“I sort of came out with a bang and I started dressing in drag,” recalls Simon Haas, one half of acclaimed design duo The Haas Brothers. “I knew I was going to get heckled. It’s kind of the worst social position you could put yourself in. But going through it, at the end of it, you’re like, ‘I’m not really afraid to do anything now.’”
Simon relates this story at his new design studio in the West Adams area of Los Angeles, where it’s clear that his hard-won fearlessness has paid off. He and his fraternal twin brother Nikolai now have 15 employees, a massive studio space, and an upcoming solo exhibition at R & Company. Not to mention a very impressive client roster; they have designed costumes for Lady Gaga, added their artistic touches to the Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles, and collaborated with Versace.
Simon and Nikolai were born in Los Angeles and grew up in Austin, Texas. They learned stone carving and construction from their father, a stonemason who now works in their studio. Their mother, a writer and opera singer, has chipped in too, designing a shell-adorned altar for their Ace Hotel project. And their older brother, actor Lukas Haas, will soon join the family; he is building a recording studio in the front of their new space.
Simon has a formal art education—he attended Rhode Island School of Design—but Nikolai doesn’t, and they reap the benefits of both Simon’s technical know-how and Nikolai’s lack thereof. Simon says that Nikolai “has fewer fucked up problems” because he never went to art school. But Nikolai is quick to point out the benefits of Simon’s schooling: “There are certain leaps that he can make because he’s been taught that I can’t.” Thus, it’s the perfect symbiotic relationship. But no, they don’t live together, and no, they do not want to share a hotel room.
“When people send us around the world to places, we have to say, ‘Don’t book us the same hotel room.’ Because, like, we’re adults,” laughs Simon. A couple of times, Simon and Nikolai even showed up to find one hotel room with two twin beds next to each other. “We’re like, ‘what the fuck!’” says Nikolai. “We’re 29 years old!”
Humor is central to both The Haas Brothers’ dynamic and their work. In fact, their naming system is largely inspired by Garbage Pail Kids; think “Dame Judy Bench.” But according to Simon, the humor serves a greater purpose than just getting a chuckle from a prospective client. It makes the work accessible. “You laugh immediately, and then you’re already in a different headspace and you approach the piece from a different spot,” he says.
Another tool they use to disarm is sex (sex and more sex). Some of their animal-shaped furniture is adorned with golden testicles, some of their pottery is more than suggestive of lady parts, and then there is The Sex Room…
But according to Nikolai, even The Sex Room isn’t about sex. “We were using sex as a tool to talk about the fact that we are very, very avidly anti-shame,” he says. “Shame in general to us just doesn’t really make any sense. It requires the participation or at least the perceived participation of somebody else. It’s not an individual feeling that you would decide to have. It all has to do with imposition and it all has to do with trying to please somebody else, which is just bullshit.”
And he speaks from experience. Learning to tune out the opinions of others has been integral to The Haas Brothers’ success. Before the Versace collaboration, for instance, “people were saying, ‘That’s gonna stop your career dead in the water,’” recalls Simon. “They say, ‘You’ll never escape Versace.’” But ultimately, Simon and Nikolai ignored the naysayers and followed their own inner compass. Or as Nikolai puts it: “You’re like, ‘No, fuck it. I want to do this.’”
Nikolai and Simon are incredibly opinionated, and will happily share their thoughts on atheism, feminism, and everything in between—however, their core message seems to be a simpler one: that love is natural, but hate is learned.