If you are immediately skeptical of any multi-hyphenate individual who – at the age of 23 – has already achieved several notable bucket list goals, then VERYRARE artware founder Raf Reyes just may ruffle your feathers. Not because he’s all talk and no action. Quite the contrary. While the rest of us have a hot date with our favorite Netflix-streaming device, Raf takes advantage of his downtime by dreaming up – and then bringing to fruition – various art-based endeavors.
Raf Reyes’ latest project is VERYRARE, an extremely limited edition line of unisex, multi-generational, old-school art meets new school art-inspired fashion. In an admittedly crowded marketplace filled with independent labels galore, VERYRARE actually exists in its very own sacred space. Raf uses his personal love-family-caring-sharing value system as a guiding light for all of his artwear company’s standard operating procedures.
VERYRARE fans receive far more than just the garments that they purchase. Every aspect of Raf Reyes’ proprietor-customer relationship is carefully designed to bring joy as well as intellectual and artistic inspiration. He cares enough to maintain an ongoing dialogue about the intrinsic and planetary benefits of slow, artfully made garments. Similarly, the designer never forgets to thank the creative trailblazers who have inspired him to take his very own leap of faith.
Anyone interested in supporting an artfully-inspired business may initially be drawn to VERYRARE’s aesthetic edginess. Due to the substance and soul of Raf Reyes’ credo, however, his artwear label will soon take hold of your heart.
VERYRARE was officially born in March 2020, so it is a relatively new endeavor. Nonetheless, your ethos and vision are very well defined. Please explain how the VERYRARE lightning bolt of inspiration came about.
‘New’ in the post-2020 era is to be taken with tweezers. VERYRARE/VR®® and its accompanying manifesto both matured like crazy in my head for the better part of a year. To me, thorough research is necessary before fully committing to a certain field of expertise. But several factors came into play.
VERYRARE emerged out of the frustration I felt when I repeatedly saw the same people attending my art shows. My work was selling out in galleries at a high price point, but I believe in democratizing and delivering. I also recall receiving validation from my longtime mentor Virgil Abloh during that period. The final push for me was the current pandemic-driven academic shutdown. All of those things gave me the confidence boost, courage, and the free time necessary to fully delve into fashion. I felt the moment was right.
The baseline of VERYRARE and my thinking is collage. Aggregated thoughts and perspectives coming from a lot of different directions. There’s no other language that could express my train of thought better.
You design wearable street-couture art that has as much high end soul as it does anti-establishment edge. If someone asked you for a VERYRARE elevator pitch, what would it be?
We’re the ultimate in-betweeners. VERYRARE/VR®® is an extension of me. It’s the ying to my yang; I’m a man of extremes. The concept behind the brand is to reference the history of design and signal its existence within the colliding worlds of archive and 21st-century fashion.
Our high-end manufactured, limited edition statement pieces are put on steroids or low-fied. VERYRARE visuals blend different universes such as collector 90s aesthetics and contemporary sub-and surculture imagery. That results in a fresh and reimagined street meets couture clothing style, with a museum twist. Opposing ideas speak to one another, thus transforming them into very rare pieces.
VERYRARE is the Frankenstein-esque GMO’d brainchild of my many years of moodboarding, studying, and spewing out my own version of how I could make my role-models — and myself — proud.
You merge a top shelf vibe with a tremendous amount of indie spirit. Would you please explain why that seemingly incongruous combination actually works so well?
It’s like asking Picasso how/why he manages to merge both exquisitely and expertly painted paintings and ultra-expressive childlike naiveté. It’s unexplainable. I’m way past the ten thousand hours researching and practicing my craft. I always explore. I’m super curious on the regular, with crazy mood boarding and digging.
My audience – and definitely the up-and-coming Gen Y and Zers – constantly request the best of both worlds. Analog and digital, hot and cold, junk and healthy. I love being presented with a wide array of possibilities and being able to pick and choose eclectically.
In my opinion, we’re living in the New Renaissance. Technological and cultural advances are fast AF. I’m stepping up to be VERYRARE’s Renaissance man.
Does VERYRARE epitomize the lifestyle approach of millennials, or is it trans-generational?
VERYRARE reflects the fact that I’m a man of the now. If you define the lifestyle approach of millennials as one that’s focused on making a difference on/at every level – professionally, socially, politically, and economically – then yes, that is definitely me. I refuse to accept that “things have always been done this way”. I am committed to finding solutions that fit the present while trying to honor and salute the past.
