Multi-skilled costumer, leather designer, and illustrator Syluss Afano chats with us about leather, Bearoncé, and working with Mike Ruiz!
Syluss Afano is a costumer, leather designer, and illustrator from New York City. He studied Technology & Design at Parsons School of Design, and has since worked on Broadway as a Leather Tailor for Moulin Rouge! The Musical, a Costume Technician on Broadway Bares 2018: Game Night, and a Stitcher on Pretty Woman: The Musical.
Syluss also did leather work for Marvel’s Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N., Penguin’s leg brace on Gotham Season 5, as well as costume design for Sooth Sayers in Gotham Season 5, and the Pilot for Manifest (USA).
On top of quite the resumé as a costumer and leather designer there, he also creates fantastic original pieces for people in our community. For instance, just this past Halloween, he designed a fantastic look for my friend Mike, check them out below!
With that being just a small example of his leather work in the bear community, be sure to check out his other leather work on his website where he has designed pieces for drag queens, the pet kink community, leather title holders, and full custom designs!
On top of all this fantastic work, he is also a stunning illustrator, creating designs that you may have already seen before. He has created art for bear events such as Fire Island Bear Weekend 2020 and Fire Island Bear Weekend 2019, as well as original art for the drag queen Bearoncé based in Florida. His original pieces only solidify him as a multifaceted and talented individual, proving he is capable of doing pretty much anything he put his mind to.
I had the privilege of interviewing him about some of his work, check it out below!
Bryce Quartz: Hey there, Syluss! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me about your work. How are you doing?
Syluss Afano: It is my pleasure. I am doing well. As always, my life is always a bit crazy but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
BQ: Let’s dive right into the interview. How did you get started in the leather community?
SA: I have always been turned on and intrigued by the leather world. I was just an observer, though, until my senior year in college. My thesis project at Parsons, where I got a degree in Deign and Technology, was a graphic novel that I illustrated based on my first experience at Folsom Street East. The majority of the illustrations, of course, were erotica-based. When I presented my thesis for peer review, I was told I should intern somewhere that coincided with my project. I had no idea or where to start! I had no clue or didn’t really know anyone in the scene.
My advisor helped me out and got me an internship at the Leather Man NYC on Christopher Street back in, I believe, 2012. I was only supposed to accumulate a certain amount of hours to complete the credit. My internship was only suppose to entail shadowing the owner and getting to know the clientele and those associated with the BDSM lifestyle. After a few weeks working the shop asked if i wanted to learn how to work sewing leather?! I knew how to sew and had taken college classes in pattern making, but had no prior experience or skill with an industrial sewing machine needed to work on leather. Those machines can be scary!
After showing me the ropes of how to use it, I got more skilled with the machine and felt more comfortable. A few weeks later the shop hired me as a tailor in their production space (an intern no more). I worked along side other very talented and skilled leather smiths who showed me the ropes. Beyond my duties as a tailor, I also worked directly with customers on the floor helping them find the right gear, the correct fit, and working with them on custom ideas.
As the years had gone by, I had the opportunity to travel with the company to various trade shows such as Mid Atlantic Leather Weekend, CLAW (Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend), Drummer North America (DNA). NJ Leather Weekend and many more. Through these travels i was able to meet so many folks within the community that had this strong bond. I have met so many great people whom now i call family.
BQ: What inspired you to start creating custom leather pieces?
SA: I wanted to show my creative side more. I enjoy making fantasies and inspirations come to life for others. And it’s amazing to see the smiles they give you once they see the final product. It makes my day.
BQ: You also do some amazing art pieces for drag queens such as Bearoncé and many others. How did you get started there?
SA: I met Bearoncé years ago…LOL long story. I did one piece for her and that led to our on-going collaborations. She has graciously networked the hell out of me all around Florida and to folks around the country. THANK YOU BEARONCÉ I love you!!!!!!!
I am also luckily to have been pulled into leather related projects through outside designers who needed my leather/fetish wear expertise. This has lead to amazing opportunities to work on looks slated for the main stage on Rupaul’s Drag Race including for Tina Burner and Honey Davenport. …as well as for cis women who may as well be drag queens such as Madonna and Nicki Minaj.
BQ: What are some of your favorite leather pieces you’ve made? What about some of your favorite art pieces?
SA: Favorite leather pieces? Hmmm… That’s a hard one to answer because I don’t want anyone feeling left out. I’d have to say one that I am always thinking about and wondering how it is doing is a leather dragon headpiece. A client had given me free rein and said I want a dragon mask…Do whatever you please. I went buck wild with it and still to this day I am always thinking back…Did I really make a dragon Headpiece?!?
Some of my favorite art pieces would have to be a piece a did for Vagenesis who is the current 2022 Bearded Empress. I did an illustration of Vagenesis in the app Procreate which I had enlarged onto a canvas and then rhinestoned it. It was a plan I wasn’t sure how it was gonna pan out but it came out great. Also the latest Bearonce fan I did.
BQ: I saw that you worked with Mike Ruiz this year on a project. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what it was like working with him?
SA: I fist met Mike when I posed for his leather men photo project he’s has been working on this past year. We got talking and when he realized I designed and created the gear I was in he asked me to create something for him and eventually help dress a bunch of models in a future shoot. We may be working on something still. Mike Ruiz is a sweetheart. Working with him is amazing!!! Thats all i can say!!
BQ: Can you give us any hints or sneak peaks to what you’re currently working on for anyone, and if not, what can we expect next from you?
SA: You can expect some wild stuff coming very very soon. The best way to see is to follow me on Instagram (@sylussfortay).
BQ: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me Syluss!