The heart of Drew House beats inside Theodore, a brown teddy bear with a purple nose who wears a yellow Drew logo tee. Theodore was the first drawing Gianpiero sent to Justin Bieber, who co-founded the clothing line alongside his longtime friend and former stylist Ryan Good. The trio officially launched the brand at the top of 2019.
“Theodore represents a moment of security for me,” Gianpiero D’Alessandro, Drew House’s designer, tells Billboard. “When we were scared [as] children, we hugged our teddy bear. Drew House was a remake [of that] for me. I came from a very difficult period of life where I was thinking of giving up everything after 10 years because I no longer had the right stimuli to continue making art. So, for me, Theodore represents the hope of never giving up.”
Gianpiero has the teddy bear tattooed on his lower leg “in memory of the most absurd collaboration of my life.” Theodore is dear to Bieber, too. It’s not coincidental that the pop star wore Drew House’s two-piece pink pajama set dotted with the cuddly print for Spotify’s New Music Friday ad earlier this month.
Theodore symbolizes an artistic climax for Gianpiero, as well as an artistic rebirth for Bieber. The singer recently revealed he is battling Lyme disease and got married to model Hailey Baldwin in 2018. Prior to these life changes, he struggled with the dehumanizing cookie-cutter image expected from teen stars. Now, after taking time away to care for himself, Bieber has comfortably sunken into what appears to be his true self, all reflected through Drew House.
It’s not just the Spotify campaign where the clothing line is inseparable from Bieber’s upcoming new music era. The 25-year-old’s fifth studio album is expected early this year following the release of lead single “Yummy” (Jan. 3), which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The various “Yummy” promotional fonts, such as donut letters and pizza letters? Gianpiero drew them. The animated “Yummy” video, featuring Bieber singing, “Hop in the Lambo’, I’m on my way/ Drew House slippers on with a smile on my face”? Gianpiero created it in seven hours. The “Yummy” x Drew House limited edition tee with the word spelled out using ice cream cones with the logo’s cherry on top? You get the idea.
How did a 28-year-old artist from small-town Sant’Anatasia near Naples, Italy, come to hold Bieber’s passion project in his (literal) hands? Gianpiero did what he has always done: turning to art daily to help him process the world. Specifically, though, he posted a caricature of Bieber, his wife Hailey, and dog Oscar, sporting Drew House gear on Instagram last March. Bieber re-posted the cartoon and then sent him a direct message in April. “Hey can you send me your number,” the singer wrote. “Wanna talk about doing some stuff with ya.”
“[Justin and Ryan] didn’t ask me for specific requests,” Gianpiero explains. “They believed in me from the beginning. In the first three days, I presented [them] with more than 70 illustrations inspired by my childhood. We were in perfect harmony, and it was easy to understand that we were a perfect team to develop everything you are seeing with Drew House.”
Before Bieber tapped him, Gianpiero had worked with top-end brands such as Nike, Levi’s and Netflix. On Jan. 13, he posted to his Instagram story a throwback photo of the first tee he designed for Snoop Dogg five years ago. “All the work done so far has served me to get ready to handle this moment,” he reflects.
Millions of people are now witnessing the payoff. Bieber is often seen carrying around his laptop that has countless Gianpiero-designed Drew House stickers plastered on it, and he features Gianpiero’s artwork in his home. The stickers have become so synonymous with the clothing that a hiking trail in Los Angeles has been informally renamed the “Justin Bieber Trail,” as Drew House stickers have overtaken a pole at the peak.
my dad tricked me into a pretty extreme hike then let me know at the top they’ve been calling it “justin bieber trail” pic.twitter.com/G73eGioZSg
— Jenna (@jennawexler) December 21, 2019
“People love to feel less alone,” Gianpiero says of his inspiration when sitting down to create the growing cast of Drew House characters, like Sherman the Chipmunk and a shark holding a Drew surfboard, that appear on tees and stickers. “For example, when we listen to a song and identify with its lyrics, we feel less alone. The same thing happens for my artwork. I like to find a common thread that links the experiences of all of us. It’s nice to know that other people have felt our own emotions or experienced our own pain or happiness. In my works, I speak of real life.”
He later adds: “I think about what puts me in a good mood when I’m sad. If we are sad and see these things in real life, they can make us smile. I’m glad to convey lightheartedness to those who think about bad things.”
Gianpiero’s animations have given people who may not be able to afford Drew House’s often pricey collections — the December 2019 collection ranges from a $28 mascot corduroy hat to a $300 faux fur coat — an entry point to still feel connected and be part of the community. In a GQ interview shortly after Drew House’s launch, co-founder Good said that an artist like Bieber having his own line is “another part of just being included on the journey of it all” for fans.
The designer has made that significantly more accessible for Beliebers. While walking around Los Angeles recently, he was stopped by a fan and asked to sign several pieces of Drew House clothing.
“When I was young and studying art, I always thought that the only way to be remembered forever was to leave visible signs on our planet,” he says. “Nothing in this world is more indelible than art. I always thought that through art we can send very beautiful messages using only images. Perhaps my greatest work is that people seeing my story believe even more in their dreams.”
Gianpiero actualizing his dream meant sacrificing “a normal life made up of feelings, relationships and schedules” and going against what the norm was around him in Naples. “People’s mentality is different [here],” he explains. “People don’t understand how expensive the price to pay to realize [my dream] is. It is never easy to go away from our family and friends to pursue our ambitions.”
He told Bieber this over lunch at Il Pastaio in Beverly Hills last weekend (Jan. 18), their first-ever in-person meeting, and the two had more in common than their mustaches. Perhaps no one understands Gianpiero’s unconventional sacrifices better than Bieber, who also came from a small-town (Stratford, Ontario, Canada) with little reference for the global reach he was about to harness. “As some of you know, I grew up with very little money,” Bieber had told an intimate crowd at The Biebers x LIFT LA x Inner-City Arts auction on Dec. 13. “I, fortunately, was able to find art.”
Drew House was built for those who can relate to feeling like their insides don’t necessarily match their surroundings. It has served as the home base Gianpiero longed for: “I will always be grateful to Justin Bieber and Ryan Good for rekindling the passion I had when I started 10 years ago,” he attests.
The designer has been in L.A. for most of January, working alongside Bieber, Good and the rest of the team on a “secret” upcoming Drew House project. That could entail anything from a new clothing capsule to more Gianpiero characters to streamlining with upcoming Bieber music or worldwide tour wardrobe, but the message behind whatever it is will be the same.
“Drew House is the place where you are free to express yourself and be yourself,” Gianpiero says. “You can dress comfortably with very bright and radiant colors. A happy, unspoiled world. Let us spread happiness.”