Let’s Playdead: A different kind of Cult

The inside scoop on one of Toronto's darkest and most underground fashion companies

George Stroumboulopoulos is no stranger to edgy rocker-style fashion.

He’s been spotted wearing fashions designed and created by Stu Andrenelli and Bean, owners of the innovative Toronto-based clothing company Playdead Cult.

ean, co-founder of Playdead Cult, in the company's studio warehouse with Stu Andrenelli's artwork behind her.
Bean, co-founder of Playdead Cult, in the company’s studio warehouse with Stu Andrenelli’s artwork behind her.

Stroumboulopoulos’ fondness for Playdead Cult was recently pointed out at a taping of his show The Hour, when an audience member noted he was wearing a Playdead Cult belt buckle.

“Stu used to live in my basement,” was his response, adding whenever he didn’t have a shirt to wear he’d just go down to the basement and grab one.

Andrenelli said he grew up with Stroumboulopoulos and they’ve been friends for a long time.

Other celebrities who support Playdead Cult include bands like Billy Talent, The End, and others.

Creating the Cult

It took a long time to get Playdead Cult off the ground, said Bean, who goes by one name.

“With a clothing company, it’s really hard unless you start with a lot of money, which we didn’t,” she said.

Andrenelli and Bean began creating various types of media in 1999. Bean said they started another company before Playdead Cult.

“We did screen printing for touring bands. We got our own screen printing equipment and just kind of self-taught ourselves.”

Any money they made from that company, they put into Playdead Cult.

“Playdead could never really survive on its own up until a year ago,” she said. “We just decided to start printing Stu’s art on t-shirts, since we were printing anyway.”

Bean said they opened their own store after four years and now everything is created and sold at their studio warehouse, at 1233 Queen St. W.

The name Playdead Cult is a spoof on Playboy.

“Our skull logo is kind of like a dead version of the Playboy bunny,” she said, adding there’s a song called “Play Dead” by Bjork, who they’re fans of.

With a name like Playdead Cult, it’s easy to see how some people would think it was an actual cult.

“Years ago we would get weird calls from religious people and they’d question us and accuse us of things,” Bean said.

However, this is not the case anymore.

“Overall, once we’ve explained ourselves, people like what they hear and want to be a part of it,” she said.

Supporting the Cult

Beans said the people who really seem to take to Playdead Cult are those who are in dark, macabre-type professions.

“We have a couple of coffins here that were given as gifts to us by people in the funeral industry, who are a big part of our clientele,” she said. “People who have to live their life in a very dark way really seem to like the humour in the darkness of our stuff and what we do.”

But with a building covered in painted skulls and a hearse parked out front, some of their neighbours just don’t quite get it.

“We’ve been called an eye-sore by some neighbours,” Bean said. “There’s always those sourpuss people who say it looks ugly and I don’t know why they think they’re living in Oakville or something, but they’re living in Parkdale. They should shut up or move.”

Bean said they have actually become friends with many police officers over the years.

“I don’t know why, but cops love us,” she said with a laugh. “We have parties here once in a while and the neighbours call the cops on us, but when the cops get here they just end up hanging out the whole night.”

Andrenelli agrees that there are negative responses from some people towards them, but he said he doesn’t care about that anymore.

“There’s always going to be negative stuff no matter what you do, so there’s no point in focusing on that,” he said.

Bean said life is too short to pay attention to the people who try to knock you down.

“The people who do that are usually upset that they’re not doing what they want to do, I think,” she said.

However, Bean said these people are a minority.

“Mostly when people come in they’re pleasantly surprised that we’re friendly people and that we want to share what we do with people,” she said.

Targeting the Cult

Bean also said Playdead Cult has been targeted negatively in the media. She referred to one specific Globe and Mail article written in November 2005 by Jan Wong.

The article was about a woman’s torso found in an alleyway near the Playdead Cult warehouse.

“[Wong] decided to write this ridiculous story about us and make it sound like ‘Oh, these shady characters who collect bones and coffins and paint skulls on their building, maybe they were the ones who killed the woman,’ and that was just absolutely ridiculous,” Bean said.

She said when the article was published it really upset her.

