Love Sick with CM James
Posted on April 21 2019
Name: Craig Monty James
Star Sign: Capricorn
IG alias: @wallflowermanifesto
Laurel aka Kee Kee: So, our little back story, is like Em & May’s (last week’s Love Sick interview), we met at The Bad Old Days, the local watering hole in Ridgewood NY. Where we talk shit about fashion, Drag Race, music, and popcorn.
I was immediately drawn to you through your choice of clothing, especially on the day to day, which for regular people can be quite mundane, but yours is loud and out there. What’s your daily inspiration for a look?
CM James: It comes from a multitude of sources. I never think too much about what I’m going to wear at that moment when I’m choosing an outfit. It’s pretty instinctual, but it can almost always be traced back to some point of cultural analysis. Often I am very much living inside my own world just regurgitating all that I read, watch, and experience internally. So I’m getting these emotional reactions just looking at clothes that are inspired by absorbing so many things. The instance where I assemble a look has been honed through a lifetime of mental calculation.
KK: How does fashion shape you as a person?
CJ: I think about people like Isabella Blow and how she once said that she “owed fashion everything,” because it gave her the confidence to truly express herself and go on living for as long as she could. Fashion isn’t necessarily the ‘reason I live’, but it’s a way I can interpret the world and how I feel. I go through life day to day in this body, and as a result, it is subjected to many negative external forces. That’s just the unfortunate drawback to being born in this big, wide world. However, clothing is a universal language that transcends crap, whilst also being a fun and personally resonant reflection of it.
KK: What age did you start expressing yourself through fashion?
CJ: According to my mother, my first big fashion moment happened when I was walking through a department store with her in San Diego. We were passing the junior miss section when I ran over to this selection of frocks and picked out the pinkest, frilliest, most Molly Goddard looking one. I twirled it around in front of my mother saying, “Oh, mommy…It’s a dream come true!” To which a sales associate next to her replied that I will indeed be gay, but that I have very good taste.
KK: You say that fashion purveys into all forms of life, can you expand on that?
CJ: I am really interested in the concept of alternative fashion in that it blends into other subcultures ways of thinking that incorporate fine art, politics, literature, technology, etc. Fashion is crazy analytical if you want to be.
KK: You moved around so much as a kid due to your parent being in the Air Force. You were born in Alaska, lived in the UK for 5 years, Turkey for 2, and all over the States. How has this shaped you and would you have preferred growing up in one spot?
CJ: I wouldn’t be very happy if I stayed in one place for the rest of my life. Being a military brat definitely instilled a sense of wanderlust in me, although it’s not as if I have to be traveling constantly. I garner what I can from a place and when I feel it’s time to move on I do. I think it’s healthy to explore everything that’s out there but to really appreciate what you can learn from where you are now.
KK: You say the UK was really inspirational, how old were you when you lived there and how did it inspire you?
CJ: I lived there from about 8 to 13. I was just at an age where I was very culturally permeable as a kid. Honestly, most of my most inspiring memories don’t actually read off as traditional markers of inspiration. Of course, it was amazing to see Saint Martins kids running around Camden in awesome getups when I was lucky enough to go to London, but there are so many unlikely things that also got into my head. Like, I have ideas for short films for fashion campaigns that were inspired by the nights when I used to stay up watching people sleep from multiple cameras on an interactive feature that Sky UK offered on their satellite service whenever they would air Big Brother on television during that year. You know…weird shit like that.
KK: What brought you to NYC?
CJ: I had just graduated from university and had no more obligation to stay where I was. Not to mention most of my good friends are completely bi-coastal, either located here or around California. I’m not the biggest fan of driving and I identify with New York’s energy much more closely.
KK: NY is a pretty rough town but also really rewarding. You need a self-care practice to stay grounded. I know you keep your art journal as your form of therapy. How did that come about?
