We met with Tyler, The Creator's Creative Sidekick Phil Toselli
At first glance, the name Phil Toselli may not ring any bells for many of you, and for good reason. While choosing to keep a low profile, there’s definitely a chance that you’re familiar with his work, especially once we tell you that he’s the man responsible for bringing to life all of Tyler, the Creator’s dreams and hopes for his fashion label Golf Wang. As with most things, we the audience only see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creative ventures helmed by our idols, creating the illusion that all credits falls upon them. Not to say no credit is due, as the idea itself needs to come from someone in the first place. What comes next is finding the right team of creatives, talented people to help bring that idea into fruition. Like every entrepreneur, they have their own vision–the sketches and rambling notes–but one can only do so much on their own.
Cue the middle-man, the person responsible for taking all of these loose sheets of scribbles and footnotes and turn them into something real. Tyler found his middle-man with Phil Toselli. After working at Vans as an Art Director for several years, Toselli joined Tyler and the gang during the height of the Odd Future era, and has been a part of the family ever since. With the massive impact and success of Golf Wang’s debut fashion show in Los Angeles now cemented into the books, we wanted to learn more about what it takes to be Tyler, the Creator’s right-hand guy. Phil was gracious enough to join us at our LA office for a chat about his inspirations, to tell us more about what his role entails, and what his daily routine looks like working with the likes of Tyler.
After doing some research on your name, there’s actually not much information about you on the internet, so our first question is, “who are you”?
I’m an artist, a designer, an LA native and a wizard. I was lucky enough to link up with Tyler, the Creator in the early days, and we hit it off right away. We’ve been working together ever since.
For those of us who aren’t familiar with what it means to be a designer and creative director, could you explain that role for you personally?
It’s like being a wrangler for a wild horse in a lot of ways. I constantly have a barrage of ideas coming in and going out, and I need to keep track of it all and make it happen.
What’s it like working with Tyler on a daily basis?
It’s a lot of communication and collaboration. It’s about having a plan of action for when his ideas come in–his sketches–he’s very visual and very involved. But in terms of getting that stuff to actually happen is what I do. So, there’s a lot of texting–all day, every day–and there’s a lot of sending images back and forth.
It’s about having a plan of action for when his ideas come in–his sketches–he’s very visual and very involved.
What did you do before you started working with Tyler of Golf Wang?
I was an Art Director at Vans for around 6-7 years. That was my first real gig in design and I learned a lot there and made some great friends. Eventually, the higher-ups and I had some differences of opinion, so when that chapter ended, I was introduced to the Golf Wang guys through my artist friend Donny Miller. They needed someone to help them get their brand up and running and I was immediately thrown in the fire.
Is your main focus on apparel, or are you involved in all categories?
My focus is mainly clothing, but the whole operation is all one thing–it’s all part of Tyler’s world. Initially it was the whole Odd Future crew, but now I’m focused on Golf Wang and Tyler. So I help with the touring and the Camp Flog Gnaw carnival/music festival we do every year in LA, which is growing at a huge rate–It started in 2012 with 3,000 people in attendance and last year it was two days with 60,000 people coming! It’s a super collaborative team so even though I contribute with graphics and background stuff, we all push things further and get it to where it ends up.
I don’t know if it’s me getting older, but i’ve really been inspired by plants lately. It’s crazy how nature can make the most beautiful things without even trying.
Where do you get your creative inspirations from?
Skateboarding, like pretty much 100%. That and music. I found skateboarding first, which had me hanging out with older kids, which then lead me to punk rock and hip hop. I would study the magazines and photos and stare at board graphics and ads for days and then I knew that was it. I went down the rabbit hole and never looked back. There’s so much visual inspiration there–things to pull and learn from and so much commentary on this weird life we’re all living. I don’t know if it’s me getting older, but i’ve really been inspired by plants lately. It’s crazy how nature can make the most beautiful things without even trying.
Were you involved from the very beginning of Odd Future and Tyler himself?
Kind of. I met him in 2011, and it was right before the first Odd Future tour. So they were already well known in their own little circle, but they were then starting to become more well known globally. And then shortly after Tyler won the VMA award, which led to more notoriety, and then their clothing line became bigger, and it just blew up from there. It was all so quick. It was like hanging on to a rocket for a while.
From your perspective, what are the main differences between being a Creative Director for a brand versus an artist?
