In Los Angeles, stars are not so much born as handcrafted, in Seth Pratt's case out of body stocking, milliner's mesh and industrial-strength spray glue. The 28-year-old stylist from Paragould is gaining a reputation among ascending pop stars for outfits with viral appeal, such as the "Barbarella"-inspired two-piece worn by Ariana Grande in her latest video, "Break Free."
Pratt came to L.A.'s attention in particular for his work with Brooke Candy, the 25-year-old former stripper who at this point seems primed to out-do Lady Gaga as leader of the pop avant-garde. Among Candy's most memorable outfits are the futuristic, full-body metallic suits created for her by Pratt, which Candy made famous in fashion magazines and music videos. Or perhaps it was the other way around?
By L.A. standards, Pratt is probably a bit too pale and a bit too skinny, but he is also darkly handsome, with a ring through his septum like a bull. He moved to L.A. from Paragould in 2007, after scoring an internship over MySpace with designer Brian Lichtenberg. "It was exciting for a kid from Arkansas," he told me over the phone from his Boyle Heights studio in downtown Los Angeles. "I kind of got lucky. I dropped right into what was cool and, like, the underground scene."
One of his first tasks as an intern was making stage wear for M.I.A., the artist perhaps best known to mainstream America for raising her middle finger at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2012. Back then she was a little-known art-school graduate from England, and the most refreshing thing in pop after Britney burned out. Pratt says they made "all this hologram, futuristic stuff," for M.I.A. to wear on stage, adopting early the move away from bare midriffs and pierced belly buttons toward pop music as high art. After finishing with Lichtenberg's studio, Pratt fell into a variety of hustles: lingerie, retouching — filling in the time until his big break would come.
She arrived wearing a studded vest and from certain angles looked like a young Madonna. Her name was Brooke Candy, and Pratt met her through his first-ever boyfriend. (Growing up Church of Christ in Paragould, Pratt didn't come out until he was 23. Of growing up religious, he says, "I am a better person for it.")
If Pratt's talent was to make the kinds of outfits that established an artist as a trailblazer, Candy's was that she was utterly fearless when it came to what she would wear. She had broken down any hang-ups as an exotic dancer in strip clubs, and Pratt made her the most fashion-forward stripper wear in Los Angeles, "skimpy little thong-bikinis out of repurposed Louis Vuitton handbags and things like that," he said.
But Candy had decided she wanted a career in music — as a rapper, to be precise (Brooke Candy is not a stage name, but her birth name), so Pratt made her outfits for that, too. Sometimes he would perform backup for her on stage, as a persona he created called "Closet Boy." Speaking to Pratt on the phone, it's very hard to imagine, since he comes across as very shy. Nevertheless, in the background of some of Candy's older videos you can sometimes spot "Closet Boy," wearing little dark glasses and nodding along to the beat.
They were incredibly close, living together in a run-down artist's loft in Echo Park, and later in Candy's apartment. Sometimes, she would get the urge to get tattoos, and she would pay for Pratt to come with her and get tattooed as well. Today he has an "Arkansas" tattoo on his neck, "Now We're Talkin" on one pec, and a quote from Valeria Lukyanova, sometimes known as "Russian Barbie," on his arm. ("People aren't going to want to listen to a nun talk about spirituality, but they will the Russian Barbie," he told me. "They'll look and listen. And that's the idea.") He also has BROOKE CANDY spelled out in neat block letters on his left bicep, surrounded by a simple heart outline. "My best friend proved his undying love for me @sethpratt" Candy posted on Instagram. "You are my baby angel lover girl."
Because their lives were intertwined, their breakthrough was a shared affair also. It came after Canadian musician Grimes contacted Candy about starring in her upcoming music video. For costume inspiration, Grimes sent Pratt a Google image of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
The resulting video, "Genesis," was released in 2012 and is now considered an indie-music classic, largely because of Candy. Or perhaps because of the metallic silver Seth Pratt suit he created for her. Either way, it winked as brightly as freshly polished rims under the California sun as she writhed and gyrated for the camera. Later, Grimes emailed Pratt to tell him, "Your outfit made the video."
More videos followed, with both Pratt and Candy shredding the fashion envelope. Pratt began to receive commissions from other musicians, like the rapper Azealia Banks, who got him to create an outfit for her performance at an affair called the "Mermaid Ball," and a loopy Estonian pop star named Kerli. Yet another of his designs was modeled by the British supermodel Agyness Deyn.
Meanwhile, Candy was approached by Nicola Formichetti, who as Lady Gaga's chief stylist was behind such looks as the infamous and terrifying meat dress of 2010. Pratt says that Formichetti was very respectful; he wanted to style for Candy but he didn't want to step on anyone's toes. But Pratt was fine with it. "I was living with her and working for her and it all got so much and I was not doing what I needed to be doing for myself, you know?" he told me.
That included working on his own menswear line, Pratt, which unlike his costume line is more wearable (relative to which part of the country you get dressed in). One of "fanciest" pieces in the collection is a T-shirt with hand-sewn muscles, a literal "muscle T" that he wants girls to wear, too. He doesn't have a women's range yet, but when he does he probably won't get Candy to model it.
Which is not to say that they're not still very close. When I spoke to Pratt on the phone, Candy had just texted him about coming to her video shoot the next day. "She wants to make me 'albino,'" he said, sounding a little bit reluctant but also resigned to it. "I don't really want to get my eyebrows bleached and dyed back again, but I guess I will ..."