Michael Masterson has been making cult-favorite garments for over a decade. Two years after his last release, he’s back with Release No. 50, a lightweight chore jacket made from a 6.5-ounce rope indigo-dyed jacquard fabric you won’t see anywhere else. We had a chance to catch up with Masterson and hear, in his own words, what he thinks of his latest design.

In the realm of creativity and self-discovery, I've come to realize that the notion of singularity is an illusion. For too long, I believed that this entire venture was a solitary endeavor that I stood alone in its pursuit. However, upon reflection, I've come to understand that there were many who walked this path before me, and countless others whose efforts were either abandoned, dismissed as mere hacks, or who simply grew weary. Perhaps, they lost sight of the joy once found in this journey. The truth, as it often is, diverges from my perceptions. I embarked on this journey not to escape life's immediate circumstances but rather to escape the person I once was. Before clothing became a canvas for my expression, music held a pivotal role in my identity. To convey to people, be they friends, family, or strangers, that I hail from the world of house music is to utter a statement only a select few can fully grasp. It is an ethos I carried with me, from the streets to the inner echelons of the subversive cultures, among prisoners, workers, and even those who endured lives as slaves. Many revered individuals in history have lived less than enviable lives, transforming their suffering into art with the illusion of profound justification.

 

It took me years, however, to fathom the most crucial revelation of all—admitting to myself that I am an artist. In the initial stages, this admission seemed to provide an excuse for indolence.

It is said that a student and a master must coexist, but this duality may border on the metaphysical. Most of us who traverse this unconventional path discover that the student and master, in our case, may very well be one and the same.

As self-taught individuals, we are the kind who renounce contemporary academic education in favor of carving our unique routes. There is an art to absorbing and retaining knowledge, to resourcefulness and mastery. In this sense, we could be considered anarchists of a different sort—rebels of the conventional educational system. The title of "Head Janitor" resonates profoundly. It represents a commitment to the ethos of never creating garbage, always taking out the garbage. In this context, I am not just a creator; I am a curator and custodian of the spaces I inhabit. I strive not to leave my mark through disorder but through an enduring legacy of artistic expression and responsible stewardship.

In conclusion, Masterson's Release No. 50 and the path it represents are a testament to the multifaceted nature of artistic and philosophical journeys. There is no one way, no singular philosophy, and no true isolation in the pursuit of creativity. I am both a student and a master, a learner, and a teacher, and it is in embracing this duality that I transcend the boundaries of conventional thought, ultimately embodying the spirit of the Head Janitor—leaving behind a cleaner, more meaningful space station earth.

Q&A with Michael Masterson

Standard & Strange: So tell us about your latest release.

Michael Masterson: This is release number 50. Every shirt has a story naturally, and I try to attach those memories and I try not to put text into it. I have trained three apprentices who are all f*cking mind-blowing. I started calling myself the head janitor because I'm the guy who cleans up every day. And I had taken on the stance that I do this alone. And so two years ago, I released a shirt called the Blueberry Riots. This is when I met Pheonix Alix. [She] wanted to learn how to sew. And I said, well, I could use your help. I'll pay you to apprentice for $20 an hour. She surpassed my ability within days. She was able to sew and understand the movements, and willing to dive deep into it so gracefully and so fast. What I learned was that she's actually teaching me more because I let go. There are things that I would've never trusted anybody except for myself — that I barely trust myself to do — on this particular production run, that she was executing with grace and very few mistakes.

I never did it alone. None of us do. There are so many people in this chain. We're just the finishers of the whole process. I had learned to let go and really learned to trust. And that's kind of when the head janitor converted from cleaning up the shop every day, to maybe something to the pretentious tune of taking out the garbage in your head and surrendering. I'm really leery to use those kinds of words, especially in this day and age.


A brief excursion into Masterson's world


S&S: This release, is a lightweight chore jacket?

MM: Yes, I based it off of a French Biribi, a prison jacket. I think that's what they are called. Mr. Freedom did them a while back. I have a vintage one that I used for the pattern. I picked it up at the Rose Bowl flea market probably about 10 years ago, I think. And I just thought it was really neat. For me, I've always been fascinated with, in hindsight and while I was doing it, is that why we were making clothing emulating both military and work wear. And those people, they didn't have very good lives. I always thought it fascinating that we were making this clothing and replicating this stuff.

S&S: I wouldn't ask this of everybody, but I get the sense from you that everything has a meaning and everything's in its place for a reason. Could you tell me about the different colors of thread that are used throughout the jacket? I see yellow and green.

MM: The label in the neck is just a photograph of a painting that was hanging up in Maurizio Donadi's office. I just loved it because I identified with it. I came to find out that the painting is from Cuba. The painter wished to remain anonymous, but it was her father, and he was the head custodian. So I used most of the colors that were in that picture in the understitching.

S&S: I was going to ask about the label…

MM: I always try to do something kind of subversive like that. You look at this shirt and the head janitor release, and it's just like that label has no business being there. But it's also the first thing you see. And in my mind's eye, it's like, okay, it's the first thing I see. I love this artwork. It's actually very well-done artwork. And then you look at the details.

S&S: This jacquard fabric is beautiful; where did that come from?

MM: It was made by Cone Denim. It's a 6.5-ounce rope indigo-dyed jacquard. And I was just very attracted to it. I wanted to do something really different that you normally don't see every day. I've never made a chore coat for public review. I've made them for private clients, but I wanted to do something different, and show that I'm breaking into a new mold. I'm doing chinos in the next six months. I'm exploring other clothing. And I'm also doing one-of-a-kind pieces for Standard and Strange in New Mexico.

S&S: So you’re back. You’re making clothes full-time again?

MM: Yeah. What's interesting is that I did this for money at first, up until the time that I got them cut, and I started to sew them, and Phoenix came on board. There was still a lot of passion in it, and I had to keep my own formula, of course. But what I learned from it is that I wanted to keep doing this until I just can't do it anymore. This is me coming back full-time. So I've already got the next fabric picked out, and it's going to be cut next week.


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Release of this singular pieces will be at 9am Pacific, Monday December 18th.

By Charles McFarlane

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