Imagine: You’re popular teen fashion-blogger Helena St. Tessero, and you live in the partially underwater city of Neo Yokio, which looks a lot like New York City. One day, you go uptown to preview the fall collections and the Prime Minister of Chanel presents you with a custom suit. You’re thriving, but when you return home, you start feel a little funny; your Chanel jacket has been possessed by demons.
This is par for the course in Neo Yokio, a new Netflix show created by Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, which can be described as the futuristic anime answer to Gossip Girl. Characters like Kaz Kaan (an emo teen played by Jaden Smith) have the power to rid people like Helena St. Tessero (played by former real-life fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson) of their most fashionable demons. It’s a little awkward, though; Kaz and Helena hooked up in the Hamptons last summer.
As Kaz says himself, he’s an “elegant man of taste.” So he knows a possessed Chanel jacket from a un-possessed one. He also wears Ralph Lauren Purple Label khakis; prefers Santal 33 to Babylon No. 5; and shops at Bergdorf blindfolded.
In other words, Neo Yokio is in the know. Which is why we, a fashion blog, felt the need to talk to Ezra Koenig about the many fashion references and style hacks presented in the show, from attending the Met Gala to carrying big Toblerones as accessories.
You’ve mentioned that Gossip Girl was one of your inspirations. Can you elaborate on that?
We always knew that Neo Yokio was going to focus on this kind of upper-class, high-society world, so obviously Gossip Girl is one of the classic modern uptown New York references. I wasn’t sure if fashion was gonna be a big part of it, but once we started going, it just kept coming up. We also always had this image of Kaz throwing away a Cartier Tank in the beginning.
Why a Cartier Tank watch?
We made a show that has a love/hate relationship with luxury brands, as I think many people do. But the Cartier Tank is my favorite watch. I love that it’s small. I think it’s really a beautiful classic. We liked the idea of starting off with this guy who simultaneously is so obsessed with brand names and clothing, but at the same time is so emo that he would literally destroy one — smash his Cartier watch because his girlfriend broke up with him. That’s where the dramatic tension lies in the story.
Kaz likes to shop blindfolded at Bergdorf’s. I’m wondering if you have any tips for shopping only by touch.
Oh, well, that’s really important, actually, because as much as something might look good, you have to consider: Is it going to be itchy? Comfortable? Is it going to make the people around you less excited to be in close proximity to you? Especially with knitwear, it’s very important to close your eyes and run the back of your hand over it. Imagine if you didn’t know what the brand was, and you didn’t know how it looked, is this something that you might want, you know, wrapping around you in an embrace?
What are some warning signs that your Chanel jacket might be possessed?
A Chanel suit is the type of thing that you might wear to a really fancy lunch or some type of daytime event. So, if you find yourself not wanting to go out and be seen in it, but rather float up in your bedroom in a purple orb, then clearly something’s gone wrong.
Kaz spends an entire episode wearing his tuxedo around town. How early do you need to introduce your tuxedo to society before you wear it to an event?
Well, you might have one suit or tuxedo in your closet. You actually do have to pull it out before the event — maybe a week before. Try it on, make sure it still fits, make sure there’s not some bizarre mustard stain from the last time you wore it two years ago.
This actually happens to me a lot. I hate dressing up, so it’ll be the morning of a wedding or something and my girlfriend’s like, “What are you gonna wear?” and then I go look in the closet and my tuxedo is all fucked up and wrinkled and I’ve spilled something on it. I’m just like, “Oh God. I really should have reintroduced this to human society a little bit earlier.” I’m, like, hyperaware of when my vintage Grateful Dead T-shirt is clean, but for formalwear, I have no idea what’s going on in the back of the closet.
I’m assuming that the Black and White Ball that takes place inside the Met is riffing off the Costume Institute Met Gala. Do you have any suggestions for future themes?
I think the Met Ball should have melancholy as a theme one year. Or they could call it “The Anatomy of Melancholy” because they like to have the more highbrow phrasing. The truth is: (a) it’s important to talk more about being sad, being depressed. We should be open about that. And (b) the Met Ball is bizarre, because it becomes essentially like a fashion show and everybody’s kind of posing. You don’t know exactly how they feel on the inside. So I think it should be something more emotional.
I like melancholy because I think there’s an under-explored connection between, like: When you’re sad, how does that affect the way you dress? It might surprise you. Maybe some kind of basic person would roll up and they’re wearing all black. It’s like, “Okay, yeah. You wear black, you’re sad. Okay. Familiar.” But then somebody else rolls up and they’re wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants and some Crocs, and we’re like “Oh. That’s a really interesting take on it.”
We sometimes forget that melancholy is part of everybody’s life — and don’t for a second think that it’s not a part of those people’s lives, too. So, give them a chance to stop being like a full-time brand for a second. You know, let us in, show us a little bit how you express your inner world.
I think that’s a great idea. My last question is: Kaz tries to give Helena a big Toblerone chocolate bar. Are big Toblerones a good accessory? And if so, why?
I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never actually held a big Toblerone in my hands, so I don’t know how heavy it is; I don’t know if it’s a nightmare to schlep around. I guess you could empty it out and just take the box around.
Judging by the reception to Neo Yokio and the fact that far and away the biggest takeaway for most people was the big Toblerone, I definitely think there’s something to it. There’s been all this great fan art, and I swear 80 percent of the fan art is Kaz with a big Toblerone. Somebody made it so the Toblerone was a sword.
Anyway, Kaz I think has really good clothes. He has this kind of double-breasted sweater; he’s wearing khakis; he looks good. And yet, I think to the fans, he’s incomplete when he doesn’t have this big yellow Toblerone. So, if you have to make your own, do it. If you have to empty out the box, do it. But, you know, it is good to have something like that.