Feben’s favourite Whitney Houston song is “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay”. She even chose it as the title of her Central St Martins MA 2020 graduate collection; and the floor filler is as much an anthem to cheesy club nights as it is the designer’s genre-bending approach to fashion.
Born in North Korea and raised in Sweden by an Ethiopian mother, the designer spent much of her childhood displaced and living in migrant camps. And Feben’s fashion works because of these tribulations – she translates her feelings of misplacement, as both a child refugee and a Black woman, into raucous and surreal garments.
In using the autobiographical, Feben cultivates a form of communal resistance. Alongside bulbous, asymmetrical gowns, her graduate collection featured tailoring which had been accentuated at the hips and bust in order to better fit Black women, while the heel of a boot parodied, and appropriated, eurocentric nose shapes. Already this vision has captured industry attention; in 2019 Vemmenby was selected as one of the costumiers for Beyonce’s “Brown Skin Girl” video.
Now she’d like to take her altruism beyond the runway; hosting crafts workshops for children from minority backgrounds. “It’s imperative that we speak about the unsustainable gaps in the creative industries and that kids can see someone that looks just like them providing them the space and opportunity to express themselves,” she says. Or, in other words, that all children, regardless of background, are “gonna make it, anyway”.
Text Daniel Rodgers