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A Conversation with Advisory Board Crystals: Exploring the Irony in "Failed Fantasies"

“I hate how people use the word “conceptual”, says Heather Haber, co-founder of Advisory Board Crystals. “We’re conceptual, but not in that way. We think of the idea first — like what conceptual art really was about when it started in the ’60s. It’s when you come up with the idea first, and then whatever you do looks the way it does based on that idea.” As of late, the fledgling spirituality-meets-streetwear label, Advisory Board Crystals or Abc., has been generating much buzz. Founded by the couple, Remington Guest and Heather Haber, their visionary approach and design ethos for Abc. has opened up a myriad of collaborative projects with the likes of Union L.A., Colette, Bergdorf Goodman, Grailed and Barney’s New York to name a few.

In the overly saturated world of fashion today, it’s easier to claim your collections as “exclusive” than to make it original, just as it’s easier to recycle older designs than to create something new. It’s here where brands can take note of Abc.’s practice on restraint and integrity. From their explosive crystal-infused tie-dyes to the subtle messages found on each garment, every collection they make is for a specific purpose, for a specific geography that’s based on a specific concept.

The couple’s fascination for science, art, old Hollywood, and new-age cosmology show out just as much in their colorful tie-dyes, as in their unique personalities, and even more so in the story of how they first met.

We sat down with Remington Guest and Heather Haber to ask them about their brand. And as they went on to explain their idea behind the exclusive Abc. “Failed Fantasies” collection — often finishing each other’s sentences — we were also introduced to the underlying irony that lingers subtly at the core of their label.

So what’s a typical day like for you guys?
Remington Guest: I don’t think there are any typical days — that’s the first thing. In fact, we have to go through phases. Sometimes, we’re very focused on production, etc. We do singular projects. Like specific projects for Hong Kong, for HBX. So when we’re working on a specific project, we’re fully immersed in that one world because you kind of need to be.

Heather Haber: It’s just both of us doing everything. So we have to go to our factory, we have to dye, we have to pick up things. We don’t have an intern or anyone. We’re doing a million things every day.

R: We literally dye every single piece ourselves. For example, when we’re in production, we’re doing the crystal-infusion process, sometimes we’re designing, and so on. It just depends on what stage of the process we’re in. But we’re getting to the point we’re beginning to figure out how to do more than one project at a time.

That’s a lot of products to be done by hand.
R: It’s insane. Look at the detail on all this stuff, like this one.

(Advisory Board Crystals Radiant Cities Hoodie)

Each one’s painted and crystal-dyed. Almost everything goes into this and they’re all so different. So I mean it’s just the amount of work that goes into however many of these that there are, let alone this hoodie. From getting the right colors, to where the colors dye along the garment, to the color combinations, we’ve found a way to control the process to get what we want. But at the same time, putting any two of the same products next to each other, they aren’t identical. So it’s cool. It came out really well and we’re excited about it. Every time we do something, we don’t know if it’s going to work. In a typical “experimentation day”, we’re trying to figure out what’s going to work, what colors go well together, etc. So that could be a typical day too.

You guys are doing a lot of projects here and there. Like Union L.A., Bergdorf Goodman, you know, that’s a lot of stuff for just the two of you right?
R: I mean yeah, its Colette, Grailed, Barney’s New York…

How did all of this start for you guys?
R: We met in an Uber pool. That’s where it all started. It goes back to to the “Divine Timing” aspect of our brand. It’s like a reoccurring concept and an aspect of everything. Sometimes, there’s a mistake in what we do, but it always leads to something better after that. Everything about our relationship in how we met, and how the brand came about; who we met and when, separately and together; and how everything just kind of happened has been centered around that one idea. We both had a lot of similar creative energy and wanted to be together. And because we wanted to be together all the time, I guess we kind of just did the hardest thing possible which was to start a brand.

You both used to work for Band Of Outsiders right?
R: That’s a big thing.

H: On different coasts, and at different times. So it’s really weird because we didn’t know each other through that. I interned in L.A., he worked in New York. The night that we met, we heard that come up somehow.

