Exhibition Magazine (2019)

Identity remains one of the topics that still stirs up debate around the collections, season after season, year after year, reflecting the disquiet that we feel in the society in which we live.

In addition to the search for a recognizable identity among the countless number of images, visual stimuli and information that we absorb on a daily basis, careful designers mostly create a parallel world - but not absurd - that goes hand in hand with the everyday reality, interpreting it through their personal lens. In some other cases, this lens is legible and translatable into a sort of a parallel dimension that is realized through the fashion items.

These 'catwalk avatars' (if they can be called that) have defined and still define the main and sometimes mainstream aesthetic of fashion. Just think of the futuristic/digital evolution proposed by Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga, starting from the FW18, an exasperated concept in a more complex way during the last summer season for 2019 through the collaboration with the artist Jon Rafman; or, in particular, the web campaign for SS19 created by Yilmaz Sen, crucial for our journey through alternative identities: a sequence of urban shots whose virtual protagonists are distorted and yet keeping a human dimension and exiting it at the same time.

Could we state that the digitalization of reality is the main focus of fashion in recent years? Or perhaps, even better, the distortion of reality itself, modified and shaped with that unique filter that allows designers to create new worlds that still keeps fashion creativity alive?

Thinking about Rei Kawakubo, his perseverance in creating a message and a way of communicating over the years has been the key to success that has allowed it - to this day - to be one of the few most successful independent brands, succeeding in creating, in turn, a loyal community of fans and professionals attracted by a new alternative dimension the Japanese designer takes with him.

What Kawakubo has managed to create is an alter ego capable of expressing every feeling, from joy to euphoria, from anger to apathy, through fifteen minutes of show or, better, performance. It's this alter ego that conveys what the designer cannot with words. It's the unconscious, inspirations and feelings that actually speak.

The designer of Comme Des Garçons, in turn, has managed to create a legacy able to carry forward the message of mental and creative freedom, a message that knows how to cope with high and low culture, mixing all the elements of everyday life and society, drawing from different sources - unique factors, among other things, that help the survival of ideas - and developing a critical and detached spirit that allows us to analyze reality.

Unlike Kawakubo, his supporters are not only in Paris, but scattered around the world among the various fashion weeks that have emerged over time, transforming fashion from one of the creative / industrial sectors to the most cosmopolitan, globalized, evolved, especially in a complicated and difficult socio-social context like the one the world is going through.

Tokyo, for example, stands out thanks to a spirit full of opposites and contradictions which distinguish the country, churning out talents with an inherently eccentric spirit, hard to interprete at first glance and which deserve attention of the editorial (and not only) international scene.

Jenny Fax best represents this new generation resident in Tokyo. Shueh Jen-Fang (the real name of the creator) is of Taiwanese origin and of European education - between Paris and Belgium - launches her brand in 2011, presenting a collection that arouses enthusiasm of the press and buyers. Ironic, sarcastic, sometimes caustic, Jenny Fax embodies the clash of cultures, emotions and stories that create her collections.

In your creations you might notice a certain surreal aspect that makes up an alternative, magical, unique dimension, underlined by styling, design and accessories.

I have maintaned the same idea all along, this collection is somehow the continuation of the previous one. Having lived in Belgium, I picked up the surrealist provocations of Magritte, whereas for this season I decided to take this vision to the horror world, especially some milestone films of this genre. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for instance, was more than useful for this research. I imagined the countryside in the south of the United States, those desolate wastelands where religion is among the most important things for the inhabitants. Then I imagined the possible inhabitants of these rural areas, akin to the family of the 1974 film, which collected bodies or parts of them. This idea, for example, has been translated into accessories [which represent parts of the body as hands and mouths] for Spring / Summer 2019, made of paper clay by some artists. I thought it was the only technique that could represent something realistic.

Furthermore, your website is very clear regarding the references which are mixed and transformed according to your vision, almost as if it were a Tumblr - with quotes from your interviews, from Twin Peaks, images between kitsch and trash (like Cicciolina near the Hanson, the UFOs, the Victoria Falls and Laura Palmer). All of this combined together creates an extremely complex aesthetic, an alternative to the mainstream, mainly virtual aesthetic.

