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Mark Fast's Slow Approach

Dazed & Confused has picked a number of new designers to feature in the December issue and the knitwear designer Mark Fast is one of them.

When Mark Fast first began to study fashion at Seneca College in Toronto, Canada, he had never even heard of Central St. Martins. However, he was lucky to befriend a tutor who opened his mind to the exciting range of possibilities and opportunities that London could provide for an inspired youth with an interest in fashion. Application forms filled out, acceptance notices received, bags packed, and so it all began.  That was five years ago, and Mark has not had to look back since, as it was soon upon arriving in London that he discovered the tool that he would use to shape his creative career:

“At Seneca I had studied flat patterning, and thought that this was really it for me. But I was walking down Well Street, in Hackney, and I found the most amazing domestic knitting machine at a charity shop.  It was about a week before they were going out of business, and I can’t imagine why they would have this massive machine. And you know, I almost didn’t buy it because I didn’t know how to use it. But I just taught myself, and ever since then it is the only machine that I have used.”

With a little luck, a lot of perseverance, and a bit of time Fast has become a bonafied genius of knits, who wields a complex and intricate arsenal of stitches to exalt and enhance the female form. And while his technical skill is far reaching, his methodology is remarkably singular:

“I always start with the body and the extensions off the body. I get inspired by the severity of stitches as they expand and contrast across the body’s curves, creating an interesting interplay with revealing and concealing elements. I am also inspired by the astounding range of possibilities that the various stitch patterns provide.”  

His concentrated approach and distinctive sense of style have already won him a great deal of recognition and success in his early career.  His graduation collection won him the i-D styling award at the prestigious ITS#7 Fashion Festival in Trieste, and he was recently selected by ON|OFF to present his first professional collection on the runway during London Fashion Week. He has also had the opportunity to work with successful designers such as Bora Atsu and Elber Albaz for Lanvin.  These experiences have been formative for Fast, as they provided him with an entirely new perspective on his work:

“Bora Atsu is such an amazing person and free spirit. I worked with him for a couple of seasons, and he became such a major mentor for me. I gained so much knowledge and experience there.  It was very nurturing. Then I worked for Elber Albaz on a project. Just of be in his presence for a short time, learning how he works, really changed me. He saw my work from a completely different perspective. For him it was like tribal jewelry.”

Fast used these experiences to clarify his vision and gain the impetus to continue with his work. He realised it is the meticulous care and hands-on quality of his production that makes his designs valuable and unique, particularly in an industry bent on speed and trends:

“Really, there is so much fast fashion out there. I want to create pieces that are different from everything else, that focus on the craftsmanship. Because I use a mechanical knitting machine, each piece requires a substantial time investment.  For me, this slowness is important, because it gives each piece a special quality that cannot be mass-produced.  It is to create an elegance that is unique and can survive the test of time. I want to focus on the beauty of the woman’s body, and not layer it with so many unnecessary accoutrements and bulk.”
The key for Fast is to never stray far from the source.  He still returns to visit his family in Canada regularly, and claims that is here that he finds the major source of his inspiration:

“When I go back to Canada, it is like a refreshing breeze. It is the best time to think, because going along the highway and wandering through vast fields there is little to distract me: just the peacefulness of space itself. There is nothing like the quiet and natural beauty of being in a forest after the rain.
“My SS09 collection was inspired by the ritual eagle sun dance of the Ojibwa natives of Canada. I have been to their dances while visiting, and it is just so profoundly amazing to experience. The dance is all about the movement of the spirit, and I want this to be a big part of the way I work and the pieces that I design.”