All clothing throughout by ERL. Underwear, worn throughout, by Sunspel. Socks by Wigwam.

The 2022 LVMH Prize: ERL

As one of the co-winners of this year's Karl Lagerfeld Prize in the LVMH Prize competition, Venice Beach-born designer Eli Russell Linnetz has the kind of CV—and life, for that matter—that borders on the surreal. At ten, he voiced a supporting role in the Disney film The Emperor's New Groove. By seventeen, he was assisting the playwright David Mamet, and went on to direct music videos for Ye and produce music for Kid Cudi and Teyana Taylor and design and direct Lady Gaga's Las Vegas residency.

When Comme des Garçons president Adrian Joffe, for whom he had created graphics, suggested he design a fashion line, he jumped at the chance. The line became ERL, the trippy California lifestyle brand that A$AP Rocky wore to the 2021 Met Ball.

The 2022 LVMH Prize: ERL

From his cavernous, unusually empty Los Angeles studio, Linnetz explains the early stages of his brand, which launched in 2018. "I really went for the full extreme because my dream was always to make films," he says. He had been creating art for other people and directing ads (the seven-figure-a-day McDonald's variety), hoping to explore costume design.

"I thought maybe I can do costume design through directing commercials," he continues. "But ultimately, I just found myself getting burned out. I was looking for something more expressive. I had been doing so much for other people that I was really interested in telling my own story. When I started ERL, I really wasn't making anything for anyone and I wasn't even really making it for myself. I wasn't even conscious of it. It was just pure expression."

The 2022 LVMH Prize: ERL

Linnetz is theatrical, laid-back in that West Coast way, a born dreamer, a natural capitalist. His line is like a personal art project, developed with a child-like, purely creative lens, that quickly evolved into a serious commercial endeavor. He continues to photograph and style ERL's lookbooks and other creative material, yet another facet of his artistic vision. The pieces are icons of twentieth-century Americana, done Linnetz-style. Rather than starting with a silhouette or mode of construction or particular garment, he begins by envisioning a cinematic storyline. "I have a crazy archive of everything I've ever collected digitized [for inspiration]," says Linnetz, who notes that his studio was full of vintage clothes and objects until the day before our interview.

His favorite collection to date, "An American Tale" from Spring 2022—which imagines a girl traveling cross-country from the East Coast to California, jumping through decades as she traverses states—may best represent the designer's approach. "She finds herself in a wormhole, so as she's moving west, she's moving through all these decades and hitchhiking through the galaxy through different times and places and moments in history," says Linnetz. A folksy Midwestern farmgirl turns into a Sharon Tate-type and, finally, a surfer girl through stylized clothing: Patchwork bootcut denim, a quilted poncho with flannel detailing, a red mock neck knit with embroidered flowers, and denim minis reminiscent of mid-aughts Abercrombie are a few key pieces. Think classics, with artisanal twists and a retro feel taken from Hollywood blockbusters of the seventies and eighties.

The 2022 LVMH Prize: ERL

"I always have a character in mind, but they're never real people," says Linnetz. "It's always these made-up muses in my head of a California lifestyle family. It's always characters from films or films that haven't been written yet." This means his customers, who include Dua Lipa and Justin Bieber, aren't so top of mind.

"I feel like every time I put out a collection, it is just such a small sliver of a bigger story I'm telling," he says. His recent collection with Kim Jones for Dior Men added another chapter. The hope is to gradually tell more and more, adding in accessories, footwear, and jewelry, all while, possibly, simultaneously heading a large traditional house.

There isn't much doubt Linnetz will go far. Look how far he's come already. "No, I never get nervous," he says, in a tone so at ease you can't help but envy him. "I feel like there's so much more that I want to say. These are just stepping stones to a bigger story."

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The 2022 LVMH Prize: ERL
Model: Jack Gerraughty. Grooming by Kelly Peach. Location courtesy of Trevor Cheney.

As a nonprofit arts and culture publication dedicated to educating, inspiring, and uplifting creatives, Cero Magazine depends on your donations to create stories like these. Please support our work here.