T-Shirt and Pin Company Cult Legacy Has the Horror Goods | Westword
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T-Shirt and Pin Company Cult Legacy Has the Horror Goods

Feni Hagman is the scream queen of the pin world.
Cult Legacy artist Feni Hagman works in her studio next to a gallery of her pins.
Cult Legacy artist Feni Hagman works in her studio next to a gallery of her pins. Feni Hagman
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F​eni Hagman has always had a soft spot for madness and monsters.

"​I grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden, and I was always drawing and making stuff," the artist says. "And then I would draw little stories, and they always ended with everyone dying. It was always towards horror. I loved reading horror and watching anything horror."

Today she can be found using her obsession with the bizarre as the artistic director of Denver clothing company Cult Legacy, which produces T-shirts and enamel pins. Founded by Hagman with friends in 2019, the company has steadily built a vivid and stylish gallery of apparel for the fashionable fright fan. Depicting the damned, the doomed and the tormented, it draws inspiration from her personal canon of cult films both contemporary and classic. Titles referenced include The Devils, Holy Mountain, Mandy, Riki-Oh: the Story of Ricky and Midsommar, among others.

H​agman illustrates striking imagery from these films with a high degree of accuracy; even small pins are instantly recognizable as a particular character, and yet her balance of keen portraiture, exquisite composition and intense color palettes frees her style from rote realism. Many of the designs use the faces of film protagonists as their most prominent aspect, something that she says comes naturally: "I think I've always kind of preferred drawing faces and people. There are a lot of faces that I really like, too, like Ernest Borgnine, because there's a lot of character. When there's more details to a face, it's fun for me to draw. I like to draw ornamental things, and a pretty face is not very ornamental. Older, more characteristic faces are more fun."

She has great respect for the acting craft behind the faces, as well. "I love actors," Hagman says, noting that actors' work in horror films often receives scant attention outside of genre enthusiasts. "It's weird that at this time it's still like that, and it's really sad that in all the years up until now, some of the best performances have been in horror movies, but they didn't get the proper recognition."

H​er own creative process always begins by deeply immersing herself into a cinematic text. "I watch the movie a lot and get into it and live with it, then start drawing little ideas and elements," Hagman explains. "Every time I do a movie, I live with it so much that I get to appreciate it even more. Each movie gets even more amazing when you watch it over and over."

Hagman was possessed by cinema from a young age. "I think my first real horror movie was People Under the Stairs, which was a great first movie because it's about a kid, so I could relate to the character," she recalls. "I used to stay up with my sister at night, when the grown-up movies came on, the horror movies. It's like this weird addiction; it's comforting in a way. When you're a kid, it very much scares you, and sometimes you can feel like you don't want to do that again — but the next week, you're watching it again."

E​asily as interested in creating art as she is in consuming it, Hagman absorbed a wide range of artistic techniques on an educational path that eventually brought her from Gothenburg to Denver.

"The school system is a little different [in Sweden]: You get to choose a direction when you go to high school, so obviously I went to an art-oriented high school. Then I went to three years of fine arts, so printmaking, screen printing, etching and then painting and a little bit of everything. After that I went to the University of Dômen for design in Gothenburg, and that's also where you got to do an exchange for the last year," she says. "That's when I came to Denver, and I met my now-husband in school here at RMCAD in 2012."

H​er husband, local designer and musician Tram Nelson, was also crazy for movies. "When [Tram and I] met, I always just talked about movies," Hagman recalls. "So he's like, 'You need to meet my friend.'" That friend was local programmer Theresa Mercado, now well known for her popular horror-movie screening series Scream Screen. "We of course hit it off immediately, and we have this thing very much in common," Hagman says. "I went to see her, and she showed John Waters movies in a bar, which was awesome. The first time I [saw] her, she was doing Female Trouble, and she was dressed up as Divine."

M​ercado's programming also provided her with both an opportunity and the impetus to start producing art to share with Denver's genre fans. "She's one of my best friends; she's one of the reasons I really wanted to stay in Denver," Hagman says. "When she started Scream Screen, she needed someone to make fliers and promotional stuff, so I started making posters for her programs because it inspired and motivated me. I still do that; it's a fun little thing that keeps coming. Most of my adult life has been like, I have a day job, but then I try to do my own thing in my free time."

A​fter moving to Denver in 2015, she established that day-job side with a local animation business. "We did a lot of motion graphics, so there was an animator who I would design for," she says. "Now I work as a full-time designer at a law firm, which doesn't maybe sound fun, but I really enjoy it. We do a lot of fun graphic design projects." At the same time, she was producing her first posters for Mercado’s series.

Even as she was steadily becoming busier with her nine-to-five, other creepy creators were taking note of her extracurricular activities. In 2017, she was approached by local enamel pin company Kink Shame (now known as Attic Flood) to design some of its pins. "I met Attic Flood, and they kind of introduced me to the whole pin world. We did a bunch of pins together, and we did a couple for Severin [Films], which was cool. Then [horror clothing company] Fright Rags contacted me to do some things together, and I've made twenty-something pins for them now."

By this point, it was becoming clear that there was a thriving market hungry for her brand of cult-inspired merchandise. She was also eager to forge her own path as a creator and curator, and Hagman put together Cult Legacy with her tight-knit circle of horror heads. "My husband also wanted to start something that was working with movies,” she says, “mostly my favorite movies, and stuff that was a little more underseen than the franchises. So we started the company with Theresa and her boyfriend." Mercado and her partner eventually stepped down from being active members because of their own increasingly busy schedules, but "s​he's still, in spirit, part of it," Hagman says, "and we're always supporting each other's things."

Like many small companies, Cult Legacy does much of its business through an online store, which can be accessed through its Instagram, but it can also be found at a variety of events. The first pop-ups were at Scream Screen events, selling merchandise at nonprofit Denver Film's Sie FilmCenter. "The Sie FilmCenter has always been an important place for me," acknowledges Hagman. "I go there all the time to watch stuff, and they've always been very welcoming to us." Cult Legacy will next be at the Sie for Scream Screen's 35mm presentation of Pieces on Saturday, March 25.

The company has also started attending conventions, giving Hagman an opportunity to get out and meet fellow fans. Cult Legacy will be on the convention floor at Rocky Mountain Nightmares, which runs from May 12 through May 14 at the Grand Hyatt Denver, 1750 Welton Street. "It's always fun to do those shows," she says. "Sometimes there's people who are like, 'Oh, it's you guys,' and they've seen us maybe at the Sie years ago. It's great that people appreciate the movies; we don't usually have the name of the movie [on our shirts], so it's always fun to see people trying to figure out, 'What's the movie?'"

Hagman is currently working on the company’s new design, based on the 1922 Swedish docu-horror curiosity Häxan. She remains deeply appreciative of her fellow fans and supporters. "I think it's magic," she says. "For people that really to want to believe in a thing, they create this whole world around it. Everyone is like, 'We love these movies so much.'"

Find Cult Legacy at Scream Screen's screening of Pieces, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. Tickets are $14. Cult Legacy is on Instagram @cultlegacy and at cultlegacy.com.
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