The strong silhouettes of Ashon Sylvestre’s degree collection make an impression. I first noticed them whilst doing research for a new menswear book. Ashon graduated from San Francisco Academy of the Art University in 2010.
Later I found out that he had won a scholarship to study at Studio Berçot in Paris. There was my chance: London Paris is often and easily travelled. We arranged to meet in the French capital.
Read the full interview below….
Ashon you designed menswear for your degree collection. How would you describe the look of your collection?
I am proud of my multiple roots, I love motorcycles and I am fascinated by the future. I love to combine elements that don’t go together. I try to balance ugly and beautiful, black and white … Most of what I do is futuristic mixed with past elements. So the look is that of futuristic Native American warriors … on motorbikes!
You designed your collection a while ago now, in 2010. How do you feel when you look back at your collection today?
I have a strong attachment to what I create. For me fashion is as an art form, my garments are pieces of art to wear. I find it difficult to deal with their commercial aspect and I do not design for a season. I feel that my designs are never really finished and every time I revisit one of my piece I feel I could have done something better, like I ought to improve it but time is not an artist friend and you must move on.
What would you change in The Resistance?
I would change the fitting of the garments. Some pieces could be tighter, fit more like motorcycle wear.
So tell us about it, about your collection The Resistance.
To an extent it’s a couture collection. It was fairly expensive to produce with a lot of leather outerwear. My aim was to make wearable art pieces that told a story … and also to try and push back the limits of men’s fashion a little.
So what is the story told?
It is about warriors, people who finally had enough and decided to fight the establishment… It’s Dances with Wolves but set on another planet or in the distant future. What I tried to show is the beauty of those rebels. Most of my inspiration comes from the underdog, people who are taken advantage of.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Illustration inspires me, also architecture, but they are just the starting point for me. When they look at fashion magazines a lot of people just tend to go: oh I like that… let’s do that in neon beige and throw a pocket on it. It’s cool if that’s how you roll, I just feel lame doing it…
So how do you design, what is the process?
Most of my design starts with me drawing. I have always drawn and illustrated … I love it! But I must also create a story. Once I have got the story with its characters I can design garments for them. Without it I find it is hard to narrow my ideas down, to focus. It is like writing music, it is a lot easier if you have a theme and characters. Finding an original story is the hardest part…
Was it difficult for The Resistance?
Yes it was! During my course a friend came to me and asked if I could drop out of school to work with her on a big movie she was involved in. She wanted me to design the costumes. It was set in the future so that was perfect for me. I started working on it but the movie never happened. In the end I re-used the project and turned it in as an assignment. My teacher didn’t like it and failed me!
The following semester I went back to my failed project but I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. I was so frustrated. I got on the phone to my mom because she is so supportive and then she started to tell me things I did not know, how she also went to design school and about her background. I knew we were in part African American but I learned then about our German and Native American roots.
It is like a light bulb went on! I made up this story of my mother but set in the future. I drew warriors who would protect her and keep her heritage, her culture from being exterminated.
What happened then?
Till that point I had designed the collection twice and still it was crap. But after the story came to me I just couldn’t stop drawing. I drew like 60 croquis and narrowed it down and that’s what you saw on the runway.
What did you find the most challenging when designing your final collection?
The most challenging thing for me was actually producing the garments, making the faces and armor/suits. The collection was done with the help of Cris Applegate my teacher and mentor. Without him I would have never finished the collection. We worked together on creating the leather faces. I had no clue on how to do it. I was getting my hair cut in the ghetto of SF. This guy cuts hair out of his studio flat. In a corner he had like bold heads made of glass, I found out they were wig stands. I bought them off him, forgot the haircut and immediately skated back to school to show Cris. We had a piece of leather that we wetted and sewed in place over one of those glass faces, and it worked! We had made our first mask! We thought we were well on our way but for some reason this process did not work with any of the other pieces of leather we had. We kept on trying for weeks until I finally found out on youtube that it only works with vegetable- tanned leather. Making those faces was the hardest, the most heart wrenching part!
What do you feel you learned when creating your collection?
Perseverance: if something doesn’t work try and try again until you get it and then make it better…also drink lots of water and eat lots because you won’t sleep!
So what advice would you give to someone who is about to begin designing their final collection?
Dream big and do what you want: when you will reach real design world you will have to produce a commercial fashion in order to make a living. So go crazy while you can!
I say this but in a way I also regret not making my collection more wearable…the stuff I made is hard to sell. Plus it’s hard for me to sell my pieces anyway because I love each one and don’t want to get rid of any of them.
So Ashon what’s next for you?
I am working on a new collection that is more wearable and it will be geared for people who want something a little futuristic and different but still in fashion. I am slowly building up my range and brand identity. I have not made anything yet because it is very expensive so I am saving some money first. I am making prototypes and will get them sampled professionally. I hope to get my brand on different internet stores and growing from there.
To conclude I have to thank Ashon for this insight into his work. Personally, I think he is very talented and I wish him every success for his brand. I guess we are all looking forward to hearing from him again!