S3an Alexander started his clothing brand, brllantmnds, for St. Louis.
In fact, one of the first pieces he ever created for the label — pronounced “brilliant minds” — was a hand-painted St. Louis hat called For the City that he released in 2016, with a logo flip that features paint drips to signify the city’s creative industry.
“St. Louis is everything,” he says. “It taught me to have tough skin, it taught me to have confidence — it taught me that you have to know how to move alone sometimes. I wouldn’t be where I am today without being from this city.”
This past September, the fashion designer and visual artist released his brand’s biggest collection to date, Big Cozy 3. Inspired by the simple feeling of being cozy — of being “comfortable in your own skin,” as Alexander puts it — the drop featured three pieces: a white long-sleeve T-shirt, navy blue sweatpants and a kelly green hoodie, all adorned with the brllantmnds lightning-bolt-bubble-letter logo.
Big Cozy 3 was also Alexander’s most eventful release of the year. While he typically uses the same formula to promote every collection — he makes a commercial and look book, and takes product shots — that didn’t cut it this time around. Alexander had ordered more product for this drop and had to figure out a way to move it. So he introduced Cozy Conversations, an Instagram Live series where he interviewed creatives from St. Louis and beyond, whose professions run the gamut of musicians, designers, event producers, visual artists and more. He ended up hosting the series for two months.
“The response to it was so great,” Alexander says. “That was a pivotal part to getting this drop sold out. … It became like a therapy session for me. It feels so good to talk to people and realize I think on the same wavelength with all of them.”
Just like how he created brllantmnds for St. Louis, Cozy Conversations was for St. Louis too.
“I was like, ‘I can use this as a way to continue to build community and have these open dialogues’ — the same dialogue that I would normally have at a pop-up shop or art show. Things that I can’t do now because the world has been shut down all year. … It was definitely really eye-opening.”
Even though Alexander always excelled in his school art classes, he never set out to be a designer or visual artist. He began rapping in his youth and pursued art as a way to call more attention to his music. But rap soon took a backseat; he explains that unlike music, art “was another way for people to get an understanding of the type of person I was or who I was, without me having to say anything.”
He first started illustrating around 2011, drawing cartoonish figures, animals and bubble letters — reimagining brands like Billionaire Boys Club, Bape, characters from Space Jam and Hello Kitty, and Takashi Murakami’s bear from Kanye West’s Graduation album artwork.
Around the same time, Alexander also began ideating brllantmnds after noticing that his St. Louis peers were launching T-shirt labels: Hello Tomorrow, Kid Genius, and Mike Auston’s dont triad. But it was something Alexander wouldn’t revisit until a few years later, after stores like DNA STL and Swedlife were already fully operating. During that time, Alexander was focused on honing his painting skills and gaining his footing in the art world.
He really hit his stride in his artistic practice when graphic artist Rell Brodie and photographer Jessica J. Page asked him to show his work at their 2015 event Mania; then later, in 2016, Brodie asked Alexander to participate in the art and music event series Vibes St. Louis. And that would become his full-circle moment: He realized he wasn’t able sell his art at his desired price point in the St. Louis market, so he sold his hand-painted For the City hats for the first time — an item that was more affordable for his audience.
His brand took off from there. It took him six years to fully nurture brllantmnds from what he originally conceived of in 2011 — to find something that was true to him. It also took him launching his own art exhibit series, Capacity, in May 2017 to prove to himself that people would show up for him. In November of that year, he dropped the first brllantmnds collection.
“Me not being willing to put a box on my creativity is where the brand came from,” he says.
The act of celebration is reflected in the balloon and flower motifs that repeatedly show up in his paintings and designs. While the balloons began as a color study, they turned into something more: “The balloons actually [speak] to exactly what brllantmnds has become — a celebration of all things creative,” he explains. His flower pattern also represents a way to honor yourself. “It comes from the term ‘give so-and-so their flowers,’” he says. It always felt like if I’m not going to get flowers from everybody else, then what can I do for me?”
This year alone, Alexander has released seven collections — and brllantmnds has become his full-time job. He envisions his brand becoming a brick-and-mortar store and foundational piece for St. Louis’ art, fashion and music scenes.
“I want my story to be more than just a store. I want to be a hub for community. I want people to feel comfortable to come shop, to come hang out, to [be in] those environments,” he says. “I want to create a community of people who feel comfortable.”