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Leo Leo Is Making Clothing Inspired by ’80s European Rave Culture

Designer Leo Pagani on being a creative in New Zealand and the music that provided the soundtrack to his spring collection.

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New Zealand designer Leo Pagani was brought up in a family that understood fashion. His dad worked in the industry, and this sparked his initial fascination with clothing. Drawn to hip-hop culture from a young age, streetwear quickly became an obsession for Leo. In need of a creative outlet, he began creating his own designs as a way to showcase his drawings and graphics and after screen-printing samples in his shed, Leo Leo came to fruition in 2017.

Leo Leo is a streetwear label focused on producing well cut, easy-to-wear garments—hoodies, fur jackets, and tees emblazoned with fun logos and cartoon characters. It balances the laid-back and practical with the offbeat and idiosyncratic.

While hip-hop, surf, and skate culture have informed his past collections, his Spring ’19 collection is inspired by ’80s European rave culture, playing on the energy and graphics behind the movement. We spoke to Leo about what it’s like to be a young creative in New Zealand, the first piece of clothing he designed, and his dream of creating tour merchandise.

Hi Leo! Can you tell us how Leo Leo came about? When did you start the brand and what was your mission in doing so?
Hey! So I started Leo Leo back in September 2017 mainly as a creative outlet for my graphics and illustrations. Growing up I was always drawing and sketching, so creating a clothing label made it possible to share my designs with the world. Also something about seeing a stranger walking around wearing a piece that I created was really exciting to me. 

I’ve been around the clothing industry my whole life through my dad, so I guess that was where I was first introduced to fashion and that’s where I built my love for it. In high school I really got into old school hip-hop and rap and the culture behind it, so naturally streetwear became an obsession too. 

I often found myself looking for garments that weren’t currently in the market or wanting to edit the styles out there, so I began mocking up pieces of my own. Through playing around with designing graphics and screen-printing samples in my shed, Leo Leo began. 

You recently released your Spring ’19 collection. Can you explain the concept behind this collection?
Our Spring ’19 collection is heavily influenced by ’80s European rave culture. You will see this inspiration referenced in the graphics, style names, and loud colour palette throughout the collection. What drew me to use this as a theme for my spring collection was the energy, graphics, and culture behind the movement. Raves at this time were seen as a form of escapism from the everyday norm, it was somewhere where you were welcomed and encouraged to be yourself. 

As there was no social media, the promoters would focus solely on illustrating loud graphics for flyers to attract people to join this movement. It’s important to me that Leo Leo has these same values in regard to diversity—that anyone can wear my brand no matter what your vibe is, but also that my graphics are strong and that the energy is captured with every print. Leo Leo is definitely a new movement in itself, with not many other independent brands in New Zealand like it. I’m proud to be growing this movement and excited to see what’s in store for the future. 

Where do you draw inspiration from?
I often find most of my inspiration from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s culture. Whether it’s from watching old movies, music videos, vintage posters/flyers etc. I source inspiration from these and put a Leo Leo spin on it. I also take a lot of inspiration from my surroundings. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in New Zealand and there will often be a local reference in my collections. 

Do you remember the first piece of clothing you ever designed?
I’ve been illustrating random designs for tees as far as I can remember, but I think the first proper concept was the Lady Luck Tee. This tee was originally created for a different brand idea I had back in high school before I created Leo Leo. Lady Luck was the first illustration I screen-printed onto a physical sample and [it] was a one-of-one that my friends all had their fair share of wearing before I actually released it in my summer collection last year. Was super exciting to share this design in a Leo Leo collection as Lady Luck holds a lot of sentimental value. 

To you, what does it mean to be a New Zealand designer?
Growing up in New Zealand gave me a unique view on fashion and the creative industry as a whole. New Zealanders’ pride themselves on ‘kiwi ingenuity’, being able to problem solve and make best use of the resources available to us. I think this translates directly into design and being a ‘New Zealand designer’. New Zealand design captures our culture—it is innovative, risk-taking, locally driven while adding character and a laid-back, welcoming attitude. 

You’re based in Auckland. Can you tell us more about the creative scene there?
There’s definitely a strong creative scene in Auckland. Because we are a small city, everyone really does know everyone. Although that can be a blessing and a curse, in this case it’s so sick seeing friends of mine and people I know grow in this industry doing what they love. With being such a diverse country made up of so many cultures, our creative scene is definitely unique and sets us apart from others. There’s so much talent here with people doing big things in all areas, whether it’s in music, art, fashion, etc. It’s a really cool time to see how the creative scene here is evolving. 

Who would you love to collaborate with?
There’s so many people I would love to collaborate with! I’d be hyped to be able to collaborate on tour merch with one of my favourite music artists like Wiki, Slowthai, or Action Bronson to name a few. In terms of another label, it would be crazy to collaborate on a limited edition shoe, like with Nike on one of their Air Max models or Clarks and their Wallabees.

Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what were you listening to when you designed this collection?
Music is definitely an important part of my creative process. I mainly listen to a lot of hip-hop and rap, reggae, and funk, but with this collection I explored more acid house and ’80s and ’90s techno to channel this time and culture. It was really fun creating graphics which heavily related to the music I was listening to and imagining those raves back in the ’80s.

Growing up, who did you look up to style-wise?
I started properly getting into streetwear around 2011 which was also when I discovered a lot of old school hip-hop and upcoming rap collectives such as the ASAP Mob, Odd Future etc. These guys pioneered a wave of streetwear which got the whole world wanting brands like Supreme and Palace. I’d say those were the first people I looked to when looking for new clothing and brands.

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