Taken from the June issue of Dazed & Confused
At times, Nasir Mazhar’s world can be hard to define. His work is routed in subtle rebellion – he doesn’t believe in “concept”, nor does he ever adhere to one set of rules or a continuous theme. Instead, he “makes”. One thing is certain – his work is far from timid. It’s loud, ballsy and at times verges on kitsch – in the best possible way. Within a few minutes of Dazed arriving at his east London studio he says, “Do you think someone should be able to look at a designer’s work and see all the influences?” It’s a refreshing question to ask at a time when the industry demands that a designer’s vision be summed up in a 140-character tweet. “Where is the art in that?” he continues. Of course, Mazhar’s world is filled with an abundance of references, from African tribes to robots to grime music, but is never defined by these things alone.
He began his career working with hair, before moving on to headwear and creating theatrical looks for designers such as Meadham Kirchhoff and Gareth Pugh. Now he works on his own full men’s and womenswear collections, complemented by his accessories, which range from strange masks to ornate hairstyles. For his recent AW13 womenswear show, he created a club room inside the Tate Modern tanks where Shystie performed under neon lights, reminding us of a time when fashion shows blurred the boundaries between club and catwalk. For our masked rebellion issue, we asked Mazhar to create a bespoke mask for us, an object with the ability to transform, disguise and tell a unique story. Here, he talks us through his design process and shares his views on his industry:
MAKING THE MASK
“I didn’t really know what I was going to do, but I quite like working in that way. I like the spontaneity of it. When I first started I was never concerned with having a concept behind a collection. I would just start making things and see how they came out. Your aesthetic can just emerge through that. There is no need for a concept. For this piece, I looked back at the masks we made last season for the AW13 menswear collection. I wanted to do something similar, so I just worked with materials that I found around my studio. I’ve used black nylon, white jersey, black beads and rubber tubing. Materials are a good thing to start with – for me it is always a visual thing. I guess I would be quite comfortable if I was asked to make anything.
THE ALLURE OF MASKS
It is such a change to wear a mask. I suppose it can be seen as quite a shocking thing to not be able to see someone’s face. Somehow that is just instantly interesting, isn’t it? I guess it is also the drama of not being able to see someone’s face. Even with hats, everything is just a bit more dramatic. That isn’t necessarily the goal, but it’s more interesting because you can’t see something. You can tell a story with accessories. They are like little sculptures, aren’t they? They are sculptural and more hands-on to make. Garments are essentially just pattern cutting and sewing. Accessories can become sculptural shapes really quickly. It is a quicker satisfaction.
When something is too concept-based it can feel a bit try-hard. I don’t think it should be just about one thing. It is so regimented and feels so lazy. I mean, is that all you had to think about? It is so limiting. It is easy to say, ‘This collection was about these three reference points,’ but where is the art in that? There is more going on in our lives and the world. Where is the desire to let yourself be free to take things from different worlds? We are meant to be artists. Obviously we have businesses and you can’t mess about with that, and there are always criteria for a collection, but artistically you need to be able to explore. But each to their own. That is why fashion is so big now – because we tell everyone everything. We don’t keep it to ourselves. People want to be told. Everything streams down so quickly. Sometimes I think, why did punk go on for so long? But it was because back then, things took so long to filter down to the masses. Now you can’t do anything. At the same time, it has done the industry wonders. Now everyone can be ‘fashionable’. But it just makes me want to be a complete freak.
EARLY FASHION INFLUENCES
People like McQueen, Mugler and Gaultier all really got to me. Their work was always really sexy, really funny or really stupid – there was no shame. They had so much front and could pull anything off. It was just interesting, always really ballsy and really futuristic. Again, it was the theatrics of it all. It was about a feeling – so attention-grabbing and far away from minimalism. For me, design should always be something that isn’t shy. I guess it is loud and it is confident. If there were a Clothes Wars, my work would be a truck, not just a little piece of fabric. It has got to look strong, but then again I also like frills and fluffy things!
CREATING A WORLD
I think the industry demands for you to create a world. After you finish a show everyone asks you what the inspiration behind the collection was, and it’s like, why don’t you do some work and figure it out for yourself instead of asking me? The thing is, you get so wrapped up in the process of making it that what you say might not necessarily be all that the collection is about. It is just a whirlwind and a process. It just happens. They just want to sell it. To be able to sell something you need a speech. The speech is the inspiration. I wish you didn’t have to create a world because sometimes you end up spoonfeeding people. You won’t ever be able to tell them exactly what you mean. That is a good thing.
GROWING UP IN EAST LONDON
I didn’t know who Kurt Cobain was until I was 21 years old. People thought that was crazy. I had never heard of grunge music, but we just didn’t have anything like that around us. We only listened to garage and R&B music – that was it. You’re not seeing the world, or the style, or the sound of all those other things. If you only listen to that type of music and go to those types of clubs, you are influenced by it. You don’t really know how, but somehow it is just embedded. In the studio I listen to dancehall, garage and grime, lots of forms of Mobo (music of black origin). I’m really getting into that word! I guess my brand has come to be associated with that kind of music.
ON COMPILING RESEARCH
For some collections I don’t have any references. For AW13 men’s there was some research, but for the women’s there was hardly any. In general, I love researching and I am interested in a lot of things. I always look at African culture. I look at robots, machines and sportswear protec-tion too – really obvious things. Also, industrial and protective clothing. I have quite a few books. Lots of old Versace catalogues, I always look at them. I also have a lot of books on Africa. I think that was one of the first books I ever bought, one on Africa. It details African tribes, their hair, ornaments, jewellery, their dress and day-to-day life. That’s the future. I guess there is already so much out there in the world, so many different styles of clothing, that you just need to look at what’s around you and what is missing. I think it is really important to make new things. So many people are just regurgitating old stuff.”