Andre Walker is one of fashion’s most cultishly adored originals, but, into his fourth decade of intermittent, nonconsecutive design, he and his work maintain an aura of sudden invention. There is no calculated commercialism to what Andre does: not when he began his career, designing for Willi Smith’s Williwear in the 1980s, nor in his own line, which he’s shown on and off since he held his first show aged 15 in a nightclub in New York City. Perhaps this is why other designers, like Kim Jones and Marc Jacobs, have turned to him to imbue their own work with his particular sense of aesthetic clairvoyance. (In 2011, the New York Times dubbed him the real-life “fashion Zelig”.)
That sense of innovation is particularly felt in Non Existent Patterns, the designer’s SS18 collection shown in October at Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs. For the collection (and several more to come until the year 2020), Walker brought back patterns from looks he designed between 1982 and ’86. “They are so unlikely, so improbable – a curiosity, if you will,” says Walker of his creations’ strange power to bleed into the present. Sponsored in part by Pendleton, the show saw wool specimens undulate in folds around the body, and hand-patterned pieces worn with white poplin shirts spring forth like two-dimensional drawings puffing into bloom. By the time a parade of looks cut from Glacier National Park blankets emerged to close the show, it felt like the least pompous and most contempo show in Paris that week. The funny thing is, it was nothing but a super-chic spectre of the past.
“Patricia Field let me know she had a selection of (my) archives and I went to see them,” recalls Walker. “Kim Hastreiter, Henny Garfunkel and Christiaan Houtenbos also had some pieces. I hadn’t seen this work in a long time, and it became a way to create a project for myself. I didn’t have an archive of my early work, only sketchbooks and some press. That’s why it was so mind-blowing to see the pieces and have this kind of, Oh my God, I made these things? reaction to them.”
Assembling a cast of close friends, new muses and family members for this shoot was a task that came easily to Walker. “Mom would have been in this shoot too, if the schedule allowed,” he says by way of disclaimer. He was, however, able to include his sister, Sandra (pictured below). “Sandra is my perceived opposite,” he explains. “She has constantly brought our family together and has kept me mindful of such things. Coups have included bringing my dad and I back together in Paris at my Open Cubism Art Slang Lust collection at the Communist HQ in ’98, and bringing my mom and dad to Paris for my show at Petit Palais in ’99.” Just as emotion dictates Walker’s output above consumer cycles, so do the people he designs for.
“I started making clothes to make my way to Paris,” Walker recalls, “but also as a way of meeting people. It dawned on me quite early that making clothes helped me communicate – as any interest does.” Paradoxically, Walker represents the ultimate fashion outsider and insider, a dichotomy that has perplexed even him. “Adrian (Joffe) and Rei (Kawakubo), Marc Jacobs, Kim Jones, Pat Field, Kim Hastreiter and Bill Cunningham have been giant influences in my life,” he says, invoking his pedigreed peers. “They know both sides of the coin. With this last collection, I feel I finally do too.”
“Paulo is my life and heart, masquerading as a friend,” says Walker, issuing particularly lofty praise. “We met 30 years ago. He shares his tough love and guidance (with me) – and Tallulah, his Brussels Griffon.”
Hudson, an avid yogi and sometime actor who was born in Jamaica, echoes Walker’s familial sentiment. “I met Andre in Central Park in the spring of 1986 and we became immediate friends… spiritual brothers,” he recalls. “His entire family – his mom, his late dad, and Sandra – have also become my family. Andre is an absolute genius and the most beautiful person to his core.” From their first encounter in the park, the pair struck up an instant bond, and Hudson ended up walking in Walker’s second New York show, later travelling to Paris for a runway show in 1991. “Andre’s work is super-special, and he loves to have everyday people show it.”
