“The city is my inspiration,” says Harsh Patel, a young 23 Chicago designer. On a gloomy Tuesday afternoon, Harsh sat down with us to discuss his love for art, the city, and fashion.
Sitting in his self made Degenerates black turtle neck, camel trench coat and Adidas sneakers, his levelheaded demeanor matched his well executed dress ensemble. Over some cuban coffee, we began to discuss his roots and the impact that has on his love for the arts and fashion.
“Fashion was always my passion since I was a kid. Growing up, we weren’t financially secure, so I was never able to buy the best clothes from the latest brands. I was more of the Walmart/Kohls kid,” he laughs.
But that didn’t stop me from wanting to dress well. I think I’ve always had a sense of style and always tried to portray myself through clothes. Its funny, I actually just found a picture of my 4th grade school photos and I was styling super hard with a crazy patched shirt and leather patches on my jeans.
He mentioned how he was a shy child but always let his sense of style speak from himself. During high school, Harsh alongside some friends started making graphic t-shirts which would eventually inspire him to start altering and making clothes during his freshman year of college.
“My main driving point to pursue fashion and create a brand was that I wanted to make something that I didn’t have access to my whole life.”
He then further went into explaining his strong upbringing to succeed through education, elaborating that although from a very young age he was artistically intrigued, his parents wouldn’t allow him to pursue a career in arts, which only made his artistic hunger grow. He admits that he wasn’t very passionate about the career field in business he’d chosen, adding, “I really didn’t know where my future was headed because I didn’t enjoy my major, so I wouldn’t have enjoyed my job after I graduated. I didn’t know where I was going and it was stressful. But when I finally decided I want to make my passion into something real, I was able to see my path.”
Interestingly, Harsh revealed that he still struggles with being reserved but believes that pursuing his dream as a fashion designer strengthen his self confidence and pushed him to be”loud.”
“I knew that in order to be noticed and market my brand I had to step out of my comfort zone and be loud in the sense that I needed for people to recognize my artistic talents and I had to go out there and start approaching people to market myself.”
From this, he discovered his message, as not just a designer but as an artist, revealing that the name of his brand came from the realization he had made by breaking free from the structured path his parents had planned for his future. Thus, redefining the negative connotation of the word and embracing the idea that he’d become a “degenerate” for following what he believed was right from him. Harsh does add that he is very grateful of his upbringing even though it was hard for him to understand at first. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that my parents pushed me to obtain a college degree. I’m especially grateful that I have the business knowledge to back me up as a designer. And I know I’m fortunate to say that.”
His recent collection, strongly delivers the message of finding self love through artistic expression.
Stressed//Distressed was tied heavily with my journey. All the designs and details have a significant meaning to it and I wanted people to understand that. I’m not making clothes just to make clothes, making clothes is my art form, it’s my way of self-expression. So explaining the story and inspiration behind this entire collection was an important step for me.
Harsh also decided to open up about a personal matter that encompasses his strong love for art and fashion. He revealed on his online brand store Degenerates his struggle with mental health and how art has saved him from many of his endeavors. When asked why he decided to open up on something so personal publicly, he added “There were a few driving points to why I decided to speak on it. The biggest reason was that I was at the point where I just wanted to figure out a way to improve my mental health and didn’t know where else to turn. Speaking on the issue helped open up channels of conversations with my friends, helping me create the support group that I need so I don’t face it alone. The beautiful thing about it is that people that face the same issues as I do, who would never have spoken about it, have also reached out. I think that was so important, to make people see that they aren’t alone in this battle and that we all can create the support we need to overcome it.”
When asked which piece in his fall/winter line is his favorite, instantly he said the “Art Is A Way of Survival” jeans. “Essentially art is what kept me going. Being able to enjoy all forms of art, being able to create my own art helped me cope during my journey.”
Although he’s gain self love and inspiration through his battle, Harsh enthusiastically tells us how the city is a major source of inspiration to the style of his brand. He began to describe how he enjoys to observe the city for what is and the people that reside in it, stating that his muse is Chicago.
“Most of my inspiration comes from the city and music. Chicago is incredible, there is so much inspiration from every corner of the city. I love walking around blindly with no end destination or direction. I’ll just listen to music, walk, and watch the people and city. Its great too because I can walk the same route on a different day but I’ll be listening to different music and I’ll get a whole different vibe and different inspirations.”
He also reaches for inspiration from his peers believing that Chicago is currently going through its art renaissance; every industry is thriving. “We have some of the best photographers, producers, singers, rappers, visual artists, videographers, etc. in the country based in Chicago. People are staying in Chicago instead of going to LA or New York. It’s awesome seeing that the leaders in each industry are around my age too, just inspires me to push harder so I can make it to the top,” he adds.
As we both thrived in the enjoyment of knowing that in fact Chicago is home to some of the best artists, in all markets, we began to make our way out of the comforts of the coffee shop into the scathing cold Chicago weather. But Harsh kept his calm and collect demeanor pressed just like his sleek black jeans.
I asked before parting ways if had any words of advice for anyone who is in the same circumstance he was in before launching his brand. Whole heartedly he said, “Nothing has to be epic all the time. That isn’t what art is about. Self expression is the ultimate goal. If you aren’t expressing yourself to the fullest extend, what are you doing?! Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing “it” wrong. Be you. Be a leader and spread positivity and love.”