In the absence of any clear fashion identity, Denver has been something of a Wild West, allowing budding designers a great deal of creative freedom and a certain lack of both direction and restraints. It was from this limbo that Adrian Long emerged, determined to forge his creative vision from a range of sources outside of the confines of runway, streetwear or any other traditional designation. His brand, adrian. has developed both as a line of products — including men’s and women’s footwear, neatly-embellished outerwear, face masks, scarves and shawls — and a range of services, spanning wardrobe styling, event fashion consulting and clothing care. Based around inclusivity, all items are created with intentional ignorance of gender designations, made only to help any outfit pop. “Let them do with it whatever the hell they want to do,” said Long.
Born in Denver, Adrian is the son of former Nuggets player Willie Long. Throughout his childhood, he moved to Doraville, Georgia, outside of Atlanta. Shortly thereafter he relocated to Hawaii with his mom, where he says he had his first experience of race. “Are you from here?” he remembered frequently peppered his interactions. Returning to Denver his senior year, Long had already attended four different high schools and three middle schools, imparting the feeling of being forever on the edges. While the dislocation was uncomfortable at the time, it has helped inform Long’s sui generis approach.
Last year marked Long’s 25th year in the service industry. Beginning with bussing tables at the local Village Inn, he made a dramatic leap to the Brown Palace at the age of 17. From 2010 – 2013 he worked as the regional director of Tom and Eddy’s in Illinois, returning to Denver for stints at Terminal Bar and the Halcyon rooftop. It was his time at the now-shuttered there… that seemed to sow the initial seeds for his leap into fashion. “It was a whole business built upon making people comfortable enough to be whoever they are,” said Long. “It was the first time in my life I was gonna show up and they weren’t gonna tell me what to wear. You fell into your groove organically based on who you were”
Despite Long being fairly new to the trade, the brand is drenched in enough personal philosophy to carry it as he continues to blossom as a designer. “This is year one. I started teaching myself to sew before COVID hit,” he said. The creative vision is unequivocally there, each additional item filling out the scaffolding of a unified concept still in the making.
Long views the lack of fashion role models largely as a blessing. “I’m not a fashion designer lover. I don’t know any fashion designers, I don’t know one. I didn’t need confidence, I just didn’t know,” smiled Long of the pleasures of creating in the periphery. Instead Long draws his inspiration from history, liberation, war, cinema, books and music. “I’m not shy to celebrate the hardships that put us here.”
“I don’t like the whole unisex thing,” said Long of the stifling ambiguity found in many designs built to meet in the middle. “In my line, the guy is the rockstar and the girl does what girls do, she steals his clothes,” he laughed. Rockstar fashion has always been androgynous, adrian. does a good job of channeling the undifferentiated glam so often associated with icons of all descriptions. “It stays in line with the inclusivity,” noted Long. “We’re our best when we’re two, you can’t do that, that originally comes from gender assignments,” he said of the early prevention that too often comes packed in with gender norms.
His garments are really about confidence. “We miss a lot of opportunities that would instill confidence in others that don’t take anything from us. You did something big and didn’t break stride doing it,” he said. While each piece is meant to inspire self-assurance in the wearer, Long hopes that the feeling will be contagious.
While starting a brand amidst a pandemic is not for the faint of heart, Long says there has been some inspiration and a whole lot of time to focus on design and production that otherwise would have been impossible. He says fashion also can be used to maintain some sense of normalcy. “To not be able to go out and feel yourself when everything around you has changed, that’s tough,” said Long. While adrian. is currently in its infancy, Long’s designs and the ambitious scope of his overall vision show that there’s plenty to be excited about.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.