- NATALIA ALAVERDIAN
Designer and founder Natalia Alaverdian speaks about the power of imaginative narratives and finding her own sense of belonging within her creations.
Working from within a warehouse studio in Hackney Wick, East London, Alaverdian leads her young brand A.W.A.K.E from the unique perspective of former fashion editor and street style favourite. Russian born and Belgian-raised, Alaverdian launched A.W.A.K.E in 2012, interpreting her own unique narrative from within the womenswear scene; she creates fanciful and carefully deconstructed collections that accentuate and play with tailoring, narrative, femininity and art.
We caught up with Alaverdian in her London studio before her anticipated pre-SS17 collection launch at LN-CC.
LN-CC: WHAT’S IN THE NAME, A.W.A.K.E? HOW WAS THE BRAND BORN AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
Natalia Alaverdian: My little brother was taking a gap year after college, and he was a bit lost and procrastinating for a while, and then all of a sudden he started doing tons of things, so I asked him: how come, and he said: "Man, I’m finally awake!" I really liked that and when I was looking for a name for the brand it came back to me. It's a nice concept which for me means to be aware, to be sensitive and conscious, to live every moment with intention and attention, to be open, to be perceptive, making no assumptions just soaking in everything that's going on. So it's something I like to associate my clothes with.
A.W.A.K.E. is also an acronym for All Wonderful Adventures Kindle Enthusiasm, which is sort of related to the concept of being awake. The brand name is also related to wakefulness and dreaming/sleeping, so one can be very awake and still a dreamer; in fact I believe that people who are dreamers are most awake. So each collection is a bit of a dream, a story to be told.
HOW DID YOU RELATE TO FASHION GROWING UP? WHO OR WHAT INSPIRED YOU MOST?
N.A: I would make scribbles and paper dolls to dress as soon as I could hold a pencil. My mom used to draw amazingly well and she made most of my clothes herself so this massively influenced me growing up. Then I got really fascinated by the history of costume and art history so my favourite time would be re-sketching old portrait sketches (Rembrandt's and Durer's), then I moved to Klimt and Schiele, I still can't get over the way they sketch and paint hands.
I was so fascinated by history of costume I got completely mesmerised by Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano, I would watch their shows and think that this is what I will be doing when I grow up.
HOW HAS YOUR MULTINATIONAL BACKGROUND AFFECTED YOUR CREATIVITY?
N.A: Soviet cartoons and Russian fairy tales where main characters were animals left quite a significant imprint on me I think. Also I was always a bit of an outsider, a Jewish/Armenian kid in a Soviet school - I don't have a Russian last name. Then I was considered a Russian kid in an International / American / Catholic school in Belgium. This felt even stranger, so when I was growing up I was a bit of a loner, on my own and in my head, so I guess it just made me a bit nerdier. Even now people think I am Russian, but I don't bother to correct them anymore, as it gets too confusing. I am just used to being associated with things I really do not associate myself with, so I felt the need to escape into my own imagination, and I think that's how I was affected creatively.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE LONDON TO LAUNCH YOUR BRAND FROM?
N.A: Because it's truly free, it is punk and rock'n'roll and a best place to create in, it is tradition and innovation and rebellion all in one crazy mix, which makes it so attractive.
YOU HAVE CREATED A RECOGNISABLE TAILORING CODE THROUGHOUT YOUR COLLECTIONS, HOW DID YOU DEVELOP THIS?
N.A: Thank you! Oh, I don't know, I didn't aim for it, it just sort of comes through, and I try to let things happen organically, and so obviously then I tend to deviate towards what's natural for me without forcing it too much. I love tailoring - coats and jackets are my favourite to develop, and I like the sculptural 3-D effect clothes can have, so I tend to always go into this direction.
WHAT IS YOUR DESIGN PROCESS? HOW DO YOU GET INSPIRED EACH SEASON?
N.A: It's jumping between a hundred million ideas and associations and trying to edit and put all these thoughts into one coherent flow through researching into these different directions. Ideas come from all over the place, and the worst thing is when you sort of settled with one concept, and already started working in this direction in terms of fabrics and patterns, and then you watch a movie or see an exhibition or just an old music video on YouTube and then you suddenly realise that that's what you really should have been doing from the very start, and it's a very distinct feeling. So then I change the whole thing, but it's even more exciting.
HOW HAS JAPANESE ART AND CULTURE INSPIRED YOU, HOW DO YOU CONTINUE TO DEVELOP THIS THEME WITHIN YOUR COLLECTIONS?
N.A: I love Japanese prints, the colours and detail in them are just amazing and very inspiring. Layering in Japanese costume is so elegant, and so is the sculptural effect of them. There was a point when I was really obsessed with origami belts, and used these elements in a few collections, as well as a diagonal, kimono like closures and sliding back collars. I am a huge fan of Takeshi Kitano's films, everything from narrative to colours there is really inspiring, one film Kikujiro was a reference for an entire SS14 collection. And I’m crazy about Japanese anime, the imagination behind is something very special. My squirrel AW15 collection was Pokémon inspired (that was a year or two before the whole Pokémon obsession began again). I don't always make it a purpose to make collections particularly Japanese but somehow there is a hint that just gets thorough, even when I don't mean for it to be there.
YOUR COLLECTIONS PLAY ON STORYTELLING, WHAT IS THE NARRATIVE OF YOUR PRE-SS17 COLLECTION?
N.A: Each collection has an animal mascot. SS17 collection's mascot is the jellyfish. So Resort'17 is a pre-jellyfish collection. Ruffles and pleats are meant to symbolise jellyfish legs, and all the faux leather is responsible for the jellyfish sliminess. There are also transparent plastic elements which sort of stand for the fish tank, and jellyfish's transparency. The collection is quite colourful because jellyfish tend to shine with different colours in the water.
HOW DO YOU RELATE TO THE CURRENT FLUX OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY AT THE MOMENT? HOW DO YOU SEE A.W.A.K.E EVOLVING?
N.A: I think as everyone tends to go into different directions, there are no more rules, which is very nice and liberating. Well, we have a lot of plans, but at the end of it all there is a particular goal of changing perceptions, and developing from just fashion into something more, but that of course is in the future.
HOW IMPORTANT IS SUSTAINABILITY TO YOU AND YOUR COLLECTIONS?
N.A: I think if it does not sell and I only make it for my own personal pleasure it is pointless to make it. Fashion is primarily a business, and only then an art form. If it sells well it does not mean it's uncool, quite on the contrary I think. The more people enjoy your clothes, the more sense there is to go on making it. And I really mean enjoy clothes, not just want them or buy them because they think they have to, but truly enjoy them, and feel good, comfortable, special and attractive when wearing them. Thus, sustainability is a number one factor in everything I do for A.W.A.K.E.