Day-to-day, Hudson co-runs a yoga class with world-renowned tutor Yogi Charu, the proceeds of which are donated to children in need across New York. As Hudson prepares for his annual yoga retreat in Costa Rica this March, he takes a moment to reflect on ideas of reconnecting yourself to your outer appearance. “I’ve never worked in fashion, but I know that it is hard work,” he emphasises. “I would like to see people working more on their inner beauty so that the outward can be effortless… I think Andre represents that.”
In an age where we all have a tendency to overamplify, there is something to be said for the impulse to wait. “I enjoy the intimacy and slowness of my writing,” says Amy Sall. The founding editor of a forthcoming platform called SUNU: Journal of African Affairs, Critical Thought and Aesthetics, Sall aims to bring new perspectives to conversations surrounding Africa and its diaspora. It’s a mission that Walker, who met Sall while she was working at the Rick Owens store in New York, is fully on board with. “Amy is someone I admire and am in awe of,” he says. “Our relationship is based on warm encounters and continual well-wishing.”
“The idea (for SUNU) came from reading papers written by my peers about African issues, and thinking that these conversations shouldn’t be confined to an academic space,” says Sall. Seeing people’s reactions to archival African images posted to her social media, Sall realised the need for a greater digital space to explore topics in ways that Instagram may not be suited for. “While social media is great for sharing and discovering things, to me it is too limiting as a space to hold important conversations. I wanted to find a way (to share ideas) about Africa and the diaspora that allowed for meaningful engagement.”
“Andre is totally true to himself,” continues Sall. “That’s why so many people love him and his work, and why he has such incredible longevity. I think that all artists can, and should, take a page out of his book.”
Born in London, Aiden Curtiss moved to New York aged nine, not knowing where her life would end up taking her. “I never understood what a true model was until I started to work,” she says. “I was told growing up that I should try it out, as I was always the tallest in my class, but I was a bit shy and awkward.”
Visiting agencies once she turned 18, Curtiss soon found herself taken with the job. “Fashion shows are beautiful to be a part of. The designers and teams have been working for months and you get to be a part of their vision. I think posing in a picture is my responsibility, to make sure the composition and my pose complement each other. Editorials push me outside my boundaries and I always leave feeling proud.”
Another thing that Curtiss is proud of is her heritage. “Half-African, from Guinea”, she’s the daughter of late iconic model Katoucha Niane. But with names like Versace and London upstart Matty Bovan under her belt, Curtiss is carving her name in an industry that can sometimes place emphasis on social media over real work. Still, she doesn’t let it go to her head. “I admire models who use their platform to make a difference,” she says. “It’s important to choose a cause that resonates with you, because then you’ll fight for it.”
“I don’t know her personally yet,” admits Walker of Curtiss’s part in this portfolio. “But I loved how articulate and effortlessly truthful she was when Carlos (Taylor, next page) and I drilled her about stuff.”
“The great thing about collaborating with someone like Andre is that he believes in magic,” says art director Carlos Taylor. “Working with Andre is like working with your brother, on a project that the both of you used to lay in the grass and dream about doing.” The pair’s working relationship began when Taylor introduced Walker to his first backer in 1990, before the latter’s first collection in Paris the following year. But as Taylor, a former model, points out, they first met at a go-see when Walker was at Williwear.
Born and raised in New York, Taylor became fixated on fashion from an early age. “I would spend my summer in the New Rochelle Public Library perusing magazine after magazine for hours and hours,” he recalls. “I would arrive around noon and close the library at eight in the evening.” Eventually, it dawned on Taylor that he wanted to create his own print venture. “I was always at the newsstands looking at the latest editions and felt that, you know, something was missing.”
Eventually, this would lead Taylor and Walker to create the rare and collectible 2009 fashion bible, Tiwimuta (an acronym for This is what it made us think about), sold at the likes of Barneys and Dashwood Books. “Carlos is hands-down my favourite collaborator, friend, and a priceless source of discretion and guidance,” Walker effuses. “He has worked with me through it all… almost.”
