He smiles a sly smile, delicately but purposefully cutting a square into his grilled country bread with yellow pear tomatoes, affirming that everything to him has an art to it, a life to it. “Fashion is like a video game,” he says, taking a sip of pino and indulging his senses with the colors and zeal exploding around him in a local West Hollywood eatery filled with twenties, thirties, and other somethings. “You just can’t be mad at someone for being on a level you already completed.”
Daring, pop, and vibrant, Matthew Hensley (“Braid” to friends) is a twenty-two year old stylist bringing the chic to Mid-City West, who is so busy that he can’t remember what he ate for breakfast or when the last time he went out was (other than meeting up for hip Italian fare at Jones in West Hollywood). Hensley, who styles the online content for Love Culture and is currently assisting on several independent feature films, wears a black jacket that looks like a collision between the point of view through a child’s kaleidoscope and a throwback to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. On his lower half, he sports what we decide is a sort of pants-cape: a cape crafted for the lower half of the body constructed from a sweater. At a young age, Hensley has reached a level of cool where Sleigh Bells would write the soundtrack to his life in a short film directed by Michel Gondry in which Nicki Minaj would act in her first role in order to gain street cred (that Hensley would style himself). “It’s confidence. Not being told what to do,” he says, observing the couple next to us in an almost identical Michael Kors duo that they probably ripped off of their local Nordstrom Rack. He leans in, mesmerized and animated as if he’s sharing an intimate secret, a secret few people consider. “Everything inspires every moment. What separates people are those who realize it and those who don’t.”
Matthew notes that many of the older men in the “Rage district” of West Hollywood who aspire to maintain the lifestyle they once had when young still dress the same way now that they did when they were eighteen: Hollister tank tops. “People can wear the same exact clothing items and portray something completely different,” Matthew says, clearly inspired by the date night next to us dressing as one another’s doppleganger. “People dress for the lifestyle they want to achieve, not the lifestyle that they have.” To Hensley, they just need to adjust equation and put in the different ingredients to achieve the same concept or mood through alternate pieces. In other words, an Anthropologie dress on an Echo Park twenty-five year old could be a complete different mission statement for an eighteen year old living in Venice, and we as artists, as Angelenos, need to follow a combination of instinct and truthfulness to connect with how we say what we want to through our dress.
In a town filled with flickering lights that never shut off for the night, sexy billboards with sexy people, and whichever club Amanda Bynes is getting into a car crash in front of right now, Matthew is surprisingly not starstruck, in fact, he tells me that the trendiest place he’s been lately is a friend’s couch. He’s all about communicating with real people, asking them why they wear what they wear, finding out what they’re about, and breaking down the psychology of fashion choices, in other words, forcing conversation and thought by the way we dress that ties to our personal brand. Hensley is notorious for dressing around town in outfits that are seen as outrageous, and has particularly dressed as a protest when working in corporate fashion jobs. From lipstick, to kilts, to plastic frames with fake hair coming out of the lenses, he’s done it all. “Sometimes, I just want to stop people. People are on autopilot, they float down the same stream. Even if they hate it, at least they thought about it.” It isn’t just a protest against bad fashion, or the mass media, or big business, it’s a protest against a lifestyle. A lifestyle that doesn’t change thought, a lifestyle that doesn’t break out of patterns, that doesn’t accept change.
Fashion is just one of many influencers on our personal brand and what we have to say about ourselves and our place in the stream, but it’s one well within our control and one we should take the steering wheel on, being aware of our choices. It’s not about dressing cute for the sake of being cute, it’s about dressing truth. It’s whether we choose to float with what we know or stop the stream and force it in a new direction.