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iicky Belmontes Talks About How The Virgin Islands Influenced His Art


iicky Belmontes, 43, artist


iicky Belmontes first fell in love with fashion, in part, by seeing sailors bring Lee jeans to St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he grew up — sometimes Levi’s, if he was lucky. Now, he distresses denim himself, using tools like stones or polished shoes to create a sort of wearable art.

When he’s not working at Independence or creating art, he distresses jeans in a signature style for others. This is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Q: What’s the idea behind your distressed jeans?

A: It’s crazy to just say it out loud, but what I do is I try to make something in its natural habitat. Say I get a pair of jeans, and I talk to the person: Say, what do you do? I’m working on a pair right now — they’re called a cobbler. So what does a cobbler do all day? Sits. So more than likely the seat area is going to be worn out, and he probably has a shoe in the middle of his thighs, so that area’s going to be worn out. I think of what that person would do daily, and then I re-create it or destroy it or make it beautiful. Beautiful destruction of what that person’s job would be.

Q: What are these speckles on the ones you’re wearing?

A: Paint and tile shavings. My dad was a carpenter and builder; my mom was an upholsterer. I know there’s a certain grit and dirt and soot from the tile — rub it on there, get it dirty. You can put baby oil or coconut oil to make it settle in, and then it stains. Little tricks.

Q: It seems that whether you’re working on your watercolors or denim, it’s all art.

A: It’s a blank canvas all the way. That’s how I look at everything. Everything can be a blank canvas. When you wake up in the morning, you should probably look at yourself as a blank canvas, and depending on what you’re doing that day, you should build from the bottom up. A lot of people always start with maybe their hat, jewelry. I honestly think you should start with your shoes, and then you go up.

Q: I see a lot of thought put into everything you’re wearing. The smallest detail is this tiny pin on the hat.

A: This is a turquoise pin. I went to college (Oral Roberts University) in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is a place where there are a lot of Native Americans. The smaller details, things like that, I enjoy it because I think everything that’s little, or everything that’s small, it should have a powerful impact.

Q: How did you first find out about Levi’s?

A: I grew up in the Virgin Islands. (Ships would bring) sometimes certain brands, like American brands we didn’t really have. I remember we had Lee jeans, and then Levi’s were a little difficult to get.

Q: I think a lot of people looking at you would assume everything is high-end or vintage, not that you’re walking into a Gap.

A: I definitely love to mix the high and low. Some of my favorite brands are Comme des Garcons, a lot of Japanese brands; I like Watanabe, one of my favorite brands. The only reason why is because he probably does the same thing — destroys everything and brings it back together.

Q: If there was one brand that you could get, say the ship is bringing something to the Virgin Islands, what would it be?

A: It’d probably just be a real old vintage pair of Levi’s, not a replica but an actual old piece. That would be joyland.

Q: How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?

A: I literally grab my garments and just lay them out, throw them on the corner of the bed, just add to it. Then put it on. I just put shirt and pants, and then if it matches, it matches. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I just grab the first couple things. If I’m super early, I contemplate on what I’m going to wear, and then I may feel uncomfortable when I get out of the house.

Q: What about the beard. What’s the daily grooming involved there?

A: Coconut oil. I put coconut oil in everything. Lotion, put it in your hair. Coconut oil is like an essential. You can put it on your shoes, to buff it. Coconut oil is always a good piece that I will always have.


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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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