By the time she graduated from university in Paris, Céline Danhier knew she would be making films. “I love telling stories and I’ve always been interested in discovering things I didn’t know about, or seeing new perspectives. Documentary film envelops these ideas.”
Danhier’s 2011 doc Blank City explored the grimy, halcyon scene of early-80s New York, when artists like Amos Poe, Lydia Lunch and Bette Gordon took art into their own hands with work that established a bohemian, anti-conventional movement under the rising shadow of the decade’s go-go Reaganism. Danhier’s appreciation for such purity of artistic purpose continues today. “I believe that there are still a lot of inexpensive ways to express creativity and collaborate with other people, ways that didn’t exist in the past,” she explains. “The internet, especially, has helped in this regard.”
“We will make some moving images someday,” Walker says of Danhier, whom he refers to as his own effortless cheerleader.
In recent years, Danhier has established a film collective called Bunny Lake, producing shorts, fashion films, feature documentaries and fiction narratives. “We are working on some short videos to showcase Andre’s designs,” she reveals. “Honest, creative ideas are the hope for our future as they bring in new perspectives, sustainability, and worlds we may never have imagined before.”
Andre Walker describes Jeremy Lewis as “confident, a baby scholar, and a general know-it-all.” But Lewis didn’t always see himself a next-gen fashion historian.
“For most of my life, I thought fashion – at least the kind I’d see on runways or parodied on TV – was boring and pointless,” says the writer and editor. “But as I got older, I started being concerned with the way that I looked, and I innately understood the power of clothes. In school, I was lucky because we had an amazing historic costume collection. So as I was discovering fashion in magazines I was also learning its history… And then I was totally obsessed.”
Lewis’s semiannual journal of fashion thought, Garmento, often looks to the collections and designers that traditional media aren’t spotlighting. Renaming the project Jeremy for his next issue, Lewis will tackle the same terrain of fashion, history and obscurities, with an added focus on science-fiction and comics.
“My curiosity begins when I can’t find information about a certain subject or a designer – if I discover a name or a picture that I can’t explain,” Lewis reveals. “Then I will look for primary sources, whether it’s old articles or accounts from people who are old enough to know better, and then from there I’ll build out the world and context around it. I try my best to understand what a designer or a moment meant in their time, the same way that we intuitively understand or regard a designer today. Context, context, context!”
To describe Desire Moheb-Zandi as a fibre artist does a disservice to her work. Her pieces, which can extend upwards of eight feet in height, consider textile designs and applications used in clothing, rugs, or blankets and mutate them into works of hysteric sculpture. “As Anni Albers says, a sculptor deals mainly with volume, an architect with space, a painter with colour, and a weaver with tactile effects and therefore texture,” Moheb-Zandi reasons. “A characteristic of my work is my drive to create tapestries by exploring new forms. It helps me to explore new sensibilities.”
This attraction to the new and inexplicable is what bonded her to Andre Walker. “We are just on the same frequency,” she explains. “It’s inspiring to work with people who can impose their own interpretations of reality where playing it safe has become the standard.” Born in Berlin to a Turkish mother and Iranian father, the artist was raised in the southern Turkish city of Adana. After attending university in Istanbul, she moved to New York, where a chance encounter at Dover Street Market brought her to the attention of Walker, who was instantly soothed by her presence. (“Perceptually, she is pure love and community,” Walker says of his friend and collaborator.)
“I was mind-blown when I discovered Andre’s work,” says Moheb-Zandi. “I feel there is something deeply unique in his unaffected approach to design. Who knew pants could have wings?”
Hair Jimmy Paul at Susan Price NYC, make-up Ingeborg using Surratt Cosmetics, styling assistants Felicia Malone, Sabrina Santiago, hair assistants Evanie Frausto, Yollanda Stephens, talent Amy Sall at Elite, Aiden Curtiss at Next, Céline Danhier, Paulo Hudson, Jeremy Lewis, Desire Moheb-Zandi, Carlos Taylor, Andre Walker, Sandra Walker