Hallowe’en + 364 days

(Abbyshot’s Kill Bill jacket)

Adam Bragg, co-founder of Abbyshot Clothiers, is part of a team that manufactures euphoria. Drawing on films such as The Matrix, Kill Bill and Mad Max, as well as anime, music videos and video games, Abbyshot creates costumes for everyday life. Bryhanna Greenough and Lesley Thompson met up with Bragg in his Mount Pearl studio.

What is Abbyshot Clothiers?

On the surface it may look like a little clothing company hidden away in Mount Pearl that makes coats, but when you dig a little deeper, it’s not really all we are. I mean, technically, we make coats… But what we’re really selling is excitement. We’re selling people the chance to feel different. We see this in some of the e-mails we get, and we see this happen in person when we go to conventions. It was surprising at first, but we’ve gotten used to it over the years. But at first we were like, “Wow, the reactions we’re getting from our customers are totally, totally out there. What’s going on?”

If we were just making coats, then there’d be no movie connection. The clothes are inspired by movies or anime, or computer games even.

…So customers are able to take whatever they felt in a theatre or playing a game and bring it into their life. They’re able to go “I’m not Neo, but this makes me feel the way I felt when I watched The Matrix for the first time.” So they put on the Lobby Trench – and I’ve watched this happen, even with people that are not big movie fans – they put on the coat and they feel different. You see them all of a sudden start to swirl with the fabric, they walk differently, they look different, they hold their head differently. It’s kind of cool to see the transformation occur. So we’re a company that sells that kind of euphoria.

How do you think clothing affects the idea of self? It seems like these people are going into character when they put the coat on.

They do. A lot of times they do it to the point of it being quite funny. When you go to a convention and people start acting like their favorite character, trying to do the moves, but not as skillfully as the trained actors did. Nonetheless, it’s a bit of the character.

If someone puts on a great big, black trench coat or a brown leather jacket or any of the other items, it’s expressing who they are to themselves, and it’s also part of an exterior image they project to the world. “This is who I am and this is how I like to express myself.” It’s just as important as if they had a teardrop tattooed under their eye. That would tell an awful lot about the person as well.
Do most of your customers and clients wear their clothes in their day-to-day lives?

It varies. Depending on which product you talk about, when it gets purchased, and from where it gets purchased. If a purchase occurs close to Hallowe’en, and it’s a smaller location, and it’s one of our more unusual designs, it’s almost guaranteed to be for a costume. If it’s another time of year and it’s one of our more normal products, and they’re in a larger city, then that person is very much intending to wear it all the time.

What would be an example?

Two that are more unconventional are the Stampede Duster – which has straps along the left arm, and belting across the front and the back, and buttoned-up front panels. It’s from an anime series called Trigun. The main character wears them. It’s quite an out-there coat. It’s a big, bold red trench coat with a double row of buttons down the front, and belts and straps all over it. You walk down George Street with that and people are going to notice you. But a lot of our customers from the larger cities – LA, or Paris, or New York City, or wherever – they want to be noticed…

But I’ve had some customers who will very shyly buy their coat and have to go through an adjustment period. Because they are huge fans of whatever the product is based on and they live in a small to medium-sized community and they know they are going to get different responses from people who’ve known them for years because now they look different. And of course, your outward appearance, the expression of your identity, all of a sudden people are looking at this as a new person or a changed person.

How influential do you think movies are in creating new styles? Do you see movies influencing fashion on a mainstream level?

At times. It depends on the movie. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure didn’t really affect fashion. The Matrix definitely affected fashion. It affected movie making, it affected storytelling. The Matrix broke a bunch of rules when it came out and shook up Hollywood…

I think it’s rather telling that the Matrix movies are still a source for popular orders for us. The Matrix-inspired garments we have are our more popular items. And the first movie is getting old! It’s six or seven years old now.

Why the focus on coats?

A lot of our products are suggested to us by our customers. That’s what they want us to make. It comes back to the Matrix. The first Matrix totally revolutionized movies in Hollywood, and people totally wanted to wear Neo’s coat. Really simple. They thought he was cool. He could dodge bullets, and he was the guy who got the girl. They wanted to feel like him. So they went looking for the coats in stores. Nobody sold coats like that, even today. So they went online. Nobody sold coats like that. They could not be found. There was an opportunity for a garment to be designed that nobody else on the planet was offering, so that became our very first product. From there, it grew.

It was cool. We carved a niche of style out of nowhere. Before we came on the scene there was the occasional person making costumes from movies, maybe they wanted to dress up like the lead woman from Titanic, or they made a Greek gown, or maybe they wanted to look like Sailor Moon with the school-girl outfit… But we created the genre of screen-accurate, real-world clothing: Taking something from a game or a movie something that technically doesn’t exist and bringing it into the real world.

One of the things some of our customers don’t realize is we’re not really making the coat that the actors wore. We’re actually making a fantasy version. Nobody would want to wear the costume that Keanu Reeves wore in the Matrix. No lining, no pockets, it was held together with duct tape, staples. Literally, he had 5 or 6 different coats – one of them was slashed up the back for a harness he had to wear for those crazy kung-fu flips. The coat was slashed to ribbons. What people want to wear is the coat Neo wore in the Matrix.

What are some of the stranger requests for clothing?

One example of an impractical design is the request to make the coat Pinhead wore in Hellraiser. Pinhead’s trench coat has more belts than a belt factory. It literally has hundreds of belts and straps and buckles and snaps. I don’t know how many hours it took to get into that contraption – it probably had a hidden zipper in the back. Nobody would want to own it. Some people think they do, but they don’t really. They’re just caught up in the whole mythos of the character.
Another thing is we’ve been asked to shoot coats, like literally take a 12-guage shot gun and shoot holes in them…We tell people, “You know what? If you want to destroy your coat, that’s your own business. We’ll provide you with the perfect version. What if we do it wrong and you don’t like it?”

Which area of the world do you get the most orders from?

The US makes the lion’s share of orders. The West Coast. But not only the West Coast. New York is big for us too. Sections of Florida are big for us. Sections of Georgia. It doesn’t actually follow geography, it’s a matter of population density, where there is a high concentration of a culture of the type that wants to wear this garment and feel comfortable in this garment.

We’re a very global company, despite the fact that we’re small and can be easily overlooked. We export to over 25 countries.

It’s interesting that this is happening in Mount Pearl. Why are you doing this in Newfoundland?

We’re all Newfoundlanders. We were here first and the idea came second. Why wouldn’t we do it? We shouldn’t think that we can’t do it because we’re in Newfoundland. Why is it that New York would be a better choice for us?

Visit their website at abbyshot.com