No clothing brand sets out to become controversial via, of all platforms, TikTok. But perhaps when you mix dancing, religious iconography, swimwear and prayerful music by a faith duo, some amount of controversy is bound to come your way.
For Praying (@praying) the pinch-point came after Tiktokker @jaylampy danced to the tune of Sweet Jesus (AD74 Trap Remix) by south-west London Christian twins Zoe Grace, while wearing the LA/NYC label’s white Holy Trinity bikini (which bears the words “Father”, “Son” and “Holy Spirit” on the top and bottoms).
Users labelled this clip – which has been viewed 220,000 times, making it easily one of her most popular posts – insensitive, sinful or borderline satanic. Jay Lampy retorted that the criticism might be coming from an insidious place of misogyny rather than one of concern for the decline of modesty or the rise of blasphemy.
This response, with divergent interpretations of the company’s sloganeering, is nothing new to co-founder Alex Haddad (@alexanderstephenhaddad) – and, it seems, a by-product of their ethos. As he puts it, the company tries to “present, very clearly, something ambiguous”. Elaborating further, he says: “Praying as a concept is often a very clear image of someone on a rug. But the message or function of praying is extremely ambiguous. Are you talking with someone or no one; are you begging or being grateful?”
So, Praying leaves it up to the wearer to figure out what a polo with the slogan “Father Figure” could project. Equally, at a time where meaning, morality and altruistic narratives must be injected into any product, Haddad and co-founder Skylar Newman (@reachfortheskylar) simply seek to create things which bring them joy.
What was the thought process behind creating this brand?
Alex Haddad: Skylar and I have been friends forever and always wanted to do something together creatively. One day he and I were sitting in the Thai restaurant below my apartment very hungover making very stupid jokes – like the kinds of stuff your brain comes up with when it’s fried and edging complete breakdown. [And] we were attracted to that contradiction. So the idea of something both funny and anxiety-driving hung in the air for a while. When I showed Skylar a drawing of the word “praying” bending over to the side, we decided that was it: praying [is] something very powerful but also something that seems to be giving up.
Skylar Newman: At that time I had been making promotional clothes for a certain popular streaming service in addition to a software job. So we put together the first collection and started production.
How has your life influenced the brand and what it represents?
Newman: We would always talk about specific brain-dead moments in our lives that gave it meaning, or how an experience, no matter how specific, could give you an understanding of a broader subject and become a principle in your life. Praying isn’t just sitting in a church.
Haddad: I believe in God, but I think that’s almost unrelated to the brand, ha ha!
Newman: I don’t, but I like what Rob Bell says: that to define what God is, is missing the point.
Praying obviously brings to mind spiritual and religious themes. Do you feel there is a resurgence of young people turning to spirituality, especially in America, but also in a more practical and realist way?
Haddad: I think it’s hard to say what young people believe because religion is so complex and old. But I remember when I was a kid watching that Spongebob episode where Squidward makes him forget everything he knows except for fine dining and breathing. That seems like a very spiritual thing to me.
Newman: I didn’t catch that episode, but yeah. I think more than spirituality, I see more young people posting philosophy memes, and those end up being spiritual or religious in a way.
What was the thought process behind your store’s web-design? It heavily features pop-up ads, countdowns and motivational quotes, which I’m assuming is to trigger an ironic sense of urgency within the user…
Newman: That’s exactly right. I have a background in digital marketing for “adult” friend dating sites, medical software, e‑com et cetera, and some clients would have me make cursed sites designed to “close” and “sell” and “fuck someone now!” Before Covid I would travel to New York every month and Alex would laugh about how insane these tactics were. So we put them on our website.
Haddad: I think the tactics are working.
Princess Diana and Cicciolina are both referenced in your designs – what do they represent to you guys?
Haddad: We personally don’t really see these specific celebrities as people since they were before our time. So it’s easy for us to use an avatar for Diana or pretend Cicciolina is Mother Mary. Having never really grown up with these celebrities or knowing their personhood, it feels normal to transpose another identity onto them. Almost more normal.
Art direction & concept: Iris Luz
Photography: Rory Griffin
Make-up: Lily Bloom