Design Darlings Turn Beauty Into Queer Resistance
Gabriel Hendifar and Jeremy Anderson helm the five-year-old design studio Apparatus, renowned for its undeniably sexy chandeliers and unimpeachable aesthetic. The duo has been known to throw a killer party and their latest, a fundraiser and silent auction for The Center with MC Justin Vivian Bond, just might be its best yet. Text and photos Sean Santiago. Interview edited & condensed.
Sean Santiago: How did you first become familiar with The Center and the work that they do?
Gabriel Hendifar: We went to their annual dinner and found it really inspiring; both of us have come to a point in our lives and our careers where we feel that we can give back. Thinking about the experiences that we had as kids growing up in our respective communities and what it felt like to feel “other,” we realized how important and how amazing it is for there to be a place for young people to go. To feel that there’s a place that has your back. We got really emotional while they were talking about the kid’s youth camp. It really hit a chord.
Jeremy Anderson: We went on a tour of the space at the time that they were renovating looking for an opportunity to help out.
GH: I remember both of us going and thinking, ‘God, I wish I’d had this experience when I was a kid.’ Seeing ten-to-seventeen-year-old queer kids coming to a space where they can feel that they’re a part of a community, that was amazing. So it’s been kind of a no-brainer. And it was definitely around that Pulse moment where it became really scary and really real and all of our instincts were to say, 'What can we do? Who do we fight? How do we put our energy in a direction that is important and effective?’ It seemed the most effective thing that we could do was to put our energy behind things already happening in our community that felt like the opposite of that darkness and fear.
SS: Thinking local and prioritizing that face-to-face interaction and connection is so impactful. And for the actual event all of the proceeds are going to The Center?
JA: 100% of what is raised is going to the center. We’re offering up the space and underwriting the cost of the event, so every penny spent for tickets, the money raised at auction — everything goes to them.
GH: Hopefully we raise lots and lots of money! Ultimately it’s about the work that they’re doing; if we feel we can throw our resources in that direction, which is not just about what we can give as Apparatus, but also about leveraging the relationships we have in the design community, then we can really have an impact that's bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s really inspiring in a moment when it feels like the world is sort of spiraling out of control to know that there are these moments when the community can get behind one thing and move an agenda forward.
SS: That’s so hard to tap into, that feeling that you can really mobilize. It’s so easy to feel stuck.
GH: Again, it's really about us, in whatever humble way, getting behind the work that they are already doing. They are shouldering the burden and the responsibility and doing all of these amazing things on a daily basis. We were particularly drawn to the youth programming because it feels like that is one of the most vulnerable parts of our community. If we think about how we communicate and interact with the world as a whole as queer people, I think it’s in those formative years that you come to understand who you are in relation to the world. It’s important to lay a foundation for success in life [and to] create healthy perceptions early. And The Center has an incredible substance abuse program, one of the only ones of its kind that specifically caters to young, LGBTQ people. It feels like important foundational work that some of us didn't have.
JA: When I was growing up I didn't have any sort of gay community—
GH: —or even references—
JA: —exactly, growing up in the eighties and early ‘90s I didn’t have any of that, so it's kind of the one area of my life where I feel like I was really in need of something and I wish that something like this [youth programming] had existed for me. That really drew us in.
SS: I get worried with the current political climate about how to disseminate those ideals to kids in like, Kansas. How do you foster that sense of connectedness when people are so actively working against it?
GH: For us it feels just as important to take a public stand [as Apparatus] as it does to have an event to counteract the vile language and rhetoric floating around. It's all the same idea of throwing our energy in a positive direction, because it's so easy to feel like things are moving against us.
SS: That idea of making private views public, of politicizing these different channels we all have available now and the responsibility we each have to our audiences — after the safety pin debacle and all of the points made about the idea that that kind of “allyship” isn’t really allyship...but I was at Target recently and I saw this woman wearing a tote bag from NYU’s queer resource center and I had this kind of visceral reaction. It was just comforting. I know it’s just a tote bag—
GH: But it’s not. Visibility is especially important in such a visual culture. We’re all documenting our lives and are so invested in image-making and consumption. Visibility is key. It's like, I don’t know, when Will & Grace was a thing it was that moment where you saw oh, ok, so now we’re visible and this exists and I have something to model myself after, or even just to feel connected to. And it’s something that we struggle with as a brand because I think the impulse, generally, is to not make a very public political statement. The safe thing to do is to say that we have our relationships with our clients and we can privately take our resources and do what we want with them. But to make that statement as a brand is a bigger step.
JA: But I do think we’ve done it.
GH: We’ve consciously done it as a brand. And it’s really interesting to see in the news the way it plays out for brands getting behind a certain agenda or not, and what that does to them publicly.
SS: It’s again that culture of visibility where we know that so and so has spoken out against XYZ and we have the Google Doc with the businesses to boycott and all of that. And it’s true, if you’re Facebook and you’re controlling so much of the way people are engaging with and interpreting the world, you’re really culpable. Please, stand up for something good. Business and politics are getting much less separated. People are realizing that someone is profiting and they want to know how and why. Are you exploiting people? It feels like it's time to demand accountability.
GH: All of this feels very wrapped up in what, to me, is maybe the root of all of this evil: the idea that corporations are people. It’s a very conservative, right-wing idea of business and economics. And the flip side of that is, ok, if we’re existing in that climate and taking it at face value that corporations are people, then our corporation or whatever we’re calling this, it needs to have a conscience. If there is the opposite of that, where a corporation is a person and can really fuck things up, then we have to also play that game with what we view as the opposite goal and work towards the greater good.
SS: It’s very strange because it is such an upheaval of the system, and how do you navigate that? Especially when everyone is a brand and you can profit off of your silence—cough, cough Taylor Swift.
GH: In a time like this I remember that the core of what we do is to try to create beauty. It’s easy to say, well, that's not really important. But to remember that we can create beauty and we can put the energy of a community that does that behind a cause, that feels very powerful and very affirming of the reason we exist in the world in the way that we do. Which feels like the opposite of this impulse for ugliness and division. So it’s not only affirming what we do, but it’s helping to move that energy in a direction to help counteract the dark Cheeto cloud, or whatever you want to call it.
SS: I like that. The dark Cheeto cloud. But I think that that’s a really good point — a lot of the people you’re rallying together feel that way, that their work focuses on an aesthetic and how can that be substantive? What I do doesn’t feel significant anymore, but I can’t just stop functioning. So how do you meld political consciousness with your day-to-day, which can't just be what it was.
GH: I think it comes back to visibility. So much of what we do is the product, yes, but the backstage of that is creating a place where 40 employees of all different backgrounds get to come on a daily basis and work towards a shared goal and have great healthcare. We can control this microcosm and try to make it an idea of what we think the world should be and hope that that is somehow an example that guides the conversation. An example that shows that you can do this, and that all of these economic concerns aren't really there. There are moments when we’re like, ‘Who wants another fucking chandelier?’ and we’re reminded that it’s all feeding this larger idea. It’s about more than just making a product.
SS: That informs Cakeboy a lot as well, putting energy into something that maybe counteracts the bad and creates space for existing in a different way, on different terms.
GH: It’s like that moment you described seeing that bag. I think that happens on so many levels, that moment of realizing oh, here’s a version of the world that I want to see and it does exist and that gives me hope, or the inspiration to continue to make things that move in this direction. Because I see that it’s possible.