With a brand, there are so many rules and people to say either “yes” or “no.” There’s just so many people to answer to–it’s a huge chain all trying to protect their vision or maybe just their job. With Tyler, it’s just him basically. There’s no “brand” to protect or market to the public, It’s just his vision and how he wants it. That’s it. Plus we’re a really small team, so it’s much easier, much quicker, no politics–it’s just pretty straightforward, so it’s a nice change.
With a brand, there are so many rules and people to say either “yes” or “no.” There’s just so many people to answer to -- it’s a huge chain all trying to protect their vision or maybe just their job. With Tyler, it’s just him basically.
What about any creative arguments or egos involved?
None. For whatever reason, we click really well. There’s some mutual respect going on. I definitely give my input and opinion, but there’s never any sort of battle. I’ll tell him if I think something sucks or is stupid, but we’ll do it anyway and it’ll end up being really good. So it’s more just about communication and some trust between us.
How did it feel when you debuted your fashion show at MADE LA last year?
Amazing. It was incredible. It was really cool, it came together in a way that couldn’t have worked out better. I’m still blown away with how big of a production it was. The team from MADE was super rad to work with and our team always kills it.
What was the reason behind bringing Golf Wang into the fashion world in that way?
It was definitely not a natural thing, and we wouldn’t have pursued it ourselves, but they came and asked us, and we thought 'shit, why not.' That was a big opportunity to be able to do something like that. We’re just a small brand that does things that we like and makes us happy, or makes us laugh, so to be approached by someone who runs New York Fashion Week, and do it on that scale, it was like… oh man… It was a lot of fun!
How was the planning done with the team behind New York Fashion Week? Was there a lot of restrictions put upon you?
They were awesome! They were really receptive, and Tyler is one charming dude. As soon as you meet him, you get what he’s about and you want to help to make his things real. So they understood him, they got his jokes, and were super willing and on board the whole time.
We’re just a small brand that does things that we like and makes us happy, or makes us laugh, so to be approached by someone who runs New York Fashion Week, and do it on that scale, it was like… oh man… It was a lot of fun!
Were you surprised about the impact the show made?
Well, I kind of expected that, but it was a trip still to watch it all, and be covered by Vogue and Hollywood Reporter and other big media outlets. It was everywhere and everyone was into it.
Can you tell us more about the Golf Le Fleur shoe line that made its first appearance at the MADE LA show, and why you decided to go in-house as opposed to continue to collaborate with the likes of Vans?
The shoes have yet to release. The first samples were shown at the MADE LA show–they were pretty good, like 85% done but we’re still tweaking and refining to get them just right. They’re going to be available soon. As for the reason for doing it, it’s mostly for creative control. To not be on someone’s timeline, and not not be told “no.” Basically when you’re working with an already established brand, you’re working with their aesthetic too, and their salespeople and channels to a point where everything has to line up. With us, we can go out and do whatever we want–we have all that freedom.
So with this shoe line, there’s no other brand backing it up?
It’s fully independent.
Is it going to be a skate shoe?
It’ll be skateable! That’s not its intent though, but I think having it skateable is something that’s pretty important to us.
Basically when you’re working with an already established brand, you’re working with their aesthetic too, and their salespeople and channels to a point where everything has to line up. With us, we can go out and do whatever we want–we have all that freedom.
Are you also involved in this? With finding the right factory and the right people to get involved?
Yeah we talked to a few different factories and ended up with the one that we think gets it, and can manufacture the right product in the right time frame with the right materials.
Talking about collaborations, everyone saw the Golf x adidas pieces at the MADE LA show. Can you tell us about that too?
I don’t know how much I can say about that… but it was done by adidas by a guy Tyler met through Kanye. And then we just wanted to try to get that process started. They were cool enough to have their sewing house make that in time for the show. Props to Jon and Drake from adidas!
Are you able to share where the collaboration will be released, when and what it’s all about? Also, is it with adidas Originals?
It hasn’t been talked about to that extent, so unfortunately no. Again they have their own timeline, so they can’t just drop that whenever.
So lastly, what’s the next step for Golf Wang now?
Oh man, I don’t know. I haven’t even thought about that. Just keep doing what we’re doing, evolve naturally and try new things. The [Camp Flog Gnaw] Carnival is coming up again. Right now i’m just full of gratitude and want to say thanks to everyone: Tyler, Clancy, Brad, John, Terie, Darren, the 4 Strikes and OF crew, Donny & Eric P, and especially Lulu! I love you all. You too Benny, thanks for contacting me.
Words: Benjamin Benichou