R: And that’s how we started talking. Scott Sternberg — he’s like one of my best friends. We live across “the hill” from each other. He’s basically a big fan of Abc. We hang out all the time and it’s cool to have worked there too. Obviously, Band of Outsiders attracts a certain type of customers of like-mindedness so the fact that Heather and I both worked in such a weird and specific company is how we knew we were right for each other. But it’s also fun that Scott’s such a fan. Having worked with Scott for so long; I met him when he only had 3 employees. I was kind of there from the very beginning in a lot of different ways. It’s cool to have seen that come full circle, and now to be making clothes that he wears too.

For some reason, a lot of the things that you guys do seem to be a subtle reflection of the same sense of lightness that Scott Sternberg was informed by, especially that cookie blog.
R: Yeah, totally. In fact, I was in the same hotel room with him when he started it that night. We created that together. There’ a lot of history there. He sort of said, “take the Band spirit, and go with it”. We kind of feel that we should own that because no one else is, in the Band that exists today. It’s fake, it’s not him. We like to carry on a lot of those elements or references or ideas. I mean have you ever seen a more “Band of Outsiders” tote bag?

(Advisory Board Crystals Travel Tote)

And that was by accident too. When we were doing this and saw this later, we were like “Scott would be proud”. You know because we just think that way. That’s why we ended up working there.

H: Yeah it’s interesting because Abc. is something that’s totally different, but it makes us happy to hear that. That if people can see through all the color and the dye, they really see where we’re coming from — it’s exciting.

But it is different.
H: It’s totally different. Like we weren’t even referencing that when we started, I think it just naturally sits in our heads.

R: It’s like a way of thinking, not the literal interpretation of say, a polo shirt. You know, we’re not doing preppy sportswear from the ’70s per se, but there’s something there that feels as authentic as what Band did.

H: If you ever work or go to school somewhere, you can carry on certain influences of those things.

How has L.A. culture influenced Advisory Board Crystals?
H: L.A.’s always such a huge influence, just because we’re always there and that it’s such a weird place. You can see the Hollywood sign from our studio, and it’s like this strange undercurrent that I feel reflects what we do. I feel like when you’re based in L.A., you have more sense of freedom. You get to see a lot of different people and witness different perspectives – it allows you to do more abstract things in a way. The L.A. landscape is unique as well. You don’t see as many people on a daily basis so we’re not getting inspired by what other people are wearing; it comes more from a genuine state of mind.

R: We both just live in our little fortress of solitude and we’re just working. All ideas are our own coming from us just being in the studio and living in L.A., which is such a strange city. It just gives us that kind of feeling.

What’s your guys’ design ethos?
H: I feel like we always think conceptually, without being so… What’s the word…I hate how people use the word “conceptual”. We are conceptual, but not in that way. We think of the idea first, like what conceptual art really was about when it started in the ’60s. It’s when you come up with the idea first, and then whatever you do looks the way it does, based on that idea.

R: It’s kind of like what this shirt stands for.

(Advisory Board Crystals Harmony T-Shirt)

H: “The plan must rule” is a quote from Le Corbusier. It means that with whatever you first plan, it’s the ruling idea for what’s going to come out as the result. So we start out with the idea, and we come up with the concept. We always use holographics, glitter and also different forms of dyeing; certain elements are juxtaposed. Crystals are sort of like a starting point to our overarching identity. There’s also the Abc. Institute of Arts and Science where research is a major component in the concepts that we develop. All of these things are the foundation.

R: Everything’s connected. Like with our body of work, all these collections and capsules are all individual, but they’re tied together in the end. You know we have the “Radiant Cities” hoodie, but we did something with Colette called “radiant living” where it was based on the entire concept of this magazine. Theirs was this thing that was basically, pre-new age. But we also have the concept of the future; what the “radiant city” is. What is the modern-day idea of a “radiant city”? We’ll be doing something with Slam Jam in the future called “eternal youth”. And that goes back into that whole spider-web of everything coming together around a central topic. We like to continue concepts.

