“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” – Coco Chanel
Swish Embassy is the brainchild of designer Dean Malka, who created this fantastically hilarious clothing line that specializes in making statement tee’s for the LGBT community that you actually want to wear out and about. Swish Embassy takes the best of pop culture, translates it in a classically Gay tongue-in-cheek style, and creates tees that are conversation starters in progress.
Since the brands official relaunch in 2014, Swish Embassy has gained a cult following with celebrities like Kathy Griffin and the queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race becoming addicted the brand’s cheeky designs. My personal favorite is the “American Gothic” tee featuring Joan Crawford and Bette Davis from the TV series ‘Feud.’
Dean Malka, Swish Embassy
Justin Howard for Black Chalk : Why fashion? What appeals to you about it?
Dean Malka : I’ve always been an avid collector of graphic tees. I always loved getting new ones and loved spotting funny, unusual or clever designs. That natural interest translated into wanting to make my own line. I didn’t like that a lot of the clothing targeting the gay community was poorly designed, crude, or overpriced. I thought there could be a happy medium where the design is better executed and the humor is a little more tongue in cheek. I wanted things that are fun to wear to a bar, but that you can also get away with wearing in mixed company without being too over the top.
Justin Howard : What is the message behind Swish Embassy? What sparked the idea for it?
Dean Malka : Swish Embassy’s slogan is: “Wear a conversation piece.” That’s exactly the message behind it. In a world where many people have moved from socializing in person to socializing on apps. It’s helpful to wear something that people will connect with and comment on to strike up a conversation. The art of approaching strangers is getting lost and we want to encourage people to get to know one another. Think of it as wearing a social ice-breaker, an excuse to meet people.
Justin Howard : As with most creative endeavors, Swish Embassy started out as a passion project right. Did you ever think that the brand would gain the cult following it has today?
Dean Malka : It did start as a bit of a passion project. And no, I never imagined it would gain as much of a following as it has. In Swish Embassy’s first iteration I was floored with how much demand there was for what we were putting out there. So much so, that the company was mothballed for a few years until I could dedicate the time and resources it needed. Today Swish Embassy can handle the volume. It’s incredibly rewarding to go out and see people wearing your clothing, especially when traveling to a different city or country.
Justin Howard : What one piece of advice would you give to someone looking to start a fashion line?
Dean Malka : The biggest piece of advice I’d have is not to mind the copycats. Whenever someone sees someone do something successfully they try to mimic it. We’ve had designs ripped off, our website design ripped off and so on. The key is to keep innovating and set the tone. People respect originality and innovation.
Justin Howard : What looks do you love to recommend from the collection?
Dean Malka : That’s a tough question. Swish Embassy covers so many styles from loud colors with brash designs to more traditional colors and minimal designs. One of my personal favorite designs are the series of lumberjack plaid outlines on athletic grey. I really love that mix of varsity and hipster.
Justin Howard : Does your designs reflect your personal fashion taste? Can you describe your style?
Dean Malka : I suppose they do, as half of them were designed by me personally. The rest were ideas that I had commissioned by one of the talented graphic designers we work with. My personal style, it’s very much a jeans and t-shirt kind of look usually with some bright colors. I used to work in suits all the time so I’m quite pleased to have a more casual look these days.
Justin Howard : What inspired your favorite shirt? Was it a moment in time?
Dean Malka : The “Masc4Masc” shirt is probably one of our most iconic designs. It was inspired by the propensity of guys to put long lists of likes and dislikes on apps like Grindr and Scruff. Putting “Masc4Masc” next to a chubby colorful unicorn was an irreverent nod to that practice. I think since then it’s become a bit taboo to do so.
Justin Howard : I like how customers can send in ideas! What are some of the ideas that made the cut?
Dean Malka : One of our customers had submitted a sketch of ruler with increasingly happy faces as the measurements got longer. It’s been one of our most popular designs. We updated it with emojis now so it stays current.
Justin Howard : How do you intend people to feel when wearing your pieces?
Dean Malka : Well, I mean at the end of the day we sell fun social t-shirts and accessories. So we want people to wear them while they’re out socializing and having fun. There’s no prescription for how to wear them. Do whatever feels right! We’ve seen people wear out designs dressed up with a jacket or with as little as a jockstrap.
Justin Howard : What do you enjoy most about designing clothes?
Dean Malka : I love just being out in the world and either seeing or hearing something funny and thinking of a way to turn that into a new design. I’ll often take notes on my phone when I hear something hilarious or see something I really find visually appealing. I derive inspiration from a great group of friends, from my surroundings in downtown Toronto, from media and naturally from pop-culture.
Justin Howard : If you could dress any celebrity, who would it be? And what piece would you have them wear from Swish Embassy?
Dean Malka : I think I would have to choose Chris Pratt. Apart from being a handsome fella he strikes me as a goofball. As being approachable and fun which exactly matches the persona of Swish Embassy. I’d probably put him in a Plaid Unicorn Tank Top.
Justin Howard : Swish Embassy is available online, of course. What retail stores carry Swish Embassy? In case people can’t wait to buy.
Dean Malka : Swish Embassy is available at brick & mortar stores in Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Montreal, Toronto, Sydney and Melbourne and other locations soon. We do keep a list of our stocklist on our website on the footer under “Retail Locations.”
Justin Howard : Are there any other areas of fashion you have plans to get into?
Dean Malka : We plan on expanding into underwear. We’re going to start of small and see how it goes. It’s a very different process than producing t-shirts on demand so we want to make sure we get it right.