July 03, 2017 3:00 PM

IKEMEN (ē´k´mɛn): Japanese Slang


Name: Gabriel Liberty

Occupation: NYC Nightlife Host, Promoter, and Hat Designer



1. Where are you from?

Brooklyn, New York.


2. How long have you been in New York City?

Twenty five years.


3. What words would you choose to describe yourself? Why?

That is a tough question. Recently, I feel like I probably have one identity crisis a week, so I would say the answer to this question changes depending on when you ask me.


4. Can you tell us more about your brand Liberty or Death?

I started Liberty or Death after college. I was delivering food at the time and trying to figure out what I was doing with my life. I don’t even remember what initially motivated me to make hats, but I took the time to find a manufacturer and a felt supplier and tried making some. I had absolutely no plan whatsoever and was completely unqualified. I had luck early on when I got some good press. Before I knew it, I had a feature in Hypebeast, and I was being contacted by stores across the world. Then, celebrities and professional athletes started contacting me directly to get hats. In retrospect, it all happened very quickly and I was lucky enough to figure it out as it happened, but I made tons of mistakes along the way. The brand sort of provided my transition into nightlife, although that didn’t really occur to me until recently.


5. What brought about your interest in felt hats?  

I wasn’t even a hat person before I started wearing hats. I’ve been told I loved hats as a kid, but I never wore hats in my 20’s. I didn’t even own a felt hat. I think I liked the way girls look in hats and I wanted to repeat that except in unisex form.


6. Is there a story behind the name?

The brand was originally called Gabriel Liberty. When I started working with my business partner, he wanted to change the name because having a business under your personal name can be precarious if you inherit a lawsuit or if anything bad happens. In fact, my brand did almost get sued once. He wanted to change the name of the brand and I agreed. Out of nowhere, he sent me a list of names late one night. I just picked the one that I liked the most– Liberty or Death– and he said, "Okay, thats it."


7. Can you speak on your design and production process?

With hats, it’s pretty cool because the manufacturer has thousands of hat blocks, which are the wooden frames that you press the felt over when making a hat. You basically look through all the hat blocks and choose a crown shape and a brim shape that you like. You then put them together and can see what the hat you just constructed will look like. For me, everything is trial and error. I don’t always think things through thoroughly.


8. What is the greatest inspiration to your work?

It’s not the most original answer, but New York City is easily by biggest influence. I grew up here and very rarely leave– probably just once or twice a year– so it’s pretty much all I know. The great thing about New York is that you have a chance to come across something inspiring every time you leave the house, often in unexpected forms.


9. What do you feel have been your career-defining moments?

To be honest with you, I can’t really come up with one specific moment. I’ve just been focused on working hard every day, and I’m not so concerned with career defining moments. There haven’t really been any huge, ground-breaking victories or anything like that. I think that career progress is slow and not that linear. All you can do is give an honest effort every day and the results will (very) slowly start to take shape. 


10. What is “Happy Ending” for you?

I got involved in nightlife as a direct result of selling hats. As I was building my own schedule with Liberty or Death, it allowed me to go out at night whenever I wanted. I guess I partied quite a lot and eventually someone just asked me to start hosting a weekly party. At the time, everyone sort of knew me as the hat guy. Before I knew it, I was hosting 3 or 4 parties a week and realized that I could make some decent money doing it. From there, Happy Ending contacted me about doing the door for them which was a good opportunity, although I really had no idea all the crazy stuff I was about to get myself into. I have been there for a year now, and in addition to doing the door, I do the music programming. I am essentially in charge of scheduling and executing five parties a week, from booking DJs and promotors to making fliers for every party. My friends are very sick of receiving fliers from me...

Working at Happy Ending has familiarized me with the behind-the-scenes operational routine of running a nightclub, which has been enormously valuable to me because I eventually would like to open my own place. Happy Ending was and is a great opportunity, and I took advantage of it by saying "yes" to everything they asked me to do and absorbing and learning as much as possible every day. Now I have a great database of DJs and hosts, and I schedule different parties at various venues throughout the city every week.


11. What are your most proud accomplishments?

Specific accomplishments don’t really matter that much to me. The most important accomplishment to this point is that I wake up every day excited and passionate about what I am working on. It’s an unpredictable path with a lot of bumps right now, but it’s been exciting. I never really take the time to look back at what I’ve accomplished, because right now it doesn’t matter. I am more concerned with the future and continuing to live and work the way that makes me happy.


12. What do you enjoy doing on your days off?

I don’t have any days off, but recently I’ve been going to the Russian/Turkish bathhouse in the East Village which is always an interesting experience. Working in nightclubs is overstimulating so it’s nice to have peace and quiet when I’m not working.  


13. What are your life-long dreams?

I’m not sure I can even think that far ahead. Right now, my life-long dream is to upgrade from a studio apartment to a one bedroom...


14. Do you have any life-essential tips for TWELV readers?

I am probably the wrong person to ask for life advice, but this year I’m trying to make a conscious effort to be nicer to people, which takes very little effort and I think it can go a long way… So– I don’t know– I guess my life-essential tip would be to be nice. It’s pretty easy.








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