H: That’s pretty much our design ethos. We’re not saying “okay we wanna do this kind of hoodie and this kind of pant”. We don’t work like that.

R: Yes. Everything in our designs have a reason and purpose.

What’s a “radiant city”?
H: That was part of the Brutalist movement. This idea of a utopian city, according to Le Corbusier, is a place with the right mixture of greens and buildings where everything must have a purpose and a function. So that was like the ideal city, but the “radiant city” always ends up failing.

R: Its sort of like a dream or a fantasy world. The idea of the modern-day of living and the perfect place. But there’s no such thing as the perfect place. There are times where L.A. is amazing in certain ways, and times where it isn’t.

H: Referencing Hong Kong and Hollywood, and saying they’re radiant cities is ironic. We’re saying that they’re radiant cities, but as we know, radiant cities don’t exist. So there’s something beautiful or romantic about fantasizing.

What was the idea behind the “Failed Fantasies” collection?
H: First we found out we were doing this, and they told us this space was based on brutalist architecture so we were researching into that. Obviously, when you research about Brutalism, you find out about Le Corbusier. He was like the most prominent figure, so we researched into him and found these rare books, got them somehow, and directly referenced certain things from there, especially for some of the graphics. With “radiant cities”, we thought L.A. as a “radiant city” and Hong Kong as one. It all started from that.

H: Brutalism started out as this amazing idea of what a utopia should be. Whenever an architect or an artist starts a movement, it’s always like this amazing thing for a certain amount of time, but then it fails. So it’s their fantasy, but it almost always ends up failing. The irony of Le Corbusier’s utopia in a commerce-centric world is the epitome of a failed fantasy. That’s how we came up with “Failed Fantasies”.

R: It’s just a concept that goes deeper and deeper.

H: For example this T-shirt is based on a Joy Division vinyl named “Komakino”.

(Advisory Board Crystals “Komakino” T-Shirt)

When Ian Curtis died, Joy Division was gone. On the back of this shirt, the structure of the text is based on the back of the vinyl. On the front, this graphic was taken from a still from a movie, it says “Taken from Lancelot du Lac by R. Bresson”. Here we put “Taken from Komakino by Joy Division”. So it’s a reappropriation of an appropriation.

R: We also like direct references because it’s like with the internet, it’s where we get a lot of our information — like a modern-day encyclopedia.

H: This one’s from an original book by Le Corbusier from the 1930’s. It’s a reference to what he considered as “useless” and “useful” consumer goods, and they’re separated on each sleeve.

(Advisory Board Crystals Consumer Goods T-Shirt)

It reflects a dark side to consumerism, but it’s also saying that certain things are useful. The irony is that there’s a mixture of two opposing ideas, where one can’t exist without the other.

H: What’s also interesting is that from the outside, people think that our stuff looks so bright, with all the colors and the tie-dye and whatever, but that darker undertone is so subtle, yet it lingers somehow. It’s kind of like the Smiths, you know how all of the songs sound kind of happy, but when you listen to the lyrics you realize it’s actually really sad.

R: Yeah, that’s a good reference. Even with this sweatshirt.

(Advisory Board Crystals Hong Kong Hotel Sweatshirt)

Very few people know that this site, where the Landmark is, used to be where a place called the Hong Kong Hotel was. This was like an old luggage tag of theirs.

H: It was before 1979. There was a different structure. I think they knocked it down.

R: They knocked it down and built the Landmark. It’s the idea that it was all glamorous and a big hotel, but you know, it failed. And sometimes failure can be seen as sort of beautiful and romantic in a weird way. We’re also outsiders in Hong Kong, so coming here and doing this research is part of our approach that relates to our identity as a global study and research division from the Abc. institute.

Irony seems to play an important role in what you guys do. How does it tie in with the whole idea of “pseudoscience”?
R: It all points to the way we see crystals.

