Elena Humphreys, Creative Director of Volume & Tone, a new line of artisanal leather goods inspired by the rock n roll lifestyle, has paved a path in fashion from the design rooms of Erin Fetherson, Jill Stuart, Donna Karen, and Herve Leger. The self proclaimed "Leather Queen" gives us details on her new collection, life during New York's Punk Rock explosion, and some of the strangest places she's drawn inspiration.
Fashion Indie: You've worked with some amazing designers, what led to you going solo with Volume & Tone? Elena Humphreys: I have been playing with the idea of Volume & Tone for the past few years, its was always my little project on the back burner. I was so intensely busy working on runway collections for other major brands, that it was always just a project I tinkered with while on long flights, hours of waiting at factories etc, . Then I met my first partner, a sales director, and friend from one of the brands I was working with. I told her about my idea for V&T . She loved the idea and we set out to make the first prototypes.
A few months later, when I met my now fiancee, he kind of became the muse for the collection. I had met him years back on the NY rock scene at CBGB, and always had a little crush on him. When we re-met again in 2011, it was like no time had passed, we had the same connection. I told him about V&T, and he also loved the idea. We set out together to solidify the concept for the brand and the company. The company culture was as important as the product to us. Well designed pieces. luxury artisanal quality, an amazing team to work with, building a community within the company and within the industry, and giving back to our community at large, are all key points to our little company. Smaller is actually better. And of course rock n roll forever, can't forget that.
FI: CBGB must have been amazing in it's heyday, what was it like being in NYC during it's now infamous Punk Rock Era? EH: When I first moved to NYC, I was attending Parsons School of Design, by day a serious design student , and by night hanging out in the NYC Punk/ALT scene, totally burning it at both ends. My nightlife was the source of my creativity - I spent my nights hanging out on the Lower East Side (it was NOT the place it its now- its like Disneyland now) hanging out at CBGB, ABC no Rio, Mona's (it was a LES music hang out at the time) Mars Bar, and Coney Island High.
I spent every second outside of school going to shows, going to parties, I even scored a great "PT" job at the now infamous after hours club Save the Robots. I didn't even realize at the time that I spent my youth hanging out with rock luminaries, in a time that is now considered rock history. Hanging out with Sonic Youth, John Spencer BE, Pussy Galore, The Ramones, D Generation, Jim Thurwell, Nick Zedd, Lydia Lunch, False Profits, and a bunch of other small but great bands and musicians no one's ever heard of, it was such an insular scene.
Playing in tiny art bands, reconstructing vintage pieces to look like designer pieces because I had no money really. At clubs I would always get stopped by editors thinking that I was wearing Jean Paul Gaultier or Galliano. I used to laugh, I was sooooo not into fashion at the time, I was rebelling against it.
Now things are different. Vintage is everywhere and totally accepted but in the mid to late 1980's you were labeled poor or a freak. I loved it. I have always had that "fuck you" attitude. I still do and gets me in trouble when I have to be a good girl and try and fit in at major brands. I love that at V&T everyone can be themselves. No cattiness, no fashion bullshit. Just creativity and teamwork, and a sense of community.
FI: You must know some bands worth listening to, what are five songs currently on your playlist? EH: Just 5, thats so hard for someone who lives their life with music.
Ok , something old, something new, more old........
Nothing Can Bring Me Down by Pussy Galore Future Starts Slow by The Kills Cretin Hop by The Ramones No Way Out by D Generation Pissing in the River by Patti Smith
FI: Which musicians would you die to have in Volume & Tone? EH: Hands down Patti Smith and Debbie Harry circa 1978. Also Christina Martinez from Pussy Galore. For guys, I'd have to say Robert Mapelthorpe, Johnny Thunders, Jim Jarmuch, John Spencer during his Pussy Galor days and Jack White. John and Yoko would be amazing. I loved their non fashion-fashion sense, and their attitude in the world.
FI: What's the strangest place you've drawn inspiration from? EH: A public bathroom stall lock, I like bathroom stalls in general, lots of inspiration there, especially at old bars and clubs.
FI: I've heard that the collection is expanding past accessories and musician gear, what can we expect out of your upcoming handbag line? EH: A great mix of rock & roll downtown cool, meets old world luxe details. Boys and girls will both love it, edgy, functional, lots of tiny details and surprises in the function. We are moving all of our production back to the USA-keeping it local, making it about creating a community as much as a brand. I can work with the factories and artisans on a day-to-day basis, and utilize centuries of American craftsmanship, while also drawing from my experience with larger luxury brands to maintain the finest details.
All of this while trying to maintain a reasonable price-point for the customer. We want a wide range of people to be able to wear our products so we are creating things in both leather and fabrics to keep some of our products modestly priced. Also look out for on the horizon special limited edition charity pieces we will be creating with artists we admire and charities we feel need support and awareness for. Giving back is important for our brand.