Who: Joe Perez
When: 9pm, Friday, September 8
Where: His loft, address withheld
Why: He’s got some serious credentials and impeccable taste
Okay, so maybe I’m a little biased: I’ve known Joe for 16 years and he’s a close friend of mine. Still, when he suggests a film/artist/album/whatever, I run to check it out. He hasn’t failed me yet. Someone else who trusts Joe’s judgment? Kanye West. In fact, Joe has been working for “Ye” for the past five years and recently designed his Cruel Summer album cover, set to drop September 18.
After graduating from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California – the RISD of the West Coast – Joe designed and maintained websites, including two popular fashion blogs he created in collaboration with his brother. One day after having moved back East, his phone rang. Kanye was on the other line.
I arrive at Joe’s loft around 9pm. In typical fashion, the lights are dimmed and mellow music casts a chill vibe on the space. He’s dressed in black and white, what I refer to as his uniform, with not a hair out of place. “Can I offer you a drink?” he asks. Joe sets his glass of scotch whisky down and pours me a generous bit of wine. We sit.
It’s been a while; we’ve both been so busy with work. From start to finish, it took Joe an estimated 700 hours to design and execute the album cover and packaging. “My art director, Guido Callarelli, and I worked directly with Kanye on the cover. I’d like to thank Guido and my creative director, Virgil Abloh,” Joe says. “Also, I have to thank my parents for their support.”
The process was a complex one — beginning first with a female from a classic work of art and slowly chipping away at her, carving each cheekbone and every curve, as if she were made of digital stone. “Now she’s the perfect woman,” Joe says with a laugh. “I’m a Photoshop surgeon.” When creating a product for someone as detail oriented as Kanye West, perfection is a must.
“When I first started working for Kanye, I did random odds and ends — maintaining his website and doing research for various projects.” Joe says. “If Kanye calls at 3am and needs something done by 6, that’s it — you just do it. He’s not only a music artist but a fashion designer, a director and a fine artist. He’s a true Renaissance man and a creative visionary.”
Joe’s a bit of a Renaissance man himself. He pops into his closet and returns with some of the t-shirts he’s whipped up under Kanye’s DONDA design studio umbrella for the 2011 Watch the Throne tour Kanye headlined along with Jay-Z. Of course, they’re done in black and white. And of course, they’re pretty bad ass. I ask Joe to try one on for me, and he kindly obliges. I then wish he had one in my size.
How do people react when they find out you work for Kanye?
“People have preconceived notions based on the media’s perception of people in the lime light. They usually have strong opinions and don’t hide what they think.”
Tell me about your experience working in fashion.
“It’s pretty basic. I’ve done a lot of research on jewelry and collections from the ’90s to the present. I ran a couple of fashion blogs with my brother. It was fun, and after a while you figure out that you can present yourself in a fashionable way within any budget; you just need to know where to shop and pay attention to when they have sales.”
What fashion advice could you give to others?
“Take the time to create your own look book of styles you like. I even take print outs to stores when shopping. Always buy complete looks that are interchangeable, so you can mix and match three looks to create five to seven.”
Favorite movie, director, clothing label, PVD restaurant, booze. Go.
“Casablanca, Nicholas Winding Refn, Burberry, Loie Fuller’s, Johnny Walker Black Label.”
It’s getting late now and I gather my things to leave; Joe’s off to meet his friend Eric at Animal Studio to do some more – you guessed it – work. Before we part, he turns back to me with a pause. “Above all else, I would like to thank Kanye for all of the opportunities throughout the years, and the honor to have worked on GOOD Music’s Cruel Summer.”