Sonya Sombreuil’s COME TEES is equal parts art project and subversive streetwear imprint, underpinned by the effortless cool that can only be afforded by limited-run garments. The clothing isn’t exclusive because of corporate hype machinations, however; COME TEES goods are limited merely by the amount of time she’s able to allot to creating each one. Each meticulously crafted shirt, hat, or pair of vintage jeans is one-of-one—screen-printed, deconstructed, and hand-painted in Sombreuil’s Los Angeles studio.
A painter by trade, Sonya’s staunch DIY attitude anchors every aspect of COME TEES, going beyond the handmade imagery to the community-driven mentality that inspires special releases. The bread and butter of COME TEES are silk-screened garments crafted via a laborious method that settles the ink deep into cotton T-shirts and hoodies, creating long-lasting, vibrant colors. Special editions are frequently launched, simply in the name of charity. Sombreuil has partnered with designer peers such as Election Reform! and Eckhaus Latta, accenting the well-intentioned releases with playful accessories such as the ceramic shoelace plates launched in February.
Though COME TEES remains in tune with its local roots, the brand is on the verge of skyrocketing into mainstream consciousness thanks to celebrity fans like Rihanna and Kanye West. These high-profile admirers don’t shake the designer’s hearty appetite for experimentation, however, with plenty of adventurous items cropping up on the brand’s website with little notice. Sombreuil’s impromptu collections are perhaps the most diverse of all the West Coast do-it-yourselfers, with lush colors spilling out across vintage Dickies work shirts, chore jackets, and even the occasional maxi dress.
The breadth in COME TEES’ creative output is indicative of the label’s fervent creative energy; Sonya’s signature style of artwork manifests this restless attitude to fabrication. Jagged lines, scribbled text, abstract swirls of color and surreal imagery rich with context are frequent motifs in COME TEES goods. These aggressive strokes of color hint at the messages embedded in each garment as she references feminism and body politics; religion and jazz; utter despair and effervescent positivity. Balancing the earnest, querying designs are light-hearted one-offs, like the Japanese Jane’s Addiction shirt seen on Kanye West.
While the graphics clearly speak for themselves, the craft behind COME TEES’ actual garments is a crucial element of the brand’s ethos. Sombreuil sources deadstock French terry, lightweight cotton, and pre-loved vintage garments as the base for her work, transforming each blank canvas into special COME TEES pieces. Furthermore, most items are realized with slouchy, easygoing cuts to embody the effortless California cool that informs the entire label. Beyond the boxy fit, however, Sonya often chops up her shirts, piecing them back together with raglan sleeves, vertical seams, shortened hems, and unexpected panels—all accomplished in her studio.
COME TEES’ distinct fits and equally individualistic imagery are at the heart of the brand, but it’s Sonya who gives COME TEES life; she’s intertwined with her one-woman operation, each item an extension of her own consciousness. More than mere streetwear, it’s hardly unfair to call each COME TEES garment a work of art, each upcycled wearable meant to be loved until it becomes vintage once again.
How did COME TEES begin?
COME TEES started because I was always involved in the music scene and a huge music lover but not a musician. In 2009, I worked two days for a screen printer and thought, “I can do this.” I bought a small press and some ink and started making band shirts and eventually shirts for bands that didn’t even exist…Like music, T-shirts are easy to circulate and very much about linking with other people.How did you first begin creating art and designing?
Art is how I process the world. I was always an artist and my very earliest memories are of making art. Designing and art didn’t limit themselves to the page. I wanted to chop and screw my clothes, my environment, and my life. It’s an impulse that is native to my spirit.Do you try to maintain a consistent theme?
The way I see it, I’m always trying to tell a “human story,” which is why my work is often figurative. Faces, hands…these are things that relate instantly. I love language, in particular song titles, bits of music and lyrics. I know there is a message or subtext that goes throughout my work, but I’m not sure it can be said directly.What inspires your imagery?
My inspiration is always changing, but I love graffiti, primitive art, religious art, traffic signs, anime. I go through little phases where I am interested in simple things, like a pair of colors or an old skate graphic.Who’s wearing COME TEES right now, and who would you like to see wearing it?
It’s difficult to say. I see a lot of diversity in who wears my stuff. I’m a small brand and I think it’s a small audience who are in the know and down to wear something bold and outside of the realm of brand logos and known quantities. It’s a little bit of a freak flag and that really satisfies me.
What’s on your plate right now?
Right now I am working on expanding my denim line and creating new silhouettes with COME TEES textiles. I love making T-shirts but I want to break out of that. I’ve always loved denim fits, workwear, uniforms, and nowadays I really like menswear, so I am interested in making things that are more formal and structured then a T-shirt.What’s the story behind the name COME TEES?
I came up with a list of names and my brother told me COME TEES was stupid.Can you walk us through your daily design process?
I listen to a lot of music and my designs are often composites of a bunch of things I am into at the moment. Bits and pieces of weird album art, or shrouded personal references. In a weird way, I feel like I am narrating my personal life and sometimes the designs are kind of an evocation. Like recently I have been feeling really romantic and sexual so I made the COOKIE AURA shirt, which is meant to invoke a juicy ‘90s R&B energy.What does COME TEES mean to you?
COME TEES is a pet project from my heart. It’s fantasy that comes from one person, from the spontaneous and unique nature of my existence. I feel that the energy of my little dream can be heard by other people and somehow vibe with their little dreams. I want to make things that feel personal and human and paradoxically make people feel more individual and more themselves.What do you see when you envision the label’s future?
I want to be able to grow and mature artistically through time. I love having a following and keeping my audience tight and close and I want them to grow with me and be down for any sudden turns I make because they trust me. I want to make more stuff out of plastic and wood, I want to design kicks, I want to make jewelry, I want to collaborate with other brands.