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Taz Arnold Talks Tights, Childhood Gangs & Style Philosophy
Just another day at Taz’s house.
It’s hard not to notice Taz Arnold—the producer/designer’s eye-catching fashion sense stands out wherever he goes. Most recently, he had all the blogs (complex) talking when he wore a pair of leopard skin tights while hitting up shows at Paris Fashion Week with Kanye and the rest of their crew (see the outfit here). So who is this guy Taz anyway? Hip-hop and R&B fans probably know him from his production with Sa-Ra Creative Partners, a group that’s signed with Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music. Fashion enthusiasts may know him from his recent design work for luxury brand MCM. But Taz is finally ready to properly reintroduce himself and his collective, known as TI$A. We’ve got a first look at his crazy new video “Mission Statement,” which was created in partnership with Kenzo Digital (the man behind City of God’s Son) for ti$avi$ion.tv. Watch the video below, then continue reading our exclusive interview to get a glimpse inside the unique mind of Taz…
Interview By Brendan Frederick
Complex: What did you want to communicate with this video?
Taz: The objective is to show the aesthetic of the new movement that’s building. I kinda look at everything that’s happening right now in this whole movement of music and fashion, and it’s like TI$A is spearheading that movement. Mixing the brands up and really showing cats how to like be into the arts, and understand the science of art.
Complex: Who is TI$A? That’s the name of your crew?
Taz: Tisa, in Swahili, means “ninth born.” And “tesa” in Arabic, means “nine.” And in numerology, 9 means completion. Eight is infinity when you turn it on the side, and then 9 is 0 and 1 together, and it means completion in numerology. So TI$a would be a complete vision. TI$A Vision. And it also stands for Taz Is So Arnold. I’m so me! But the collective is called TI$A, and it stands for completion.
Complex: What were you like as a kid? How did you dress?
Taz: As a kid? I’ll say this. In 1986, I was in a prep gang on 108th street in Crenshaw called “The Nerdz Gang,” like the candies. It was a spin-off of being a nerd, but these were like criminal cats riding surfboards, skateboards—all black, mind you—and selling a little weed and shoplifting surf clothes. And that was the first gang that I ever wanted to be in, and like I was in the 6th grade… I grew up at the beach. Watts is like 10 minutes from the beach—people don’t know that. I lived like west of Watts, like Imperial and Crenshaw—that’s literally 10 minutes from the beach on the street. I used to boogie board, go snorkeling in the ocean. My dad was a scuba diver; my mom ran on the beach everyday, like 4 miles to the marine and back and she would take me. That was a part of my growing up too, not just the hood. I’m from the hood, but muthafuckas in the hood go to the beach too…it doesn’t cost anything—it’s free! [Laughs.]
Complex: [Laughs] That’s true.
Taz: So that was my culture too. Sea culture, and urban shit. Hippie culture and ghetto shit. That’s what I was like as I kid. I was a dude trying to rock the best. I was mixing all the surfboard brands in ’86 when I was in the Nerdz. I was getting custom-made suede Vans made with the Off The Wall checker board on the bottom with the brass hoops, different colored suedes…whatever, cause you could get custom Vans then.
Complex: So how did you go from being into the surf and skate brands to getting more into fashion?
Taz: Guess was real big in elementary school for me. GUESS cost like 80 bucks for a pair of jeans. Kids in my elementary school were wearing Guess with a $300 leather bomber jacket, with brand new adidas on with fat laces. A lot of these kids, their older brothers and parents might have had money, or a lot of them that I knew, their siblings was selling drugs, or an uncle was selling dope, ’cause that was going on. My parents sold drugs when I was a kid. My mother grew weed at my house in the backyard and sold the weed to her musician friends.
Complex: Did they let you smoke weed when you were a kid?
Taz: I never wanted to; I could have. But I’ll put it like this: when my mother was pregnant with me, she took LSD. My mother was a nurse, so I was an experiment for my mom. I was her only kid.
Complex: Would you say your parents were hippies?
Taz: Yeah, they were hippies…it was crazy at my house. Pyramids…my mother is into the sciences. The sacred sciences, magnetizing water, humidifiers in the house to energizer air and shit like that. Her and my dad slept under a pyramid with crystals hanging from it. You feel me? Like in a water bed and shit with a fucking pyramid with the third eye embroidered on the headboard that said “Om”. Now I have this tapestry hanging over my bed. I took it from my moms cause it was in her closet. So yeah, that’s kinda hippie. They never said hippie, I never thought hippie. They’re black, and I was living in Inglewood in South Central, but yeah. I was given LSD when I was 3 years old. A half a tab, my mom said. But I never did drugs my whole life until like 3 years ago, when I started smoking weed. I never even drank alcohol, ever, in my whole life.
Complex: Why not?
Taz: ’Cause I just wasn’t interested. I was trying to focus on my mission. Be dope. Get money, get it popping, get a nice car. I was thinking like that in high school. Like, I need a house! I need to be owning shit. I was kinda like a ruthless little kid trying to just kill niggas with style and shit. Shit on niggas like, “Oh, ya’ll wearing Fila? Ya’ll wearing Guess? I’ma wear this shirt from Maui & Sons with the custom-made Vans and wear the Guess.”
Complex: So you always had that attitude?
Taz: Yeah, I was always the one with that attitude; I still have that attitude. That’s why I outdo cats. I know that sounds like I’m feeling myself, but that’s just the truth…I’m exotic with my shit.
