Writer: Brianne Sanchez
Photographer: Duane Tinkey
Antony Muse is an unabashed fan of pop culture’s Next Hot Things and the people who define them—musicians, artists, filmmakers, social media celebrities. And the 23-year-old Des Moines-based streetwear designer himself is gaining traction in tastemaker circles, as big-name influencers are photographed in his limited-edition lines.
“I like to be a fan of people and have willed into the universe to be friends with people I’m fans of,” Muse says. “I have made a lot of connections putting myself out there.”
Muse was still an undergrad at the University of Iowa when his early designs—which started as doodles plastered to his bedroom walls—caught the attention of the New York-based rapper Skizzy Mars (@skizzy_mars; 198.6K followers).
“Skizzy is a really good curator of knowing what’s going to be cool in two years,” Muse says. A connection over Instagram turned into an invitation to work on designing merchandise and meet-and-greet backdrops for the rapper’s tour. Muse flew to New York mid-semester and can’t believe he still managed to cobble together enough credits to graduate on time last year with a degree in liberal studies, writing and the arts.
The experience of touring, which exposed him to a large and vibrant creative community— combined with Muse’s own natural conviviality—has helped him expand his network. Still, launching a streetwear brand was somewhat of a pipe dream, Muse admits. He had a friend teach him how to use Adobe Illustrator to scan, trace and vectorize his drawings, but for the fashion design and merchandising training, he credits online tutorials.
“I don’t think people give enough credit that they can literally learn anything on YouTube,” Muse says.
He’s also benefited from the mentorship of his cousin, Willy Muse, a senior designer at J.Crew, and business manager Lawrence Neil for helping him strategize and scale up. Willy says he and Antony chat at least once a week “about anything and everything.” Still, he adds, “As much as I’ve helped him, he’s done everything by himself.”
Indeed, Antony Muse largely is a one-man shop (museclothing.co). “I fold everything. I quality inspect everything. I do the shipping,” he says.
Up to late 2020, designing, creating promotional content and mailing pieces had been manageable because his collections are limited-edition capsules run at a scale designed to sell out. But a retailing deal with Von Maur launched in December (on the heels of a surprise endorsement from Kylie Jenner) has Muse feeling optimistic about growth.
“The way you push anything now is through influencing,” he says.
But as Business Insider reported in 2019, Jenner can command around $1.2 million per promotional Instagram post, an amount decidedly not in the budget for a fledgling designer whose shipping center is the spare room in a townhouse.
Muse’s “Kylie moment” came—as he pieced it together—in somewhat of a “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” storyline. Jenner was seen sporting a sweatshirt that Muse hears she got from her close friend Anastasia Karanikolaou (@stassiebaby; 9.5M followers), who in turn must have borrowed it from vlogger Sydney Carlson (@sydneylcarlson; 652.8K followers), to whom Muse had sent a sweatshirt.
He says the original Carlson connection had come through his writing work, which underpins the creative direction of his streetwear. The ethos of both is a kind of embracing of humanity, the fragility of people and the planet, and a more inclusive vibe than he’s used to seeing from other more expensive and counterculture brands. (His wear typically sells for $50-$70.)
“I think the difference in what he’s making is it’s truly genuine,” says Willy Muse. “He’s not trying to be anything he’s not, and that’s why people like him.”
“I’m extremely grateful,” Antony Muse says, “to whatever force is working in my favor right now.”