CJ: I always had a journal or idea book of some sort since I was able to write. Though in my late adolescence, the journals became much more ornate, and I was especially encouraged when a saw a video of Tavi Gevinson going through some of her personal notebooks. They incorporated so much visual content, and I thought it was such a brilliant way to see the cohesion of what you like and how you think and feel. Tracey Emin also offered some great advice of about keeping physical folders of images that you like from books or magazines or whatever. You should collect it almost obsessively so that you amass this archive of inspiration. Over time, you begin to see what drives you as a creative, and it becomes a great template for starting to explore your voice within that realm.
KK: How many journals have you been through and what book do you need? Lined paper, blank, thick pages? What kinda book turns you on? (mines def blank pages, thick enough to paint on or glue shit to, medium-sized book, at least 100 – 120 pages…not being too specific)
CJ: I have had and lost so many I just can’t keep count! Although I do remember my first diary was purchased at a school book fair. It was blue, glittery, had dragonflies all over it, and it maaay has even had a lock on it. I usually just stick with Moleskine for the iconic factor. I like the shape, the thickness of the paper, the elastic strap—it’s borderline sexy to me. However, if there was an alternative brand that looked the same but was able to endure a lot more abuse, I would switch. I live hard and so do my diaries.
KK: Do you have any other self-care rituals?
KK: So, I know you want to be involved in fashion but at what capacity?
CJ: I am currently teaching myself to sew. I used to make stuff all the time in high school, but I kind of fell out of that when I became more interested in photography. I do have a habit of switching around from thing to thing, though I feel that’s the natural mode in which I operate. I am now trying to slow down and just focus on one thing for a while, and just study it really intensely. I think designing stuff would be a great venture to really focus on, seeing that clothes permeate so much of my life anyway. It would also be a way to explore the tactile qualities of experimental clothing and how it interacts with the body. I know it’s going to enrich my relationship to designing immensely, but fashion as a concept I am indifferent to. I’m only going to make things for myself and my friends. I don’t want to take over the fashion world, that’s your job!
KK: What turns you off about being a stylist?
CJ: As a career, it just seems a little hellish to be constantly dealing with egos all day. The aspect of styling that interests me is that you get to see what another person’s relationship to clothes is. I think you learn something valuable about a person from that.
KK: What’s your interpretation of being an artist in this day and age?
CJ: Just honoring your creative impulses and embracing the fact that following them doesn’t always lead to you being the next art sensation or whatever. Creativity is a gift bestowed upon us that we need to treat as sacred as any other spiritual factor in our lives.
KK: With rental prices and living expenses how do you think the modern artist can survive? Do you have any life hacks for other creatives out there?
CJ: I don’t think there is a proper way to hack through. I know I’m going to sound like a broken record, but you just really have to follow your instinct. Your intuition and your creativity are so closely related because you are tapping into something that is eons old when you use them. Humans have navigated the proclivities of society long enough to engrain that shit into you on a cellular level. Don’t eat poison plants, fire is hot, sequins and mohair do NOT go together, etc. There is some part of you that knows what life is best for yourself. The problem is that it is almost never entirely clear as to how one just exactly goes about that. If you stay true to your desires and the intentions behind them, you will slowly guide yourself into an opportunity for accomplishing what you want. Or just have rich parents.
KK: Do you have any favorite spots in NY that you’d highly recommend to locals and visitors?
CJ: Locally, I can’t recommend Topos enough. It’s a bookstore in Ridgewood that has a lot of rare finds and books that are just generally a little on the weirder side. I always buy at least one book there, even if I am dead set on just going in for a coffee. In the online sphere, I would definitely recommend a radio show called If You Lose Your Horse by Sam Segal. It’s a WFMU program that broadcasts live from Bushwick every week. No two shows are the same vibe, and the music is always mind-blowing. Sam definitely deserves to be a host on Sirius XMU or something, because he really brings in some amazing obscurities.
KK: If people want to check you out where can they follow?
CJ: Instagram is what I mostly use now. Twitter only seems fun if you’re marginally famous or exclusively a writer. Though I do have craigmontyjames.com, which is basically a portfolio of my visual folder.
KK: I always like hanging out with you CM, you’re hilarious, can throw good shade and know your pop culture references. Plus my Spotify playlist has doubled since hanging out. Thanks for playing dress ups and showing my followers how to style Laurel.