Complex: After Paris Fashion Week, you really had all the blogs talking about you—specifically about the way you dress. Everyone was like, “Yo, Taz is wearing tights! What the fuck is that about?” Why do you think they were so shocked?
Taz: Cats don’t travel! They got to go to like Japan and see…there’s killers in this world with this style shit…muthafuckin’ ninjas that will slice your neck quick. You think you fresh rolling up with your little Gucci, and muthafuckas up there wearing dresses and shit with beards. But they not gay, they just wearing a kilt and their shit is fresh! They sitting there hanging out with fucking Karl Lagerfield. He’s worked with me, how the fuck are you gonna call him wack? Muthafuckas don’t have their minds right. This is art, man. This shit ain’t about fucking like “hip-hop rules” or no shit like that. This shit is Basquiat and Andy Warhol.
Complex: You’ve been on this style tip for a while. Do you feel vindicated, now that a lot of rappers and other more mainstream people seem to be experimenting with their style too?
Taz: Fuck yeah, I feel vindicated that my boy Kanye could be influenced by this style that’s original and it’s free, and be brave enough to take that style on for himself and run with that ball too. To join up on that team and be like, “Yo, I’m with this too.” Like, “Yeah, I’m taking these blows with you ’cause I’m early on this with you. I’ve been around the world too and now I see this shit. This shit is right.”…and you know, if we can get Pharrell to swag out…it’s a system for dudes and chicks. It’s called TI$A.
Complex: Your system?
Taz: Yeah, it’s my system. Whatever I’m involved in is always gonna be me. It’s also Kanye, and it’s called Pastel. It’s called Bentley for what he does, and it’s called G’s To Gents. My shit is called TI$A for what I do. And the style is being celebrated right now, and it’s an LA style. It comes from way back…and it’s like I represent that style. I’m a son of that style. I’m a master of that style.
Complex: It seems like your philosophy, when it comes to fashion, is all about people representing themselves as individuals, being unique…
Taz: You got to! You got to celebrate your inner glow or your own beauty. You got to.
Complex: So do you think it’s possible for somebody to be trying to represent themselves, but they just have wack style? Is that possible?
Taz: It’s a journey. The only time you can be wack is when you try to do somebody else’s look and you’re not doing it right, ’cause then there’s a way to measure or gauge what you doing. So if you trying to get the Millionaires with the brand new Dior jeans, the tuxedo shirts with the Louis belt and you have the look, but you don’t have the pieces, then they could be like, “Those aren’t Millionaires…and that’s not, what kind of belt is that? That’s Gap? You have the Dior jeans but they’re old.” See, you better not even doing that style. Just do you. You can wear American Apparel and be fly with some brand new sneakers on. You’re good as long as you got your mind right
Complex: But at the same time, don’t you expect kids to see you or another celebrity that they look up to, and want to dress like you? Is that a bad thing?
Taz: I think that kids should dress like me when they become a master. You not supposed to carry a gun unless you trained to carry a gun. You can’t do what the cowboys do. You can’t do what the Indians do. I’m a big guy; I’m not a little guy. There’s stages to this shit. I’m a professional. You can’t really go out wearing tights and Stephen Sprouse tights and shit. You don’t know how to do that. Stick to the skinny pants for right now. There’s phases—you just got out the baggy pants and the throwbacks!
Complex: [Laughs] Take your time?
Taz: Take your time. You got to work your way up. Learn about these brands, educate yourself, build your confidence up so you not so sensitive about what people say about you, then you can think about being a young master or just a student in depth. But there’s many stages to becoming a master, and I’m a young master; I’m a new generation of masters. I’m a new Karl Lagerfield or Ralph Lauren. You seeing the new Ralph Lauren right now, an original character who’s just being him.
Complex: You’re designing for MCM now. What did that brand mean to you when you were a kid?
Taz: Growing up, MCM was how Gucci and Louis is at the top now. For people with money and young professionals like black lawyers, hip lawyers in LA, MCM rivaled Gucci and Louis Vuitton and it was something that was celebrated as an equal. Way over GUESS, Fila and everything. This is a luxury brand, a bonafide, real, authentic luxury brand when I was growing up.
Complex: So how did you end up connecting with the brand?
Taz: I was wearing MCM that I would find in thrift shops or on eBay maybe 6 years ago. I never stopped wearing Gucci, I never stopped wearing MCM or wearing Polo. I never stopped wearing Vision Street Wear, I never stopped wearing Benetton’s. I still wear that shit now since back then, so if I see an MCM piece, I’m like, Oh, I fuck with that, that’s that shit. That’s what I do. I was wearing MCM on the album cover for the Hollywood Recordings. I started seeing people in Japan dress like me with the bow ties, the MCM jackets with the rope chains. That’s my original style. My friends in Tokyo were looking to help me develop my brand and my aesthetic ’cause they just really appreciated the demonstration. I was designing my new line, and then my buddy Big O said, “Yo, do you wanna do MCM?” So that opportunity just came to me through Big O and a couple other cats. Cats basically presented me with that. So I started designing pieces. The pieces I was doing, I was doing for TI$A, I just adapted them. It was like, “What would you do for MCM if you were to bring it back?” And I did what I would do—power pieces, a brief case. That led to me actually working with the larger company, as opposed to just an aspect of the company in Japan. I’m now talking to the owners and marketing directors—not even talking, we’re doing business. So next year, this time, we might have a piece of MCM in many different places in North America.