The metal blogosphere was thrown for a loop earlier this week when photos surfaced of pop star Chris Brown wearing a punk rock-inspired leather jacket adorned with patches from the likes of Municipal Waste, Cro-Mags, Suicidal Tendencies and Corrosion of Conformity. While the consensus was that Brown knew nothing about the bands, we wanted to be sure, so we reached out to the jacket’s designer, Noel Austin of DNA Fashion Designs. It turns out he was just as surprised as we were to see Brown (who must have also lent the jacket to Rihanna) wearing one of his creations.
“I about shit myself when I saw Chris Brown with my jacket that said ‘Cro-Mags’ on it,” he told Metal Insider. “That guy doesn’t fuckin’ know who Cro-Mags are.” Austin doesn’t even know how Brown got the jacket. “I didn’t sell it to him!” he said. “Do you really think Chris Brown goes online and buys his own clothes? He doesn’t even write his own music.”
Noel Austin’s story is arguably more interesting than Brown’s. A onetime performer in the Jim Rose Sideshow Circus (“piercing, suspension, bed of nails, eating light bulbs, break bricks on my chest with sledgehammers…”), Austin says he wound up in fashion by complete accident. ” I’m 40 years old, an old punk rocker, a single parent, and with not much of an education,” he explains. “I’d always made everyone’s costumes onstage and made my own clothes, and I had a couple people offer to buy jackets off my back. At first, I was like “fuck you, you’re not punk rock, I’m not selling you my jacket.’ But when I almost lost my place to live, the next time someone offered to buy my jacket, I sold it to them, and a light bulb went off over my head and I realized I could stay home and take care of my family and do what I love doing. An opportunity came along, I jumped on it, and the next thing I know, celebrities are buying my shit!”
And while Brown and Rihanna might not have any idea who the bands on the jacket are, Austin certainly does. “The clothes I make are a direct reflection of my life,” he says. “All the bands you see on the clothes, I grew up listening to them, and I still listen to them, or I’ve gotten turned on to them by other people. There’s a place here in Seattle called The Morgue, and it’s the last punk rock club in town left, because they tore all the other ones down and built fuckin’ condos. The beauty of what I do is I go to these shows, I buy the patches and support the bands, and I put these patches on the clothes and sell them on a worldwide level. And it promotes these bands.” All of the hardware on his jackets, as well as some of the patches, come from his friend’s store, studsandspikes.com.
While Austin has made jackets for some of the bands whose patches adorn his creations, like Spike Cassidy from D.R.I., Brown is the first celebrity outside of the scene to be seen sporting his work. How does he feel about those that say he’s co-opting punk rock and hardcore for commercial gain? “I’ve got two stances on that,” he says. “Part of me says ‘fuck you, pay me, I don’t care.’ And on the other hand, I have my beliefs and the way I grew up says that this is not for everyone. You’re supposed to earn that jacket, and make that motherfucker yourself. But who am I to tell someone that? And when celebrities are wearing these jackets, I think it will ultimately help the bands. Doom hasn’t put an album out in years. But people seeing that Doom image on the jacket might make them Google it and then they’ll find Doom and it’ll help promote them.”
And while DNA Fashion Designs has paid the bills for the past three years, it’s not like Austin is rolling in cash just yet, despite his recent celebrity endorsement. “I barely make it every month paying the rent doing this,” he told us. Since Brown was seen with the jacket Austin says he’s been getting e-mails “constantly,” but he doesn’t know where it’s going to go. While prices on his website range from $120 to $7,200, he says he’ll often work on a sliding scale. “Since it’s taken off, I’ve made more clothes for local bands and bands that have come through town that heard about me,” he tells us. “I tell them to just give me enough money to cover my costs, and I’ll make them something, because I’m going to wrap my name in that jacket, and you’re going to be on tour with it on.”
And ultimately, Austin is looking out for his future. “You can only be so punk rock for so long until you’re just a bum,” he says. “I’m 40 years old – I’ve got to have a place to live and know I’m going to eat today. When I was 14 until I was almost 21, I was a homeless dirtbag. Then I had a son, and I had to figure shit out. I still have my convictions and beliefs, but what’s important to me is that the next generation’s going to take care of us. So I have to make sure my son’s taken care of and has an education so he doesn’t have to live like I did.”
Next up for DNA Fashion Designs, Austin is working on a line of skirts, that he describes as “not the skirts you wear to a show, but the skirts you wear to bed.” He is also considering making jackets for particular cities. “Like a jacket with all New York bands, or one with all Detroit bands – hit all the national cities that I have spent time in and hung out and had experiences in.”