Gnat Brilmyer

February 20, 2014

Gnat Madrid Brilmyer lives and works in Chicago, IL as a fashion and bondage-gear designer. Gnat uses alternatives to leather to create kinky harnesses and gear that address queerness in S&M. Her background in printmaking, design, construction, and painting also inform her practice, and her fashion work is distinctly whimsical. Gnat’s work is available at Kokorokoko in Chicago, and ships worldwide on Etsy.

Credit: MC Newman for JRV MAJESTY's Queer Lexicon Series at Strange Bedfellows (2014)
Credit: MC Newman for JRV MAJESTY’s Queer Lexicon Series at Strange Bedfellows (2014)

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I’m Gnat Madrid Brilmyer, and I’m a queer latin@ fashion designer who specializes in accessory and bondage gear design. I have a small brand called GNAT, and I live and work in Chicago. I recently completed undergrad at SAIC, and have since been growing and sustaining my creative practice while trying to be an entrepreneur. My brand is multi-dimensional: I make backpacks, fanny-packs, bow ties, hats, and other items for your day look, but most importantly—I make harnesses, cuffs, collars, leashes and strap-on harnesses for fashion and sex use. Historically, harnesses have existed in black leather for the Daddies of the masculine gay scene. However, the harnesses I create are made in glittery vinyls, and that application queers the object. The S&M gear I produce lays somewhere else on the spectrum, and encourages femme and fluid identities in their participation of kink. I favor plastics, vinyls, day-glow colors and prints, and weird, strong hardware for my work. GNAT items are distinctly playful, glittery, and QT.

How has living in Chicago affected your work? Chicago has been very good to me, and I don’t think I would thrive here without my Queer community. I’ve found an amazing group of performers, artists, DJs, and activists who bring me and my work to life every day. My work deals with indulgent yet necessary expressions of identity, I’m always thinking about how I can celebrate diverse, non-binary, queer, trans*, sexy bodies and the beauty and strength that those bodies house. I’m always learning about how I can promote sex positivity, and am advocating for safe, sane and consensual experiences with kink. My community here provides me with all the inspiration, support, theory, and practice that I need to manifest my visions.


What kind of things are influencing your work right now? Right now, I’m thinking a lot about layers. I’ve been making vinyl harnesses for a while but now I’m ready to integrate leathers, chains, metal, and fabric. Sexual identity and personality are layered, and I want to cover the body with more dimension and depth. I’ve been looking at a lot of paintings and sculpture, and I’m ready to bring more line, more texture, and more emotion to each piece. I’m always influenced by femme identity and representation, and I want the images I create to fight the erasure that feminine spectrum beings experience in queer, trans*, and kink communities and their associated media.


Tell us about your work process and how it develops. I’m always collecting reference photos from the internet, and I blog a lot. My blog helps me curate the details that I’m interested in, and I sort of meditate on them while I’m at my day job or on the CTA or biking. Lately, all of my time has gone to producing the custom orders that people have already bought, so by the time I get to make the new work, I’m frantic and ecstatic. I work very quickly and let the process flow freely—its not as pristine as usual and more chaotic. I make a piece, then I turn it upside down, sideways, buckle it around me strangely, try it on my roommate, and add some more. Then I’ll wear it out for a night of dancing and see how I feel about it. I like to live in it a little, and see what needs to change.


Who would you ideally like to collaborate with? Queer performers and rappers! And also video-makers. I’ve already been reaching out to some performers who I absolutely want dress, and I don’t think it will be long before my dreams come true. I’ve also gotten small chances to work with Bernhard Willhelm, Walter van Bierendonck, and the CFDA, and I’m full of all this creative energy and passion. I also can’t wait to work with Christopher Sonny Martinez on some photos and videos—him and I have been working together for years and he always makes my artist heart flutter.


What do you want a viewer to walk away with after experiencing your work? If they’re into BDSM and see the items I create, I want them to walk away feeling affirmed, excited, and aware of all the possibilities of their kinky identities and roles. I want closeted or shy viewers to feel a sense of permission with themselves. I want them to feel curious but not necessarily uncomfortable.  I’m always trying to create accessible work that isn’t too intimidating, but I still want it to be powerful and grand!


Describe your current studio or workspace. My workspace is nestled into the bay windows with a view of my neighborhood.  Fabrics and vinyls are on bolts and in containers, and I try to keep all my supplies organized. My workspace is shared, so collected posters cover the walls that creep onto the ceiling. I keep lots of crystals around, and I collect weird plastic items from dollar stores and thrift shops. I recently bought an industrial sewing machine with my Critical Fierceness Grant, and my cacti are struggling to survive this winter. It’s very colorful and invigorating.


What’s your absolute favorite place in the city/the world to be? Probably on a dance floor, surrounded by gay people, usually at Chances Dances. Safer spaces like that are essential to my self expression and well being.


What were you like in high school? I kinda dressed like a sailor boi, people thought I was weird, and I was really gay. I started my school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance, and was really into GLBTQ activism. People didn’t think I was as good at art because I didn’t make photo realistic things, but I always knew I was a ~true artist~. My mom kinda hated me then, and I was super angry but also very bubbly and cute. Oh! And my hair was really big and puffy.

Favorite article of clothing? So one day I was downtown, I was helping teach ECP at SAIC at the time, and I was feeling really blah about my body. So I decided to go buy some really tight pants to make me feel better! And I got these spandex, high-waisted zip-up pants and they make my booty look great and I love them. Also my dangly tri-heart gold earrings from that Hyde Park dollar store.