When planning their fashion shows, Cvllejerx co-founder Angélica Maria Millán Lozano is used to looking at her partner, Maximiliano, with suspicion.
Once, while the duo were digging through the giant troughs of rejected clothes at the Goodwill Outlet in Sellwood—where they find most of their materials—the mononymous Maximiliano unearthed a massive, tattered net.
"It was really gross and dirty, and clearly a kid's soccer net that was discarded," says Millán Lozano. "I was like, 'What the fuck are you doing with this?'"
The net became one of the most prominent materials at Super Tantrum, Cvllejerx's show at last year's Time-Based Arts Festival. Some models wore nets like chain mail. Millán Lozano made gold lace veils with zippers to expose the models' eyes, and chunks of soccer net that draped over the back of their heads.
"If we question if a thing can be a garment," says Millán Lozano, "that is usually the best garment."
Cvllejerx (pronounced "kuhl-yuh-HEHR-ex") is not exactly a fashion line. It's sold a few clothes through its guerrilla fashion shows, but has no retail platform or commercial ambitions. All of its materials are up-cycled, and neither Maximiliano nor Millán Lozano has any formal seamster training. Their shows are more like a communal, riotous game of dress-up. There is no runway, and the models style themselves from a heap of clothes Millán Lozano brings in a suitcase.
In a sense, the project is a playful retort to the clean lines and steep prices of high fashion. Cvllejerx derives its name from a degendering of the word "callejero," which loosely means street person or hooligan. It's intended to trip people up.
"That kind of mimics what immigrants experience when they're learning English," says Millán Lozano, whose family moved from Colombia to the United States when she was 12.
More than anything, Cvllejerx is a burst of self-expression and liberation—clothes are just the conduit, she says. "A lot of why we came together was about celebrating who we are and having sort of an attitude about it. It's about being unapologetic, not being reserved, rowdy. And it just makes it fun, to be honest."
Cvllejerx held its first show in Millán Lozano's living room in summer 2016, when she and Maximiliano were graduate students at Pacific Northwest College of Art. Their friends were both the models and the audience. They wore oversized overalls spattered with bleach, patchwork button- downs, and pink jeans with massive chunks cut out.
Initially, Millán Lozano just saw Cvllejerx as a lighthearted outlet. It was a project without plans or ambitions, but it still had a working philosophy. "We were very intentional about going against what is conventional and what is considered fashion, like a well-tapered jacket or complimentary colors," says Millán Lozano. "We were very intentional about going against any sort of European standard of beauty."
But Cvllejerx's rebellious spirit is often more general and, according to Millán Lozano, usually driven by Maximiliano. "He's always going against, 'Oh, people think this thing is ugly, I'm going to use it,'" she says. "Which is actually really beautiful in a way. I feel like it creates a lot of possibilities for things I might not always consider."
On one of Cvllejerx's trips to the Goodwill Outlet, Maximiliano dug up a giant green suit meant for someone who works in an industrial freezer. Millán Lozano was once again apprehensive.
"First of all, I was thinking, practically, this is too heavy, all of our money is going to go to this," she says. "I didn't see any beauty in it, I guess."
But Maximiliano insisted they buy it. For an artists residency near Sisters, Ore., they cut the legs off the suit. The green tubes of insulated fabric had copper zippers along the side, so Millán Lozano and Maximiliano wore them over their heads partially unzipped, like a clunky hood. In the cold, wet mountains, they were even kind of functional.
"Those are so fucking cool," says Millán Lozano. "Those things came out of that giant green suit that I hated."
Not long after that, Cvllejerx began operating in a slightly more official capacity. The duo began receiving grant funding for their shows, performing at arts venues like c3:Initiative. They held a show called Dirty Laundry at DIY art space S1 the weekend of Donald Trump's inauguration. Participants performed poetry and wore Cvllejerx's bleached-soaked buttoned-downs, sequined shirts and freezer-suit hoods. Attendees each made their own version of the American flag with materials Cvllejerx provided. The flags were hung on clotheslines across S1's basement venue.
"We screamed, 'Here to stay!' at S1," says Millán Lozano, "and people were wearing those garments to say that. I think that sort of agency the garments carry."
Last September, the duo held Super Tantrum at TBA. It was their biggest show yet, and debuted a heightened, otherworldly aesthetic. The set design looked like some kind of psychedelic desert utopia. Models wrapped themselves in massive sheets of sequin and floral fabric, and wore Cvllejerx's soccer-net hoods and gold veils. Some wore unicorn horns, butterfly wings or both. One model started with a raglike, oversized gray dress. "I think he had like three or four layers on top of that," says Millán Lozano. "It just really looked like this creature that came out of the rainbow, or a Teletubby throwing up or something."
Cvllejerx's most recent show, Ropa Vieja, was perhaps its most traditional. Held last spring, the show was a collaboration with Park Hyun Gi, a relatively more "conventional" designer. Still, Ropa Vieja was nothing like a typical runway show. The models—including sculptor and Ori Gallery co-owner Maya Vivas—wore Park's bondage-inspired streetwear and performed a ritual under red lighting that involved juicing a tattooed orange.
Millán Lozano still sees Cvllejerx as a somewhat abstract idea.
"I've been surprised how it has been perceived as fashion," she says. "A lot of the times, I think the things that we make are ridiculous, and completely non-functional. You can't actually wear a net on your face just walking down the street."
A least for now, Cvllejerx isn't looking to define itself any more stringently. It's mostly a party, but with a point.
"You don't have to have money or be part of a certain class to also create beautiful garments," says Millán Lozano. "That's what I think is so exciting about clothing being this medium of art—it's very generous and a lot of people can participate in it."