With his final collection “Cartharsis” Welsh native and University of South Wales graduate Alex Chard addresses subculture identities as well as his own.”Cartharsis” caught the attention of multiple magazines as well as celebrated fashion writer Hilary Alexander.
Alex developed his degree collection whilst on an Erasmus Program at the Politechnico de Milano in Italy. “Catharsis” carries out a sociological exploration of its creator as well other gay men in the contemporary culture.
Based around sportswear and playing with the concept of “the chav” in gay culture, the collection uses contrasting combinations of materials and colour to depict the “primitive male in the digital age.”
Alex, can you describe your final collection “Catharsis”?
My research or concept is a combination of my personal experience as well as that of other people. When communicating my ideas I try not to take myself too seriously and approach my work with an exploitation element My research is often controversial and I don’t mind my work being disconcertingly funny. For my final collection I looked at different sexual behaviours and identities of gay men and how they could be understood as varying reactions to hegemonic constructs of masculinity.
The collection is sportswear based, mainly because I was focusing specifically on the chav in gay culture. The outfits incorporate heavy silk satin, airtex and other sports fabrics with material like fur and plastic. The colours are a combination of neutral organic colours mixed with acidic colours to illustrate the idea of the primitive male in the digital age.
What was your intention when you designed the collection?
My work is an expression of subculture identities including my own. The purpose of my work is to present an exploration and sociological evaluation of gay cultures.
How were you inspired for this collection?
The inspiration for my work draws from my personal endeavours of growing up and finding out where my sexual identity fits in. I soon realised socialisation among gay men was very different to the heterosexual settings I grew up with.
It was through clothing that Marx’s concept “commodity fetishism” began to make sense to me;since clothing has had a new meaning for me. Depending on what footwear I wear, I attract different men. They can know me sexually before even knowing my name. This is what initially inspired my collection.
My research has since moved into other topics. I have looked at the commoditization of masculinity and gay identityby looking at product choice. The Internet for example, has commoditized more primitive male desires, sold back to us via porn sites.
What challenges did you face when creating the garments for “Catharsis”?
I knew I wanted specific elements of sportswear in the designs which was a challenge at the beginning. I lacked knowledge of garment construction in sportswear and did not know if my ideas could be executed with the equipment and material I had.
Are you happy with the results?
I am pleased with the outcome. I feel the collection stands on its own without me standing by to explain – not that I mind!
I could change anything I would execute some pieces slightly differently. I wish I had the resources to pull together certain printing methods such as on plastic, instead I had to use vinyl stickers as nothing would adher to it. I also wanted to experiment using jacquard weaving techniques but the minimum bulk order was too large and I could not offer it. Despite these issues, I am pleased with the way the collection was received.
I have had great compliments at GFW from various magazines and Hilary Alexander.
Which elements from the collection are you especially happy about?
I am pleased to have managed to masculinized fur as a material by combining it with utilitarian sportswear. As much as the jumper stood out in my collection, its rash guard was important to me from the beginning. The placement print on it was created by manipulating traditional images of anatomy to illustrate the commodification of the male form via the Internet.
I am also happy about the prints I created for a diffusion-line by manipulating page layouts of pornography sites and replacing the sexual images with wildlife images.
Can you explain further the creative journey your final collection took you through?
My creative process is never fluid; my research never really stops and it is sometimes difficult for me to finalize and construct a garment before new ideas emerge. This leads me to continuously alter my design or even start afresh. So for my final collection organisation of my inspiration and ideas was important; I tried to group ideas together and use them in one single garment as opposed to going off track with too many ideas. This approach also helped me to maintain coherence between the outfits in the collection.
You went on an Erasmus exchange to Italy during your degree at Newport. How was that for an experience? Did you return with any life lessons?
Yes I attended design classes at Politechnico de Milano. This gave me another perspective on design practices, a more international view. The approach of the school was business oriented, and I felt restricted me creatively. I had to fight for my ideas on design and came out with more self-confidence, independence and knowledge of who I was as a designer.
The design process for “Catharsis” took place while I was in Milan and I felt I received little support with my ideas and guidance on the construction.
I had to work with complete confidence in myself, and without doubting that I could construct the collection when I returned to the UK.
In addition my life experiences in Milano brought me closer to other cultures. This was very inspiring. I met my friend Mohammed there who is a traditional Muslim; it couldn’t have been more bizarre, submersing myself into a world of homosexuality with someone who condemns it. I needed to convey my ideas with clarity if someone was going to view my work with a lack of prior knowledge – this I previously took for granted. This had a strong influence not only on the final outcome of my collection but also on the way I communicate my ideas.
You mention issues around construction. Did you face any other difficulties whilst working on your collection?
One of the biggest challenges was sourcing material; I wanted such specific details and colour that I had to compromise over certain elements in order to maintain a high quality finish. Combining plastic and fur was difficult, the weight difference was overwhelming and transformed the silhouette of the fur jumper. It was initially much lighter in weight and had a slimmer shape. I decided however to persevere with the materials and the jumper eventually became the key garment in the collection. The idea was to create a conflict between the feeling of warmth and the naked flesh seen through the plastic.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to begin designing their final collection?
Be brave in your choices! It’s important to stay true to your ideas and to realise them the way you intended to. If people can’t understand what you’re trying to do then show them! It is common to feel uncertain if people can’t grasp your initial vision, but that doesn’t mean you should change it. More often than not it only clicks into place at the last minute. It is important that you are happy with your results, if you’re not happy the way things turned out then don’t hesitate to redo them.
Are you influenced or interested by trends?
We are all affected by trends whether we are aware of it or not. I see a few great trends forming, but I think its unnecessary to follow them vigorously. I try not to focus on the future of fashion; it’s important to focus on now and what makes now a time to live in. As a designer I try and distance myself from fashion because otherwise I find myself saturated with ideas that are not my own.
What advice would you give an aspirational fashion student?
Fashion is a great format to express your-self creatively – a format that can be shared with others, but fashion is also a distorted mirror of the world. It can look ugly or amazing, it’s kind of up to you.
I just try to do my own thing and would suggest other designers do the same. Stop reading fashion magazines and using Style.com, start reading the news, listening to stranger’s conversations and letting the world around you sink in. In my experience the future comes around too quick, it’s important to make sure it’s your own and not someone else’s.
What is up next for Alex Chard?
I’m eager to continue my education, but at the moment I have retreated back to painting and writing, which will likely feed into future studies. I am currently on work experience with a graphic designer locally and am waiting to hear back for an internship opportunity in America with the CFDA, which will help guide me into a future career in sports apparel design.
I will probably also get a part time job as cigarettes are running low.
If you weren’t doing fashion, what would you be doing?
Fashion is not the be all and end all! I’m interested in film, so I would most likely have persued that. It is not totally off the cards though – I recently did work experience with the BBC and I’m keen to gather some transferable skills for the future.