We’re here to be industry and game changers; to break vicious cycles of stagnation and status quo in fashion (especially with regard to customers being ripped off). Sometimes, before we can usher in the new, the old must be put to rest. The longer we wait, the worse it’ll be for everyone.
Nowadays, it’s all about the celebrity associations and price tag, but timeless design is all about the narratives, the historical and emotional value.
Is your intent with VERYRARE to provide all demographics with a unique form of personal expression? Does your aesthetic work for every walk of life?
Drip can be universal. I make clothes that you can wear like an everyday coat of armour. But that represents only half of the VERYRARE/VR®® path. The other half is all about the end-customer/purchaser. How one wears and decides to style the piece is very important in my opinion.
I work really hard to distill, design, and deliver the quintessential 21st-century piece. In fact, I work increasingly harder with every drop that I release. Ultimately, it’s up to the end link of the chain to make that one choice (i.e. exiting the Matrix is becoming very rare).
Would you be just as excited to see your garments worn by a 23-year-old woman or even a senior citizen?
Totally. I’m against labeling people. I couldn’t care less about age or the drip-blockers and society’s imposed reasons. Look at Jannik Diefenbach (aka jaadiee on Instagram). He photographs his 75-year-old grandfather, who is older but still totally drippy. Age is a state of mind. I know for a fact that some people my age already sound and act like they’re 40 years old.
To the VERYRARE fans who rock my garments, I care the most about your dragon energy and the charismatic aura and waves oozing out of you. That’s all.
You sell artfully wearable statement pieces with street edge. They’re not just designed for those who march to the beat of their own drum. They’re created for art lovers, style makers, movers, and shakers. Please explain to the uninitiated fashion consumer why owning wearable art elevates the experience of dressing oneself.
With VERYRARE, I’m heralding the second wave. I’m reaching the black sheep, the underdogs, the crazy ones who are situated right at the tipping point between outsiderism and insiderism. I originally created VR®® for myself. For a long time, I used to design clothes because there was nothing out there that clicked with me.
Upon launching the brand, I immediately focused on catering to my niche, which consists of lovers of the good stuff. For example, OG collectors of archivewear and fashion memorabilia. Art aficionados, artbois/artgurls, and visual connoisseurs Tourist-purists, tastemakers, archivists/tumblrboarders/visual mood board sharers. Impacters and influencers, creative hustlers, rejects (who’ve got no other way to make it but to DIY it themselves). Fashion designers-hustlers who want to make the dollar holler.
Owning wearable art makes you stand out. It’s as simple as that. Own some ‘you’re unique so your clothes should be, too‘ type-thing.
If you define the lifestyle approach of millennials as one that’s focused on making a difference on/at every level – professionally, socially, politically and economically – then yes, that is definitely me.
Your garments are the epitome of SLOWWwwww fashion. They are well-conceived and thoughtfully crafted. Beyond that, they are artfully designed – not just to be wearable – but also to be admired in one’s personal environment. That is a really interesting idea. Would you please expand on the concept of a creatively executed piece of clothing being suitable for décor enhancement, too?
Well, one of fashion’s primary functions is to be decorative and ornamental (if not ostentatious). So yes, VR®®’s pieces are definitely designed with that in mind. Fabric is a blank canvas for creation. Some customers hang their VERYRARE pieces on their walls in frames like art (similar to signed sport jerseys from popular athletes).
In fact, I exhibited one VERYRARE/VR®® artwear piece called ‘Rare Gardens/Money Trees’ in a gallery. It was, in-and-as of itself, a work of art meant to be treated like all of the other pieces in that space.
VERYRARE melds street and couture, adding a museum twist. We make art wearable and democratize what’s otherwise unaffordable.
Is VERYRARE intentionally designed as an antidote to fast fashion?
Fashion consumers tend to wear their purchases an average of just 7 times before they discard them. This behavior exposes both fast-fashion and the ‘barely-wear’ culture. It demonstrates the extent to which modern consumers have adopted a weird mindset when it comes to their wardrobe pieces. It’s absolutely f*cked up to me.
People have been Matrixed to the point where they’re not thinking for themselves. Instead, they act on impulse and desire. They’re addicted to stuff that they don’t even like. Items that hold no emotional value. With artwear and the VERYRARE unboxing experience, we transcend this and flip the script toward better ways of thinking. I don’t sell clothes anymore. I sell art. Ultra-limited statement pieces. All named and numbered — 21 editions/drops max for your next 50 washes.