“I just find it ridiculous that this woman would write such a stupid article. Meanwhile someone was murdered brutally and cut to bits, so I think it was pretty rude of her.”

The police had gone to search their location, but Andrenelli said the police just acted like it was their job to go and search them.

“They got here and they had that ‘Oh, what a waste of time’ look on their faces,” he said.

Beans said no one who really knows them believed the article to be the truth.

“After a while we laughed at it too and now we have it framed in our washroom,” she said with a laugh.

Spreading the Cult

In the fall of 2007 Playdead Cult participated in L’Oreal Fashion Week. They partnered with another company called Damzels In This Dress and put on a runway show.

“We decided to do something really fun and do our own show together since we didn’t have large budgets and couldn’t afford much on our own,” Bean said.

Playdead Cult and Damzels In This Dress each made a short film, which they played before the runway show and then they each showed off their collections on the runway.

“It was more of a fun show for us than a fashion runway show,” Bean said.

Jessika Violet was one of Playdead Cult’s models for the show. She started freelance modeling in January 2007 and before the year was over, she was already asked to be a runway model for Playdead Cult in the well-known fashion event.

Violet said Playdead Cult was asked to use agency models for the show, but they chose not to.

“They didn’t want to compromise who they thought would fit their image for a few extra inches of height,” Violet said. “Standard height for runway is five-feet nine-inches, but Playdead throws those unrealistic ideals out the window.”

Bean said she got contact cards from all the modeling agencies, but she didn’t find those models attractive.

“I found them very boring,” she said. “I was tired of seeing what’s considered an attractive face and sickly skinny people.”

Bean said they recruited their models off the street.

“Some of them would never even consider modeling before, but we really liked working with them and we had fun.”

With tattoos, piercings, and bright pink dreadlocks, Violet fits Playdead Cult’s edgy rocker look perfectly. But Bean said choosing their models is more about their attitude.

“If someone’s unique and fun and has good energy and wants to do shows together, that’s more what I look for,” Bean said.

However, Playdead Cult may be one of the few clothing companies that accept models who are different. Violet said she does not think the rocker look with tattoos and piercings is becoming any more prominent in the fashion industry.

“It’s okay for models to have small tattoos in places that can be covered, but other than that, I don’t think it’s widely accepted,” she said. “We do have a subcategory now, so I think that’s a step in the right direction.”

Violet also said some people in the fashion industry still look down on this style.

“A lot of fashion photographers view tattoos and piercings as being trashy,” she said. “I would love to help change what industry professionals view as beautiful.”

Expanding the Cult

Playdead Cult is about more than just clothing and fashion. Bean said there is a positive message behind Playdead Cult. Their motto is “For the black collar worker.”

“Black collar people don’t really exist, but they’re the kind of people who fall between the cracks and don’t quite fit into society,” Bean said. “So we kind of want to tell people to come together and support each other in being different.”

Violet said she has never had a typical blue-collar lifestyle.

“It definitely reaches out to people who are not the standard demographic,” she said.

Bean said she thinks people gravitate towards this motto and they’ve made many friends with this kind of mentality.

“Basically, if you can’t find your place in this world, create it for yourself,” she said.

Bean said Playdead Cult is also about doing what they want to do. Along with creating different kinds of artwork, Andrenelli is the drummer of an alternative rock band called A Primitive Evolution (A.P.E.).

With all of these various projects, managing time can be difficult, but Andrenelli said he enjoys everything he’s doing.

“Instead of sitting at home watching TV, I’m doing different things,” he said. “But sometimes the hard thing is stopping yourself at doing one thing and realizing what you have to focus on.”

There are many people who are fans of Andrenelli’s work.

“Stu is such a talented individual,” Violet said. “When he exposes new talents it doesn’t surprise me.”

That said, there is no telling what Playdead Cult will do next. But whatever Andrenelli and Bean plan to do, it will likely be original and innovative.

“We definitely want to turn Playdead into a production house for every creative endeavour we want to pursue, whatever we’re in the mood for,” Bean said. “There’s really no guidelines or borders or limits with Playdead, as long as we’re creating, we’re happy.”