scissors cutting apart cones and street signs and stuff.
Do you think it's important that skater's support each others projects beyond just liking something on social media?
Yeah of course. We're definitely a special group of people as a whole. I think we influence and inspire more than we even understand we do. More so to this we are also an extremely attentive group at self policing one another, constantly trimming the fat and re inventing its self as a whole. Having a small group of highly focused highly creative and passionate people is a powerful thing. When we put our collective minds towards whatever it may be, we'll most likely achieve it.
What do you think the most important lesson someone gains from making something with their own hands?
I think you can get many important emotions and experiences from making something with your own hands, not sure which could be the most important thing or lesson to take away from it though. For me it teaches me things like how to look ahead from a failure and do it better. How to recognize when something is made with perfect skill, tradition and heritage. How to appreciate, love and embrace the imperfections of anything hand made.
After pouring time, energy, thought, passion into creating an object whatever it may be even though it's inanimate I'd still say it's more living than something production or mechanically made. I'm not sure exactly what that is but I think that's an inherent distinction most people can intuitively feel and that's what makes it special, that's what gives it soul.
See more of Brian and his work at:
Falcon Bowse www.falconbowse.com
Scumco & Sons www.scumconandsons.com