All that you can see is the result of my growth - whether it be music, actors or characters. I also shared many moments with my brothers among records, magazines, television, films. Childhood and adolescence are important for my visual research, especially for the creation of all the garments. Twin Peaks, for example, is the kind of story that allows me to create collections. I found the fantastic and creative side to be fundamental but unlike other films / series (like Harry Potter, for example), each episode is rooted in reality and this kind of attachment to reality - which is distorted later - is the kind of approach that I wanted to keep for the collections. All of this goes together with my love for some typical elements of the eighties, with its iconic characters and companies such as Laura Ashley and her floral print. The key to understanding my collections is to go deep into every aspect of reality; there is no need to create something alternative or parallel, because questioning about everyday reality is much more interesting.

By the way, thinking of the collaborations the brand can boast of, you will immediately notice the choice of Lotta Volkova as a stylist. Do you think that her help has contributed to your approach to this 'avatar' reality, far from the so-called mainstream world?

Actually I think that the things we both work on are not so alternative or underground. Indeed, all this is very mainstream to me - it depends on the attitude that each of us has with the stimuli from the outside world. The point is that talking about inspirations or muses, I want to tell about the 'normal' girl. You know the girls you remember when you go to a party? You tend to remember the beautiful ones or those with some obvious flaw. You don't usually remember what is in the middle. I want to tell about that gray area, its protagonists, with their flaws, their aesthetic and cultural references. I want to tell this reality - also because, after all, I relate to this kind of person.

Do you think that thanks to social media and the internet, the goal of telling your vision has changed? The general way of communicating, since you launched your brand, has evolved into something that is not very blurred, difficult and extremely fast.

I created my Instagram account only one year ago, exclusively for my brand. That kind of fast and digital communication is difficult to use, especially for work purposes. In addition I've always been an analogical person, if you like. Recently, however, it started to dawn one me that Instagram is fabulous. After all, it is the only means we can use to connect to the world through images in an immediate way. It can help people talk from one side of the world to another. I have only some doubts regarding doing research through social media. Not that I am opposed to it, for heaven's sake, but since it is very common for many doing research there, I prefer to keep a certain distance in my world by reasoning on design.

And after all, Instagram and other social media have given the opportunity to create an alter ego to its users, invading the internet with a fluid plurality of personalities ...Almost like Tokyo, isn't it? One of those cities affected by multiple personalities. How does it feel to face a city like the Japanese capital, especially throughout the creation of each collection?

[Laughs] To be honest it's really easy for me because I'm lucky enough to work for a brand that I personally decided to launch with the people I chose, I'm not forced to live any double life. The city where I have previously lived was not like Tokyo at all; even the districts I chose were far from the 'fashion people'. Tokyo is interesting for its unique but multifaceted style and for the people who live there. The most curious thing is that perhaps the inhabitants of Tokyo are not so aware of their style since freedom in clothing is natural. This naturalness is really important. The styles which coexist in Tokyo have influenced my idea of fashion in some way, peculiarly for the relationship between fashion and animation (animated drawings, videogames, ...) - a culture that I have incorporated into my design since the beginning.

So fashion always remains a pipe dream, a way to escape from everyday reality?

It is not an easy question. My work as a designer is the creation of many items and collections but it also represents my reality, because it is a path which I deliberately embarked on a long time ago. Fashion for me is not an escape as much as life itself. But thinking again about Tokyo and some of its inhabitants, fashion does represent for them a way to come out of reality by creating their own universe that finds its release in clothing, something that can happen or that has happened for many other people in other cities, in other times. But for me, in the end, fashion is a job I was bound to choose, which is part of my life and which connects all the things I do, all the people I know and have met.

Vogue - Spencer Phipps

Last September, during the Fashion Week, Milan opened the doors of the prestigious Teatro alla Scala for one of the most important event of the year in fashion that indelibly marked the year 2017: the Green Carpet Fashion Awards – an important agreement by almost all the fashion system towards sustainability and the environment.

There’s a lot of new names linked to sustainable fashion besides big brands represented by creative directors like Alessandro Michele: emerging talents, brands and projects.
Brands like PHIPPS by Spencer Phipps, former menswear designer of Dries Van Noten, who debuted during Paris Fashion Week on January 20th.

