Skyler Javier is D.C.’s own fire-fighting fashion designer

First there is total blackness. A horizon forms in the distance, and from it emerges a humanlike figure whose left arm starts to morph into a crystalline structure. The appendage continues to grow until the body can no longer bear the weight, and it breaks off at the shoulder. When the crystal strikes the ground, it bursts into shards, and the figure recedes back into the void.

This is a scene from one of Skyler Javier’s recent daydreams, which, he says, can strike at any moment but most often when he’s meditating or listening to music. Engaging in this grotesque reverie is a critical part of the 27-year-old designer’s creative process and is the inspiration for Native Danger, the conceptual menswear line that he runs with friend and business partner Zack Repko out of his studio in Washington.

Javier is hesitant to call himself a fashion designer, though, partly out of modesty and partly because he has a full-time job at a place where function trumps form: Engine 11 of the D.C. fire department. “I’ll ask Skyler what he did over the weekend, and he’ll tell me he messed around with some patterns and made a trip to New York to buy fabric,” says Richard Small, a colleague of Javier’s at the Columbia Heights station. “Firefighters have hobbies outside of the job, but in my 17 years in this business I’ve never met one who designs clothing.”

While he’s careful to control the daydreaming when he’s on the clock, Javier admits that the occasionally gruesome scenes he sees in the course of his work as a firefighter can make him eager to escape reality: “If I’ve been working a lot, I’m so starved to get back into that mental space.”

Following one of his dream episodes, Javier sketches the imaginary characters and gives them unique outfits, which he eventually pulls into reality through Native Danger. Javier (a self-taught seamster) makes his own patterns and assembles the garments on his industrial sewing machine. “I want to organize my thoughts into a story line, but I’m not very good at writing,” Javier says. “So I draw instead, and give attention to what my characters wear and how it falls.”

Javier — his given name is Skyler Javier Brown, but he uses just his first and middle names for his design work — debuted his first cohesive collection (spring/summer 2014) to a group of close friends and supporters at a recent private event. The clothing is dark, somewhat bleak and lacking in humor. It’d be an interesting choice to wear on a first date, and if you saw someone walking down the street in one of the pieces, you might expect to see him get in a flying car.

Like many of Javier’s apparitions, his styles are capable of contorting into something completely different from what they started as — such as his button-down short-sleeve shirt with a detachable bib-like vest.

Native Danger is certainly not for everyone, which is exactly the point. More than marketable fashions intended for the masses, the line is a medium for Javier’s prismatic thoughts. And it’s a laborious and expensive one: Since Javier hand-sewed his very first piece in 2010 (a jacket, he says, that “looked good from far away”), he has invested close to $50,000 of his own money in the project.

In 2012, Javier launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the production of a 13-piece fall/winter collection. Though he only raised $1,579 of his $20,000 goal, the campaign drew the attention of a third-party facilitator who promised to front production costs and use connections in China to get the line manufactured swiftly and cheaply. But the deal (too good to be true) eventually cratered, and Javier lost all 13 of his self-sewn samples. “It was a very frustrating point in my life,” he says. “I don’t want to say it was a con, because I didn’t lose very much money, but in the end he couldn’t deliver.”

And so it was back to the dreaming board for Javier. Fueled by his visions, he churned out a string of fresh designs, which ultimately became his spring/summer 2014 collection. Careful not to make the same mistake again, Javier had the line produced in a New York factory where he could more closely oversee its progress.

The samples struck a chord with boutique owners from Philadelphia to South Korea — and at home in D.C., suggesting a nudge in a more fashion-curious direction. “He has a post-apocalyptic bent to his work,” says Lori Parkerson, who as of Friday carries seven of Skyler’s designs at Redeem, her contemporary men’s and women’s boutique on 14th Street NW. “I like it because it’s innovative.”

But to those familiar with his work, it’s just Skyler. “You look at the collection, and it just fits the person I’ve known for a long time,” says Eshovo Momoh, a friend of Javier’s from elementary school with whom he used to draw comic book heroes and sell them to classmates at lunch. “Mine would go for 50 cents, and his would go for a buck-fifty. Even back then, kids knew they were buying something worth keeping.”

Holley Simmons is the dining editor of The Washington Post Express. When she’s not reporting on local restaurants and tastemakers, you can find her sewing a dress from a 1950s pattern or planting a windowsill herb garden. Contact her at holley.simmons@wpost.com.
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