From 18th century garments to 90s Aaliyah and the universal nature of teenage boredom, Matthew Adams Dolan is making a name with his twisted take on denim
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Aussie designer Matthew Adams Dolan is subverting our idea of what the word “sexy” really means. His SS16 collection, designed and manufactured in New York City, is not only unisex, but it features garments cut into exaggerated and cartoonishly large shapes, making each piece demographic-free and accessible to anyone. In addition to the brand’s democratic nature, Dolan also attempts to infuse a sense of comfort into his clothes – his SS16 collection is inspired by the everyday uniform and an upbringing in suburban Australia, where jeans were the base of every outfit. Sweatpants with slits, hand-frayed, mop-like Vans sneakers and overstated denim jackets are just a taste of the elevated basics Dolan creates. The New York-based designer insists that sexiness stems from the attitude behind the clothing, and not how much skin you show. So, it comes as no surprise that tastemakers like Rihanna and rapper Travis Scott are big fans of the aesthetic and the ethos behind Dolan’s work. We hung out with the young designer at his studio and talked Aaliyah, the DIY culture in NYC and how “sexy” no longer means high heels and tight dresses.
How has your upbringing in Sydney impacted you as a designer?
Matthew Adams Dolan: I was always surrounded by sewing because my mum is a big sewer and she did a lot of craft. Growing up, I was really immersed in a clothes-making environment. I think I was always interested in design and art, but it wasn’t until I was choosing what to do at school that I realised I wanted to be a designer. In my last year of high school, I did a scholarship program at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra and the Vivienne Westwood retrospective was touring at the time. That was the turning point and moment I realised I wanted to be in fashion. I had an “American” upbringing, even in Sydney, in terms of the culture of my family and our house. It was so suburban. In terms of my clothes, it was just stuff my grandma would send to us. I just wanted to wear Vans and be like the surf-y and skate-y guys at school but instead I was wearing Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls.
Do you think the environment in Australia is limiting as a designer?
Matthew Adams Dolan: The scale is a bit smaller and it’s a bit calmer over there. The energy is very different to New York or London – it’s a bit more laid back and everyone knows each other, so people are more comfortable and less willing to take risks, which is reflected in what they wear too. Fashion is a lot sexier, girls love a good body con dress.
“There’s something so weird about suburban life. It’s not specific to a certain community... That banality and sense of the mundane is something I’m really interested in” – Matthew Adams Dolan
Do you reflect the nostalgia and boredom of growing up in suburbia through your clothes?
Matthew Adams Dolan: There’s something so weird about suburban life. It’s not specific to a certain community. There’s always going to be that sense of youthfulness and kids that come with the idea of suburbia. When I see my family in New Jersey it’s so surreal – it’s on another level completely. That banality and sense of the mundane is something I’m really interested in. I incorporate this concept in my collections even when it comes down to things like selecting fabrics.
What are some other inspirations for your SS16 collection?
Matthew Adams Dolan: I was referencing some historical garments from the 18th century like off the shoulder details and reinterpreting the reference through garments that really look like they are just falling off. Even the denim jackets – they’re not standard, the sleeves are purposely shaped so they look intentionally relaxed. I was watching a lot of cowboy movies and obsessed with western films and Americana. Hip hop is also a big reference. My moodboard is covered in photos of Aaliyah, like when she started wearing Tommy – it was such a moment.
What was the idea behind your SS16 lookbook and why did you decide to present the images in a gallery setting rather than doing a catwalk show?
Matthew Adams Dolan: We were looking at this idea of a constructed idea of reality and we made this weird suburban timeless home setting. There were 90s Tyra Banks calendars on the walls and we presented an odd collection of objects. It looked like it was shot at some weird relative’s house but still kind of obvious that it was in a studio. There was a tension between at home relaxation and a obviously staged setting.
The reason I decided to do a lookbook instead of a show ties into the climate and freedom of New York City right now and seeing what’s right as a brand. It was more about establishing an identity at the time and we thought it was the best way to represent the brand rather than doing a catwalk. Blown up images from the lookbook were presented in a gallery space alongside video screens and it was just a big fun party with friends.
Since moving to New York have you seen your perspective of fashion shift?
Matthew Adams Dolan: Absolutely. One of my first projects at college, we got given a cross section on a map and we had to base our project off that area. I spent a week at Dumbo in Brooklyn and I would take photos of every single person walking by me and I became obsessed with taking photos of tourists in Hawaiian shirts, Teva sandals and cargo shorts. I had like 2000 photos of guys in that look. I love the idea of repetition of familiar clothes that you’re so used to seeing and moved from that into denim and the idea of familiarity. Once you start counting you realise everyone wears jeans that’s where the denim interest came from. It’s so ingrained in our society.
How are you challenging our perceptions of the human body and the female form through the dramatic shapes you create with your garments?
Matthew Adams Dolan: Such voluminous clothes are not restricting to a woman or a man and I don’t restricting the clothes to a certain size, so I feel like they are quite democratic and available to anyone. I’m also really interested in the attitude behind the clothing, more than the body itself. I also like the idea of comfort. It stems immediately from the idea of looking at the everyday clothes people wear and also my personal approach to dressing. The idea of being comfortable, especially in your attitude, is a lot sexier than putting on something that’s crazy.
“I became obsessed with taking photos of tourists in Hawaiian shirts, Teva sandals and cargo shorts. I had like 2000 photos of guys in that look. I love the idea of repetition of familiar clothes that you’re so used to seeing” – Matthew Adams Dolan
Do you create your clothing with one specific person or demographic in mind?
Matthew Adams Dolan: Not really. The denim jackets have so many associations and attachments to them and carry elements that are so standardised and recognisable. I’m always thinking of a laid back and relaxed attitude, rather than an image of the wearer. I also think denim is quite masculine. The clothes are sexy but not in an obvious way. It’s not a tight dress with heels. The way the clothes are perceived is more about the person wearing them, due to the size. It’s all dependant on the way you wear and style the clothes.
How do you think the fashion scene here in New York has changed and become more open in the last year?
Matthew Adams Dolan: It’s such an exciting time to be a designer in New York. It’s been like ten years since Alex Wang and the Proenza boys have started, grown up and become big brands themselves. In the last few years there has been a huge shift in the community and there’s now a willingness to embrace emerging designers. It’s a different type of brand – not necessarily a brand trying to be big or commercial. It’s a lot more rebellious and more of a DIY culture here, which is awesome. The whole movement is centred on diversity and an unrestricted approach to dress and gender, which is really unique to this city. It means I don’t approach design with a narrow vision or customer in mind – it’s more of a judgement-free zone.
Model Sasha at Elite