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Photo by Lydia Cowpertwait

Areez Katki Does Dense Knits

Self-taught and straight-talking, New Zealand's latest revelation is knitting the Antipodes into a frenzy.

Visions of telluric electricity and dense woodlots are evoked by Persian-New Zealander Areez Katki’s reconfigured knitwear and it’s clear that the nineteen year old designer hasn’t even shown us all he has got. Katki’s one-off, handmade garments have been capturing his nation’s imagination since his acclaimed and accidental arrival at this year’s Air New Zealand Fashion Week and though label expansion seems at hand, he maintains that handmade is personal and that personal is beautiful. Dazed Digital speaks with New Zealand’s latest revelation about his corporeal aesthetic and what the future brings.

Dazed Digital: For the last year your work has been rapidly gaining momentum and you’ve been described by the New York Times as having stolen the show at Air New Zealand Fashion Week – at which you weren’t even formally showing.

Areez Katki: Well, it actually hasn't even been a year yet! It has been wonderful; it was meant to be my year of direction – towards fashion journalism, actually – but I find myself at the other side of the spectrum!

DD: When and why did you first start designing?

Areez Katki: I started designing at seven or eight years old but it didn't always involve knitting; crochet, hand-weaving and other sorts of handmade methods have always appealed to me. They allow a surface to tell a story like a palimpsest of readable texture with the creator as its author.

DD: What are the aesthetic touchstones to which you often find yourself returning?

Areez Katki: Being involved with making everything is in itself an aesthetic experience. It fuels me to the point where I can't stop making things! I like to push the boundaries of how intricate or how dramatic I can make a garment. Not only for me, but for the customer; no one should pay that much for something made in a factory or out of frustration.

DD: Are your collections structured thematically? Or by materials? I know you’ve mentioned that you’re currently working with mohair to which you're incredibly allergic.

Areez Katki: Hah! Yes, I am allergic to mohair but I take antihistamines and they help me cope. It’s funny because I always try to incorporate some into my collections, but I tend to fear for the comfort of its wearer. A thematic structure isn’t really something I think about; or maybe I do, but I'd rather develop further and experiment with shapes, techniques and colours than be held back by separate themes for each collection. I have the recurring habit of using certain ideas as inspiration like anthropomorphic features and paganism. I'm also interested in developing my label in the way a body and soul would develop over the duration of a lifetime. This could be a way of looking at the anthropomorphic faces on the dresses from my first collection: as a gesture towards the pre-natal state.

DD: Do you already see that Handmade III is going to embody the next chapter of this creatural story?

Areez Katki: It’s more fluid than separate chapters as I try to co-ordinate my creative impulses with everyday life. Handmade III, from what exists of it, looks like it will be much different because of the drapery. I've put in little hints at growth here and there, one of which is vertical drapery, as opposed to my previously horizontal patterns. This falls and skims against the body quite interestingly, giving more definition to the body underneath.

DD: You value the handmade aspect of your work very highly and this, paired with the singularity of your pieces, means that your work is essentially demi-couture. Do you see this as putting you in a difficult position between expanding production and maintaining the integrity of the garments?

Areez Katki: I do and I still don't know how I feel about it. I love the way it is now where every garment produced is the only one of its kind. Shapes and silhouettes are obviously maintained, but what each piece is made of is unique: different colours, different linear forms and with each piece a slightly different tension and therefore shape. To be able to pick up something and know that it is the only one of its kind – that creates a lovely experience for a buyer.

DD: As your work is very labour intensive and as it can take a considerable amount of time to create one piece, do you find yourself wanting to experiment with every garment?

Areez Katki: I experiment with them all initially as samples are made and ideas are still quite fresh. Handmade I was initially a pastiche of colour, forms and connotations and then I re-evaluated the collection. The labour intensity is constraining, but I can’t imagine Saturday nights being any better without it!

DD: With such devotion to knitwear, do you see yourself working as passionately with other materials?

Areez Katki: I would love to explore textile design further. I think it would be lovely to make my own yarns and fabric, and then somehow combine the two. I've experimented with different methods of felting, dyeing and creating my own yarns and some of that will be featured in Handmade III, but I'd definitely like to take that further.

DD: What is your vision for the future?

Areez Katki: If this year has taught me anything, it would be that the future is so very unpredictable! My vision, were it an ideal one, would be to develop the life and anatomy of my ideas, and then perhaps someday to exhibit or document them.