My goal is to help consumers unlearn their previous ways, and re-learn the VR®® way. When you flex VR®®, you signal curated taste and the proud co-creation of new narratives.
In what ways is your fashion label sustainable?
VERYRARE garments are designed with sentimentality in mind. They are sustainably and meticulously crafted to be lifelong heirlooms. VERYRARE just turned a year old and I’m proud that our eco-policies set a very high industry standard. Point #16 of the VR®® manifesto expressly states that sustainability is a priority for the brand. I have set a clear objective for VR®® to be carbon neutral in 2030. We’re already using organic and normal hybrid cotton blends. I’m endlessly on the lookout for the newest, most innovative, energy and carbon-efficient materials/fabrics and techniques.
Every one of VR®®’s goodie galore bags is custom-made by me. Our packaging is corn polymer/bioplastic-based, plus it’s 100% organic & biodegradable. Additionally, my elder brother/associate/partner Theo and I plant trees every year as part of the ‘countVRact’ initiative. VERYRARE also gives a portion of all our net profits to the association FORTHEPLANET™.
Let’s talk more about the complimentary “goodie galore” bag that accompanies each VERYRARE order. The hand-designed contents, all created by you, are actually pretty endearing. Sure, you want to offer the consumer a familial experience, but are you also just a big softie who just wants to spread love and light into the world?
Fax. I’m a big softie with ideals, for real. It’s all love and 5ever will be. That probably stems from me being the cadet/middle child of my family. I want to compensate and make everybody feel like they’re a part of something greater than themselves. The VERYRARE family knows that there will be hills and hiccups, but they are committed to sticking with VR®® through the ups and downs.
I feel like I somehow owe the inspirational individuals who spurned me on this path. Perhaps my sole purpose in this life is to carry them over and add my contribution – my metaphorical ‘stones’ to the creative empire built by humanity, so far. The very artistic-aesthetic-intellectual-philosophical grand edifice constructed by society at large.
That’s why I put so much effort into referencing, recollecting, and shout-out-ing in the pages of the complimentary VOAT®® zine that accompanies every VERYRARE™ purchase. It’s shipped inside our free goodie galore bag. It’s one way that I give my thanks because I’d be nothing without them. We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants.
The white gloves that you include in your bonus gift bring to mind a higher caliber of service. When people see them, is that the message you hope they convey?
Totally. VERYRARE customers become art handlers in their own right. They’re just like staff members of Christies’ or Sotheby’s, but VERYRARE-ized. We deliver an unboxing experience like no other. It’s art, but it’s far more than just a mere fabric/cloth assemblage wrapped in a mailer. It’s art that you can flex on the rest of the world, too, because it’s just above and beyond everything you know so far.
VERYRARE garments are designed with sentimentality in mind. They are sustainably and meticulously crafted to be lifelong heirlooms.
The many layers that you’ve built into the whole VERYRARE experience are seductive. The higher end quality of your garments. The extremely limited edition runs of each style. The personalization and serial number of each unit. The luxe-lined interior of your woven jacquard sweaters. The complementary goodie galore schwag bag. Subconsciously, are you delivering VERYRARE customers a Happy Meal with each purchase?
Funny you actually mention the Happy Meal. McDonald’s happy meal is my benchmark, actually. As a kid, I got crazy excited the moment I opened the box and discovered a handheld Sonic game, plush toys, or collectibles. I want VERYRARE customers to fully enjoy a super smooth and absolutely cool art experience. Whether that’s embedded directly in the garment they buy or they find it in their accompanying/external goodie galore bags, I try to surprise my customers constantly.
Is your hyper attentiveness to the details-details-details crucial in order to stand out in an already highly saturated fashion market?
Absolutely. The 21-st century Gen-X-Y-Zer craves transparency and increasingly more authenticity in the output(s) that you put out in this universe. That’s my nature, too. I’ll always go the extra mile. I’m a hyperactive perfectionist, so art is therapeutic and calms my nerves. It channels my attention and focus. It’s a match made in heaven.
You are responsible for the visual aesthetic emblazoned upon each VERYRARE garment. How do you know that you’ve created a winning design?