The Californian designer focuses on the respect and curiosity towards nature. But there’s more: his goal is to try changing the way we consume creating products that respect the environment, adapting the production to the world we live in – a world where no one can be indifferent to any environmental subject. Who can blame him?

Phipps, at its Paris Fashion Week debut, showed a very interesting sustainable project. What made you choose the path of the environmental responsibility in fashion?

“It was something I started exploring while I was at Parsons in nyc. My graduate collection was made from mostly organic cotton and hemp fabrics which I dyed myself (it was much more artisanal than this project). When I started the collection I began researching again and was really impressed at the development of the industry in regards to sustainable textiles and manufacturing.

How much your work with Dries Van Noten and your Californian origins influenced this choice?

“My upbringing in San Francisco plays a huge role in my work. My mother was always teaching us about where things come from – our produce was delivered from a biodynamic farm, she made furniture from driftwood, she sewed and made jewelry- it’s a real hippie mentality that inspired my interest in the sustainability aspect of the brand. Also, growing up in California there is a certain ease to the way people dress. It’s very informal. They define luxury and glamour in a very different way. As for Dries – it was an amazing opportunity to work so closely with someone so focused and passionate. He’s quite punk in a way, he really does whatever he wants with his business, and always trusts his instincts. He taught me a lot about fabrics and respect for the whole supply chain. I was the first American that they ever hired so it was a real learning curve for me. I discovered a lot about myself in the process.”

Quoting from your press release “[...] as a modern fashion company, we are simply trying to do the right thing.”. Nowadays, your modesty is a very rare and pleasant virtue. What do you think about the latest attitude of fashion towards sustainability and ecology?

“Thank you. The fashion industry has a really terrible track record in terms of environmental responsibility. It’s time for a change, and I think customers are ready for it. There are a lot of amazing developments within the industry in terms of new sustainable manufacturing and textiles. It will be interesting to see how they progress into the market in the coming years.”

Do you think that social media can help people to be aware of our Earth and the possibilities that sustainability can give? Your brand’s Instagram profile is pretty focused on this theme.

“Absolutely. Technology has provided consumers with access to information that allows them to really investigate their purchases and explore their world in a way that is much more free and immediate. I believe that this will only become more important with the implementation of blockchain technologies and other new developments. With our brand we hope to help people feel connected to the world they live in – whether through our Instagram account or through the clothing. It’s about creating a dialogue and establishing a community.”

For a sustainable designer, choosing the country of production is sometimes quite hard. Tell us why you chose Portugal, Mongolia and also something about the fabrics that you worked with.

“Portugal is an amazing country for sustainable manufacturing. They were very active in the drafting of the Paris agreement, and follow strict regulations across all industries. The factories i work with recycle all their waste, and filter and reuse their waste water. They follow fair labour practices and are very much aware of their responsibilities in the supply chain. They also make beautiful products which helps as well. Our factory in Mongolia was found through a contact I met in Antwerp – they’re a small factory on a cashmere and yak farm. It’s a very localized product in that they shave the yak and knit the sweaters – no dyes or anything are used. We have the same thing with a British wool fabric we are using. All of of our fabrics are sourced from highly skilled mills that are practicing some form of sustainability. All the cotton in the collection is organic, the nylon is recycled. We have a fabric made partially from hemp from California – which, due to the legalization of marijuana, has become a new industry there.”

Phipps is a fresh and wearable brand, also thanks to its chic work/sportswear references and earthy colour palette – may I say understatement at its best? By the way, on the other side, your inspiration is very deep and intricate: how did you manage to link anthropology, mythology and educational purpose [mainly through the prints – ed.]?

“Thank you, that means a lot! In the early discussions of this season we spoke about beginnings, where we came from on a personal level, as well as spiritually and scientifically. We have to understand where we came from before we can move forward.”

Let’s think about the future: what are your goals starting from next collection?

“I hope to expand our product range and add new categories within the collection. I would like to refine our fabrications, and partner with new technologies in sustainable textiles/materials as well as more digital developments such as blockchain traceability software. Our goal is to create a community that shares our passion, interest and curiosity in the natural world.”

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