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Shan Huq for Dazed by Thomas McCarty
Shan Huq SS16Photography Thomas McCarty

Shan Huq: the fashion week breakout you need to know now

With awkward suburban boys and savvy girls, the designer explores banality – soundtracked by Britney Spears voiceovers and Olive Garden commercials

NYC’s growing family of unique underground fashion voices has an exciting new addition to this season’s roster: 20-year-old Shan Huq, a completely self taught designer from Los Angeles. For SS16, the designer staged a show in St. Mark’s Church in the Lower East Side, presenting his vision of a group of teenagers living in the small towns of middle America. These boy and girls – the kinds one might see hanging out in Dairy Queen parking lots across the country – marched through the sanctuary wearing suburban uniforms of tracksuit bottoms, cargo shorts, plaid shirts, and short skirts with beaten up sneakers in a kind of impoverished, anti-spectacle of fashion.

“Banality is something I’ve always been interested in. I’m interested in lots of pictures of nothing – empty spaces, girls at school, or girls just sitting down,” says Huq. “The collection is about essentials: the average, average life. These are all clothes that you know, but a bit tweaked: your sweatpants, your jeans, your t-shirts, your sweater vests, things you might wear to church or school. These clothes are the essentials of your wardrobe, but also the essentials of your mind, the essentials of life and the essentials of your sexuality.” 

“The collection is about essentials: the average, average life. These clothes are the essentials of your wardrobe, but also the essentials of your mind, the essentials of life and the essentials of your sexuality” – Shan Huq

Nylon jackets and cotton t-shirts, embroidered intricately with everyday musings by collaborator and New York writer Tyler Sayles, hinted at a tender nostalgia for nameless people from the past and isolated places left behind. “The things I wrote about were either observations I made on my phone just walking around and or from my childhood,” says Tyler. “I grew up outside of Michigan, and there was a distinct look to the sort of girls hanging around. I imagine the girl in this collection was the kind of girl who went to my high school that I admired because she was real, had sex with boys earlier than anyone else and had a sort of wisdom to her. Not like a slutty wisdom…but maybe like she’d read a lot of Joyce Carol Oates books.”

“We were inspired by a lot of portrait photographers who went through middle America, like Alec Soth and Renike Dijkstra – coming of age images that show this idea of existing ‘before or outside of the city,’ says the show’s stylist Matt Holmes. “I was excited we were able to cast friends who are 18 in the show. Interestingly, all the girls who walked are art history majors and I love this idea of intelligence wearing a short skirt. Also, it’s usually a man’s condition to be seen as strong, so I think it’s also nice we chose softer, more awkward naïve boys.”

The show’s soundtrack by Michel Sayegh affirmed the collection’s nostalgic core and the designer’s love for banal Americana, featuring selections from several YouTube compilations including “Britney Spears’ Funniest Chaotic Moments” and beauty advice from tutorials like “Aspirin Mask” and “Make Your Own Pore Strips.” One particular moment during the show – in which the soundtrack dissolved into an Olive Garden radio commercial advertising shrimp carbonara and unlimited breadsticks – was Huq’s transformative assertion that there is an off-kilter, diverse and intimate American coming of age experience we all share; a lifelong nostalgia that came into existence between childhood and adulthood, hometowns and big cities, of dreaming and becoming.