100% of VERYRARE’s creative design goes through me and my standards are very high. Designing the perfect piece – one that has the right compositional color, visual aesthetic, textures and layers – forces me to always take it to the next level. Ask any creative, and the uncertainty of the process is mainly unexplainable, but that’s the magic of it. For me, it’s a mix of gut feelings and always thinking about the end result. It has to be a suitable, cool enough time capsule that is frozen and suspended in eternity.
Is your artistic process very intuitive and improvisational? Or are you a strategic choreographer of visual elements?
Definitely both. After having spent way over 10,000 hours on my craft, I consider myself to be a master researcher and archivist. My repertories and mind montages are endless. I strategically choreograph visual elements during the ‘ideation’ phase of a design. That tends to encompass about 80% of the work.
I always have visual catharsis and impactful visuality in mind. Simply just realizing and manifesting what has been simmering for so long inside me is a very intuitive process. I always leave space for randomness to happen.
Why is collaging the visual language that you prefer the most for your VERYRARE endeavor?
The baseline of VERYRARE and my thinking is collage. Aggregated thoughts and perspectives coming from a lot of different directions. There’s no other language that expresses my train of thought better. VERYRARE is the Frankenstein-esque GMO’d brainchild of my many years of mood boarding, studying, and spewing out my own version of how I could make the aforementioned role models, and myself, proud.
The hyper exclusivity of your “21 drops of 21 units” means that it’s highly unlikely a person will ever be clothed in the same design as someone they encounter on the street or at a party. Why is that a huge selling point?
One-of-ones, baby!! It’s basic math and economics. If supply is inferior to demand, hype goes up and it creates a craving/need because you know it won’t be up for grabs very long. For me and VERYRARE, it’s quite different, actually. Our hyper-exclusivity stems from the fact that every piece is named and numbered in the same way that art is for galleries and private art collectors.
Additionally, there are limitations as a one-man army brand to actually craft the pieces and then cut and sew them. VR®® sticks to real narratives regarding how each piece is coined/devised and we don’t oversell the way that fast-fashion does. This also allows enough room for us to add new pieces, too!!!
You pour so much of your heart and soul into your VERYRARE line of fashion. Clearly, the details great and small are what truly make your label stand out in the crowd. Would you please shine a light on some of the Easter eggs that you include in your collage designs?
In ‘Fallen Angel’, I chose blue because that’s metaphorically and mythically the color of angels’ blood. The text on the left sleeve stems from Montpellier Musée Fabre’s museum, where the original Alexandre Cabanel artwork is. The unique woven tag on the other sleeve says ex libris to emphasize ownership (named/numbered idea). There’s a color change on our usual bottom left woven tag, which is normally red.
Additionally, the tonal blue/embroidered butterflies on the back represent the idea of ‘escaping the matrix’ as well as flying above/rebirth, closing the loop perfectly. I could go on and on about the details in all my pieces. There are so many cross-references and nods to our DNA or inspirations everywhere.
It seems like an immense amount of time and labor goes into the conception, execution and shipment of a VERYRARE product. How can you afford to charge $168 for a sweater?
Compared to the amount of effort channeled into each of our garments, my low prices do not match the industry’s standards. It’s not even viable for me, long-term-wise. My positioning is not on price at all. My customers know price fluctuations could happen in the future. During black Friday – which I’ve boycotted, by the way – I expanded on this topic.
I told my community that I intend to only do more and grow more (with PFW fashion weeks, runways, pop-ups, etc.). For the sake of staying in the race and creating higher-level stuff, my prices will have to increase eventually. Like any true entrepreneur in the early stages of their company, I’m trusting the process and believing in my product. I am ready and willing to cannibalize my own resources and time, occasionally be in the red, and not take a paycheck if it contributes to the steady growth of VERYRARE.
You mention that VERYRARE effectively democratizes higher-end luxe wear that would otherwise be notoriously unaffordable. How can you explain to the average consumer – who may be far more accustomed to purchasing a $20 sweater from H&M or Target – that purchasing a VERYRARE garment is actually within their budget?
You know, as the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” In my opinion, H&M and Target customers are lost and matrixed out. They are very hard to educate, convert, and revert back to the good stuff. I could speak to them about VERYRARE for hours and how it’s 100x times better to buy less but better quality stuff. For example, buying one statement piece from time to time that you’re truly emotionally connected to is great. That’s so much better than buying 7 shitty H&M/Zara blanks that have no history, are manufactured in shady conditions, and will be discarded in no time.
