If anyone is living proof that suffering can be turned into triumph, it’s Joshua Katcher. He makes a commitment to wearing and ingesting strictly animal-free products, cool. He’s so at peace with his ideals that it is infectious – I haven’t eaten a piece of flesh since I did this interview, but in my leather boots, I’m not yet of his stature. Virile yet genteel in his classic faux suede workman boots that are just as good as the real thing, Joshua regrets not punching his persecutors in junior high: “In the hallway, the most common nickname I had was ‘fag.’” In response to his former tormentors, Joshua has fully dedicated his life to protecting the animal kingdom, who truly can’t stand up for themselves. Since tenth grade, he has intentionally refrained from eating animals, but converted to veganism when he realized that the industries that supply dairy and eggs and those that supply meat are one and the same. “I’ll eat a steak before I eat another egg. Egg-laying chickens are the most tortured animals on the face of the planet. I won’t get into the details.” I love how Joshua can speak of these horrors, but then move on to the virtues of his Fabulous Fanny’s shades and recycled parachute jacket. There is no PR makeover needed for this activist – he is as effortlessly stylish as he is rebellious.
Emanating an edgy sophistication in a resin coated canvas “leather” jacket and a bow tie, a tribute to traditional gentlemanly rituals and Pee Wee Herman, Joshua feels, “The problem with fashion is that it’s not just about your own person, it’s about putting out a message and that’s where it gets complicated.” Often asked when speaking to design students at Parsons why the icon of the villain is so celebrated in the fashion world, he says, “Because it’s the easiest path to power. If you’re going to be a hero, you have to have purpose and knowledge, and that takes work. To be a villain, you don’t have to have any knowledge. You can be nuts, and still have power.” A Burberry ad featuring a model wearing a spiked leather biker jacket, Joshua points out, is hypocritical. “They’re taking on this rebel iconography. It’s sort of the rebel without a cause thing.” Even wearing vintage can promote the wrong message when it looks hip. In reaction to this empty posturing, he is involved with The Pinnacle, an initiative of fashion industry professionals who are trying to reinvigorate the discussion about fur and this idea of being a real rebel. “The wild animals who spend their entire lives in tiny cages, goes against everything they have evolved to do,” Joshua says. “A wild animal is evolved to explore a vast amount of area and space. You can see they go crazy. They pace in the cages. They spin in circles, they resort to cannibalism, often. They literally go insane. And it isn’t so much the death that’s the problem, it’s that life of psychological torture.”
Joshua describes his adolescence in Poughkeepsie, New York, as torturous. The descriptions of his sculptures seem to echo the sentiments of his youth, “In our relationships with each other and the natural world, we decompose both literally and figuratively from our living conditions. We are products of our own creation.” Dressed in JNCO in jeans, he found refuge in poetry, comic books and punk music at local club The Chance, Joshua says that he was searching to determine that he wasn’t doomed and also that the things that concerned him concerned others, as well. Revenge for Joshua comes not only in the form of animal rights, but exposing the “assholes” who label and marginalize gay men as the ones who need an identity check. “I feel like male identity in our culture is powerful but also incredibly limited and stifled…if you’re a man and express any identity outside of the four Bs of mainstream manhood, which is boobs, ball, beer, and beef… you are considered less of a man.” On his blog, The Discerning Brute, Joshua explores the idea of male identity in relation to sustainability. “I see mainstream male identity as a roadblock to sustainability because compassion is seen as a weakness for men and if you express compassion, whether it’s towards an animal or another person or an ecosystem…it’s a red flag and you’re less of a man.” Far from the days when he identified with dorky Dawn Weiner from “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” no one would mess with Joshua these days, his arms full of tattoos of everything from germinating seeds (the symbol for awareness), to insects with halos (representing their sacredness, as they support all of our lives) and hundreds of species of extinct birds.
“[Style is] the most powerful form of personal identity that you can express, and it’s unspoken. If you know who you are and you know how to express that through the way you look… that says more about yourself than you could explain with words,” Joshua believes. His inked- arm candy with a message mimics the intensity of Joshua’s ’70s patterned Marc Jacobs pants. He wears them with vegan John Fluevog shoes and an Alter vest made from a restructured suit with an organic cotton American Apparel tee underneath. (The conventional cotton industry in Uzbekistan, the cotton-producing capital of the world, is like Chernobyl he revealed – children there are being born with no limbs because of the excessive amounts of pesticides on the crops.) However, after witnessing disciples of the four B’s in droves at a recent U2 concert at Giants Stadium, I’m not sure if Joshua’s theory that men will be able to expose their legs in short shorts like women do without ridicule – a notion that has come from his newfound love for pulling his socks up over his pants – is going to catch on anytime soon.