When you hear the word destruction, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s piles of rubble, or ancient ruins, or pillars of smoke. Or perhaps it’s images in the abstract — shades of grey, black, and blue pooling into murky clouds of chaos. For designer Cole Durkee, he sees beauty. After all, what is creation if not an act of destruction? “We destroy old garments to make new ones; we destroy textiles with prints, dyes, and latex,” he tells me. “Creation is about honouring that which came before by defacing it. Nothing is sacred.”
A penchant for chaos lies at the heart of Durkee’s label, Destroyer of Worlds. Emerging in New York City in 2022 in the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, Durkee’s brand is a celebration of the apocalyptic aspects of contemporary life.
Gloriously irreverent and seductively abject, the world that Durkee inhabits is one of slime and spikes. What is waiting for us on the other side? Let us cross the threshold between our world and his to find out.  
You graduated from Parsons School of Design in 2021 with a Master of Fine Arts. When you look back at your time at Parsons, what do you cherish the most about the years you spent there?
I have to say my time at Parsons was pretty strange. We went into lockdown early in the first year, so my memories feel incredibly isolating. I think I was most lucky to go into the programme with my best friend Zoe Gustavia Anna Whalen. We got to grow as creatives and friends, and we continue to work together to this day. We went through such a shitty time on the planet together and that’s very special.
In fact, I think about the people in my course a lot even though I may not speak to them very often. Meeting with Shelley Fox and Joff every week on Zoom was so major, especially during [the] pandemic. During that time, I was rethinking my design practice a lot. These people were all there pushing me and supporting me — even when I wouldn't listen. The people in that programme shaped my perspective. That’s what I will always cherish.
You founded your label, Destroyer of Worlds, soon after graduating. Had you always planned to venture out on your own?
Well, yes! I’m delusional and self-absorbed, so it's a perfect fit. But I’m never really on my own. I’m still working with other designers and learning from them as I continue to grow Destroyer of Worlds.
You launched your brand a year after the pandemic. Times were very uncertain — they still are. How have you found navigating the fashion industry as a young designer?
I try to operate in a cautiously optimistic fashion, as the industry will always be uncertain. There are a lot of promises made with little follow through, dubious stylists, and amazing opportunities that slip through your fingers. These can all be learning experiences to apply toward the next pursuit. Right now, I’m trying to take things slow, grow a team, and sell some clothes!
The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the phrase ‘destroyer of worlds’ is that famous line spoken by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. But I’m curious — how did you settle on this name for your brand?
“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds!” It honestly sounds perfect for me, but I was unaware of this quote when I chose the name for my label. I actually learned the name from a book called Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. It references the destroyer of worlds very briefly; also known as the crown of thorns sea (another pretty cool name). It’s a sea star that gobbles up coral reefs, decimating entire ecosystems, and it represents destruction as unfeeling change.
Creation to one being is annihilation to another. I think Destroyer of Worlds is a multifaceted title. We destroy old garments to make new ones; we destroy textiles with prints, dyes, and latex. It is honouring that which came before by defacing it. Nothing is sacred.
Your designs have a devilishly playful quality to them. I wonder, do you see humour as the key to creativity? How important is it to you to play and experiment?
For me it is, but I don’t think it is for everyone. Some people are horribly unfunny and still make wonderful things. Making fun is how I communicate and how I assess and digest my environment, which is a very unfunny way of putting it.
Play and experimentation is the spice of life, baby! There is nothing like fucking around in the studio, getting a little lost, and finding solutions to the problems you’ve given yourself. Sometimes I find answers I wasn’t even looking for. That’s the best.
I love how Destroyer of Worlds designs take up space in the world. Your unorthodox forms and adaptive fits feel very self-assured — which is refreshing and inspiring. In your mind, what is the function of fashion today? What does it mean to create garments in today’s world?
I’ve always seen fashion as a way to reflect your insides on the outside. For example, changing people’s perception of you, or signalling your beliefs — which can be as simple as wanting to look hot, dressing to suit an occasion, or wearing a Red Scare thong. Today, making clothes might mean we are just making more junk, so I value clothes that can change as you do and clothes that integrate pre-loved garments. We make clothes, clothes make us!
When sketching out a new collection, where do you begin? Can you expand on your creative process and design philosophy?
It all usually starts with a little brain worm that I can’t get out of my mind. It tends to come from something I’m reading — probably science fiction. Right now, I’m rereading Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem series and that’s got me thinking a lot. I like to mix esoteric ideas with whatever is going on in my immediate and cultural environment, which I translate through the design language I’ve been developing. With each collection, I want to expand on themes from previous collections or even old ideas that didn’t go anywhere but deserve revisiting.
How important is collaboration to you? Would you consider yourself a collaborative designer?
I’m a problem solver and a problem shared is a problem cut in half. I always get a lot out of collaboration. Learning new skills and different approaches to making is what makes my work better. I also just really enjoy riffing; bouncing ideas off someone else helps you determine what’s really working. I’m always looking for new people to work with.
You have said that pop culture is one of your biggest influences. Growing up, who were your fashion icons?
When I was in high school, I was obsessed with Gaga. She was weird and wild and was kind of the catalyst to my interest in fashion. You just never saw a woman wear meat like that. I discovered Dennis Rodman when he was on Celebrity Rehab and I just had to see more of him. We need more fearless menswear stars like him. The Rescue Hero action figures are also pretty important to me. They have amazing proportions and huge feet — very Rick [Owens] this season.
How do you want people to feel when they wear your designs?
I want people to feel hot and sexy in a somewhat abject way. Like sleek, but slimy; cool, but weird.
What are you working on right now? Are there any big projects that we should keep an eye out for this year?
I’m working on pre-orders for my newest collection Island, Garden, Inferno, which you can pre-order now online. I have also been working with Zoe Gustavia Anna Whalen on her F/W 24 collection, which showed on February 13. Other than that, androids and aliens are huge for me right now. I hope you’ll love them, too — soon.