But truly, really, my real Gs – the ones I aim for/target – are the ones who already know that. My audience consists of connoisseurs, people who already have a style of their own, and who are ready to save money or cash out on the good shit. The people who already passed the stages to exit the matrix and become VERYRARE fans are already well aware of everything I mentioned above.
What statement are people making to the world when they purchase a VERYRARE garment?
They make a statement that they’re not alone. They’re part of a large family of doers, ‘do it yourselfers’ and ‘do it for yourselfers’. Through my VR®® design work, I paint a cohesive story that is substantiated by experience and credibility. Similarly, VERYRARE fans do, too, by purchasing and wearing our garments like a uniform that they thrive in. Each piece communicates their desire to delve into the narrative, expression, and emotion.
Various females models in your lookbook wear many of your VERYRARE designs. Would you say that the look of your line is gender neutral, or is it more masculine?
VERYRARE is definitely unisex, unapologetic and unbound by gender, orientation, physical ability, or socio-economic upbringings. Visual catharsis/impact is my frequency. I’m drip-focused and obsessed, and drip is universal.
Do you have any plans to branch out into more conventionally feminine offerings?
I’m a final year student/postgrad at the Royal College of Art (MA Contemporary Art Practice with Fashion). I really can’t wait to make menswear and womenswear-only exclusives. Plus, super high-end, runway-grade, highest-fashion haute couture level shit that elite individuals/personalities will wear at the Met Gala, for example. For now, though, I’m not putting the cart before the horse. I’m doing this VR®® thing one step at a time.
Is there one particular detail about your VERYRARE endeavor that you hope will resonate with our readers the most?
VERY RARE isn’t about financially viable ideas, reaching mainstream status, or winning popularity contests. After the hype dies (and it always does), it’s the emotional repercussions that bestow a legacy. I couldn’t tell you the most popular sneaker to drop last week, but I do remember every Undercover piece I’ve worn and loved.
I also remember the inside of the original OG Colette store in Paris, and my first X-Large OG Gorilla hoodie. So much culture and narrative were attached to those brands and their offerings. Nowadays, it’s all about celebrity associations and price tags. Timeless design is really about the narratives, the historical and emotional value, though.
Why is art so critical to our well-being?
Art (and beauty) are definitely in the eye of the beholder. What one person finds beautiful, another may not. A lot of things can be beautiful – landscapes, faces, fine art, epic architecture, or stars in the sky. Beauty isn’t tangible, though. It only exists in our heads as a pleasant feeling. Nonetheless, on a daily basis, it has an effect on us and can definitely improve our general happiness.
I’m reaching the black sheep, the underdogs, the crazy ones who are situated right at the tipping point between outsiderism and insiderism.
What does VERYRARE artwear accomplish that conventional art cannot?
VERYRARE shifts everything, at least compared to the conventional art I’m accustomed to displaying. It’s way more democratized, way more street, way more ‘me’ at the end of the day. VERYRARE’s audience becomes VR®®’s vector. They continue on my legacy/heritage pieces and add up their own helix/lil DNA to the VR®® story in their own way (‘walking living legends’).
It picks up on its own. It’s really different. And VERYRARE will soon further incorporate elements of performance art with parties and festivals and popups. VR®® is basically life. It’s an ongoing movement that constantly changes shape. Posit this against an artwork hanging in a high-status institution for only a lucky few to see. The effect and aura is not the same *ahah*.
If you accidentally spilled red wine on your absolutely favorite VERYRARE sweater, would you have a meltdown or would you make lemonade out of lemons?
It would just add to the narrative. That would probably happen during the best night out of my life. The blood or wine stain would become enmeshed in the fabric. I have some pieces like that already. Denim that I ripped while skateboarding and then repatched soon after. You can still see some of the bloodstains – in fact, that part turned black with time *lol*.
Have you already designed the greatest VERYRARE sweater ever, or is the best yet to come?
The greatest VERYRARE statement pieces are the ones we currently offer. Specifically, the ‘Black Sheep/Maverick Mentality’. Also, I am in the process of prototyping new releases that raise the bar. It’s all about the ‘now’. Time is a theoretical construct created by humans for their own purposes. My only competition is myself. I’m playing the infinite game, as all of us should. Future VR®® pieces will not be better or worse. They’ll still kill shit *as per usual* for life, that’s all. All love.