Interview by R.K.
Photographed by: Chiara Glionna
Styled by: Efrem Damiani
MUA by: Today I’m Wearing Prada

This article is part of the “Hopefully Tomorrow” issue

Explicit Visual Content included 🔞

Experimental. Avant-garde. Indefinable? Fashion-forward. Innovative. Progressive. I suppose these descriptors get us closer to knowing who Efrem Damiani is, one thing is for certain however: After looking at Efrem’s Instagram account (@efetishism), you’ll wish you dressed the way he does.

He’s a model, a fashion designer, a 23-year-old artist of Syrian-Italian origin who is currently turning out looks and collaborating with highly sought after designers in London. After attending a design school in Milan, Efrem designed a collection inspired by the all-powerful illuminati that allegedly controls our consumer-driven minds… yes please. The designs reclaim symbols associated with the illuminati  as something that is our own. This idea of “reclaiming” is essentially Efrem’s vision and philosophy as an artist. He reclaims his Arab identity and physical appearance with his unibrow, reclaims his sexuality by attaching d*ldos to his clothes, and reclaims his role as a consumer with his irreverent styles and designs. 

Suit – Ralph Lauren; White shirt – GAP

Efrem grew up in the small town of Taranto, Italy, and was raised by his Italian mother and his Syrian father, who was a refugee. Efrem’s father was always a positive influence, making sure that their cultural identity wasn’t erased “He never let us watch too much Western TV, he definitely didn’t want us to be whitewashed” Efrem shares. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to make Efrem feel rooted in his Arab identity. During the early 2010’s, when ISIS was notoriously doing its worst, Efrem wasn’t comfortable sharing his Syrian heritage with his classmates, and was met with ridicule and derision when he did. This was most of his experience in his small Italian community. “There simply weren’t enough Arab people around, and the ones that were there were competitive in a homogenous culture where we all tried to fit in,” Efrem shared.

A whole new world opened up for Efrem when he moved to Milan. All of a sudden, he was being celebrated for his gender expression, for his Arab identity, and, most importantly, for who he simply was as a person. He finally had space to come into his own. It was here that Efrem began modeling, and because of his own unique style, other students’ sought him out to model in their collections.  

Faux Furry Jacked – vintage; Skirt – vintage; Laced Sabeau (footwear) – customized Efetishism

Fashion school was not easy, and Efrem devoted his time and energy to develop his style and design skills. All of which culminated in his own brand called Efetishism (@efetishism). With bold colors, genderless fits and shillouiettes, and experimetal materials and textures, Efrem has developed a totally unique and contemporary line that we all wish we had the confidence to wear in our daily life. His latest drop was of a yellow crop top with the phrase “Hot Cozy Arab” written across the front. Modeled by himself and others, it’s the kind of top that any queer Arab will want ASAP!

“The obstacles I have experienced personally and professionally have made me want to speak out for queer Arabs. COVID has f*cked things up, especially for us, and we cannot be with the community that makes us stronger.”

Efram Damiani

Boots – Miguel Jones; Thong – KINIKI Underwear

So why the name Efetishism? What does it mean? “Of course there is a sexual connotation to it,” he shared, “but it mainly refers to the theory of ‘commodity fetishism’ by Karl Marx. I wanted to subvert how we usually engage with products and commodities and reclaim the power they have over us.” Originally, commodity fetishism referred to the relationship between a person and the object, when one saw the object as possessing inherent symbolic value or sacred status rather than being a product of someone’s labor. This might happen now via design or storytelling, and makes consumers almost idealize the consumer product. For example, a Chanel handbag comes to represent status and chic-ness rather than the outcome of intensive and costly labor, giving it almost human powers that can act back upon the individual consumer. It is essentially a fancy way of pointing out how consumers have become so alienated from the chain of production and have been enveloped in consumerism. Efetishism plays with this idea in a self-aware way, making obvious the ideals that the clothes and the brand represent to highlight that they are mere objects. The design and presentation boldly express sexual freedom, open gender identity expression, and ethnic pride at once. 

Denim Skirt – vintage; Shawl – vintage

Efrem now lives in London, where he designs for Nigerian-born designer Mowalola, a quickly rising star in the UK fashion scene. “I love the messages she puts in her designs, and she paints her Nigerian culture with so much generosity” he shared. He is also currently occupied with designing his new line, which is inspired by his own Arab heritage and based on research of Middle Eastern designs and styles he has undertaken since the start of the pandemic. However, the commercial challenges designers face are not lost on him. Though Efrem was able to experiment freely with Efetishism and be as avant-garde as he wanted, he now has to figure out how to make his designs commercially viable. It’s a challenge almost all artists must face. 

Foulards (scarfs) – vintage; Laced Sabeau (footwear) – customized Efetishism

Nevertheless, Efrem shared that he has been able to find his queer artistic community in London that is a constant source of support. “I am extremely lucky to be able to have found my clique, that is what it’s all about. I definitely have met more queer Arabs here than I ever have before.” This new phase has also opened his eyes to the more nuanced types of discrimination and challenges that Arab and queer people face that he has not experienced before, such as physical whitewashing and racial coding. “The obstacles I have experienced personally and professionally have made me want to speak out for queer Arabs. COVID has f*cked things up, especially for us, and we cannot be with the community that makes us stronger.” 

Efrem’s story is one of identity, immigration, and expression. He has no choice but to break free and define himself on his own terms; he holds so much of the world in him to ascribe to a single identity. And isn’t that where the world is headed anyways? Moving towards a place where the boundaries of nationality and gender expression are crossed, erased, and subverted? The future doesn’t necessarily mean everything is new and magnificent, but could look a lot more like Efrem, tracing back to his roots, creating contemporary designs inspired by his traditions, and building empathy and community for a more understanding society.

Cowboy hat- customized by Efetishism; Shirt – Isola Marras; Skirt – vintage; Swimwear – KINIKI; Boots – vintage

Rapid Fire Round

Who are three of your favorite fashion designers?
My three fav brands are Mowalola, Maison the Faux and Western Affair.

Who is one designer you would love to model for?
I’d love to model for Barragán.

Three places you like to shop at. Go..
I shop usually at Etsy, ebay, and I’m 100% a flea market addict. 

What is the most fashion-forward city?
In terms of giving opportunities to new and out-of-the-script artists, I think London is definitely one of the best places., But I’ve also been watching Nigerian and Israeli designers lately, and I don’t see not enough representation of them on social platforms.

Who were your favorite musicians this past year?
Bree Runway, SVM, Leikeli47 and I’ve always had a love for M.I.A.