Italian-Syrian designer Efrem Damiani on fashion brand Efetishism

What happens when you combine fetishism, gender neutrality, sex, and even more sex? You get Efetishism, a fashion brand which stands out for its raunchy and raw aesthetics, tantalisingly provocative nature, and nostalgic inspirations. 

MESA spoke to Italian-Syrian designer Efrem Damiani on the birth of Efetishism, his idols, and heritage. Being a queer Arab has created many obstacles, none of which have stopped the artificer from triumphing. He speaks about the creation of the ‘dildo dress,’ the Illuminati, and sustainability – all in one interview. The 22-year-old radiates confidence, embedded edginess, and lets loose on his journey in creating the brand, detailing his experiences thus far. 

MESA: Efetishism is such a striking name, how did you come up with it?

Efrem: Efetishism mixes my name Efrem and fetishism. I feel that all of us like fetishisms, and also Karl Marx’s “commodity fetishism” concept truly fascinates me.

MESA: Why did you get into the fashion industry? 

Efrem: I’ve always believed that designing clothes was my devotion, so I’ve always had clear ideas about my future. Moving to a big city was my first solid approach to this industry, and being a known nightlife figure helped me promote my business.

MESA: What did you study and where have you previously worked?

Efrem: I attended a fashion school in Milan and I’ve always paid the costs of my university by being a promoter for several clubs. Right now I’m working for a London brand in order to refine my skills and then go out with the bam!

MESA: When did you launch Efetishism? 

Efrem: I launched my brand with my thesis collection. I perfectly remember the first time I shot it: it was extremely low-budget; models, photographer, the makeup artist was just my friends and we filmed it in my yard. Since I shared those pictures on social media and it became an instant success: a bunch of creatives started asking for my clothes for shootings, music videos, events, and I ended up being published in some known magazines. My first collection was inspired by the Illuminati, I didn’t have any specific point of view, I just wanted to shed light on this myth. And so people used to tell me that I sold my soul to the devil for fame and success. I always make fun of it telling people that Illuminati helped me to get to magazines.

MESA: What are your inspirations when creating designs?

Efrem: I have plenty of inspirations, such as 80s pop stars, angel Qandeel Baloch and even contemporary artists like Materies Fecales. If you’re going to see my research you’re going to notice the variety of sex-related and non-censored pictures. I live for provoking the viewer with obscenity and prohibited material, this is my way to gain freedom. As I said, all of us like fetishisms and we shouldn’t just “do these stuff at home” because it’s honestly beautiful and genuine.

MESA: What other designers inspire you?

Efrem: Mowalola, Maison the Faux, and WesternAffair 

MESA: How big is your team?

Efrem: Right now it’s only me since I’m still emerging as an artist but something is boiling in the pot. 

MESA: How has your Italian-Syrian heritage-inspired you?

Efrem: Growing up in a mixed family in the deep south of Italy is a struggle, my origins were something I’ve been told to hide to protect myself in a very hateful environment. You can’t be gay, queer, and Arab, you just can’t. I’m saying this because I’m in a privileged position right now but the struggle is real and lots of people in my community live like this nowadays.

Moving to Milan helped me to open up to people and speak my voice. The best gift was being able to connect with other queer Arabian people. God said that everything that is in the shadows must be brought into the light, and that’s exactly what I’m doing at this point of my life. 

MESA: Three words you would use to describe your brand are…

Efrem: Pussy poppin’ posse.

MESA: What are your thoughts on the current increase in sustainable and gender-neutral clothing? Where do you these topics stand against your brand?

Efrem: I stand with sustainable clothing and there’s more: we should step back from the consumerism and production system, we’re in a historical period in which brands create stuff and repeats, that’s boring and harmful. I will never stand with the current thoughts according to which boys can’t wear skirts and girls ties. No one can define masculinity and femininity. Sexes are raised to be enemies instead of living in cohesion and that’s defeating. My brand is humanswear and this means it has no target. 

MESA: If you could collaborate with a brand, who would it be?

Efrem: Mowalola, she’s a bad bitch and I already see a badass collaboration!

MESA:  Who would you most like to dress?

Efrem: I’d say Solange, she has a special place in my heart because of the way she speaks [of] her origins with richness, awareness and generosity helped me to embrace mine. In her words “it can’t be washed away, not even in that Florida water.” 

MESA: What are some of your favourite pieces from your collection?

Efrem: The ‘puppet veil’ and the ‘dildo dress’ made a statement for sure, and they are very special because when designing them I didn’t mind about how wrong they would be for the market in terms of sellable garments. 

MESA: Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?

Efrem: Every time I blow out birthday cake candles I tell myself that my aspiration in life would be to be happy.

MESA: Finally, what advice would you give to other designers looking to start their brand?

Efrem: I would say go big or go home baby, it’s one of the hardest times for this industry, just be the most of you.

Photographers: Cristian Lorenzoni, Laura Magagna, Vittoria Elena Simone, Matt Colombo Make up: Sara Holste, Marika Zaramella, Grazia RiverditiStyling: Francesca Cavalcanti, Lolita Campisi, Valentina Rixo.  Models: Perla Hidalgo Ventura, Lina Giselle, Gianluca Persia, Ana Tacu

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