H: With crystals, what we’re interested about them is that there is a really scientific aspect to them. Obviously, like with any object, they’re made up of elements from the periodic table. Conversely, there’s the “pseudoscientific” aspect where it’s the idea that certain properties give off specific energies. This part isn’t really scientific, but the idea stems from science. We like to play with “pseudoscience” in this way — the blurred distinction between what’s real and what isn’t. We don’t use irony in what might be the usual way these days. It’s not so much the typical tongue-in-cheek type of thing that some people think. We use it in a way where the irony isn’t so apparent right away. I think it just comes naturally — things that are interesting to us often have that. If it doesn’t it always just seems flat and uninteresting.

Everything’s really open to interpretation.
R: Yeah, totally.

H: I think there’s also a thing with opposites. Like what we try to do, when we bring opposites together and find a similar thing, it automatically just creates a tension.

R: Like the dark and the light, the good and the evil. To plainly put it, we like the tension between what’s real and not real; the tie-dye and the dark undertones; this basically applies to anything. We love that balance.

Obviously, we’re no experts on healing crystals, but I know that on your guys’ website, you’ll find a couple tees, and then all of sudden you’ll see this whole archive of just crystal specimens. There seems to be something very tangible with crystals — when you have them in your hand and you see all the colors, they make you feel a certain way. How do you guys reconcile having crystals online as opposed to having them in a physical store?
R: Trusting the Advisory Board. We want to be something that connects people. If you like Abc., as sort of a like-minded person, we’re the ones that are finding and sourcing the materials. Like we specifically choose, certain ones that kind of have a certain energy. Our tagline is “we are here to advise you”. It’s just Heather and I, with purely the intention of showcasing everything through our lens, instead of say, some random storage facility or just crystals that you can get anywhere.

H: We want to showcase these specimens as objects of art, and that you don’t necessarily have to touch it. It’s like when you go to a museum, and you can’t touch the art; it’s kind of like that. That’s also the reason we’ve built a crystal archive.

It’s like with these crystals, it’s more important for them to exist as something beautiful in your mind rather than something beautiful in your hands.
H: Even if we had a physical store for crystals, they would be in a packaging, and archived where you wouldn’t be able to touch them anyway.

R: That’s why we don’t have a constant replenishment of these crystals. They’re hard to find, especially the ones that we want, or the ones that we want people to have. They’re made by the earth and they are rare. It’s funny because a lot of the times we don’t want to even sell these, every crystal is unique in itself. No two are alike, just like how no two of our tie-dyed hoodies are alike. We label them with specific specimen numbers because that’s how many we’ve ever had. We’ve only ever had like 100 or something at this point. And they’re all special.

Is there anything else besides crystals that you guys are inspired by?
H: For me, it’s always been about the music. The Cure and The Smiths are like my favorite and they’re perfect examples of the tension we try to create in our designs. Where it seems like a happy pop song on the surface, but when you pay attention, it’s actually much more complicated and deeper.

R: We’re heavily influenced by art too. We were at a Mike Kelley installation and we had an epiphany. We really feel the art. You know, some people really feel it. It’s really influential. I mean how could it not be? So anything good across music, art or culture can influence us.

For the couple, serendipity and spirituality is the narrative that drives the label. The dichotomy that exists between science and art; the blurring of what’s real and what isn’t, and the “pseudoscience” surrounding crystals informs every aspect of their designs. According to Guest and Haber, Abc.’s style and approach “can be directly defined as conceptual, allowing for each collection to bear its own unique visual identity”.

D.I.Y. is omnipresent in Abc. making the garments as ethereal as they are visually pleasing. But what’s charming about the brand is the same charm that might be associated with “pseudoscience”. Like with spirituality, it can be comforting to know that some things can be perfectly open to interpretation, that often what we see is a true reflection of our sincerest wishes, hopes and dreams.

Check out our exclusive Advisory Board Crystals “Failed Fantasies” collection here or at our Pop-Up Space in Hong Kong.

HBX Pop-Up Space
11am – 8pm
Central, Hong Kong

Alex Lau / HBX
Charlie Zhang / HBX