An international fashion research project exploring the 'craft of use'

Alternative Dress Codes

The choices we make about what we wear are influenced by life present, lives past and our ideas about our future selves. Expressions of values, aspirations, heritage, understanding and the physical shape of our bodies build a rationale for dress that transcend narrow commercial views about fashion. Instead they give us broader perspectives that honour our reality as well as our aspirations; and connect our psyche with our fibre and fashion choices.

Open imperfect

"I’m wearing an outfit that was made for me by a man in Chinatown. So one day I was rushing to my medical appointment for my green card and I glanced to the right, and there was a this beautiful old Chinese man approaching me, in a beautiful shirt. And I said to him, ‘Wow, I love your shirt, it is so beautiful’. And then he said to me ‘I made it, I made that shirt’.

And then I said, ‘Oh wow, do you make clothes?’. He couldn’t speak English very well so our conversation didn’t really go anywhere, but I said, ‘Do you have a shop or are you somewhere or can I meet you somewhere?’ because he said he had more clothes. We couldn’t figure it out somehow and then he said, ‘come and follow me’. So I followed him… he had a little alley that was locked off with by a fence. So he opened it and put his cart and his bicycle in there.

Then he took off his shirt and he gave it to me. And then I said, ‘can I give you money for it?’ but he said, ‘No, no, it’s fine’. And then I said ‘I want to give you some money for it’, because I could also see he was not a wealthy person. So I gave him some money and then he said, ‘shall I make clothes for you?’. I said ‘Yes, please’. So we exchanged telephone numbers.

So when we meet up again he had made new clothes for me, and he had made a series so I could kind of pick clothes. He made his shirt in smaller versions for me and he made these pants for me, which are quite extraordinary, I think. And they have a lot of details (laughs). He is not a perfect sewer at all, which I love, but there is some kind of spontaneity in his compositions… he put elastic as the fly placket.

...They are all [made from] upholstery fabric sample books, and here you have the holes still… [from where they were bolted] in the corner? (laughs) … I ended up with eight pieces, something like that. And I think I wear three pieces quite regularly.
This was… I think in the late spring last year. It just touched me. He was so beautiful, and of course he also needed the money, I understood that, but I liked the way that he didn’t sew so perfectly. I wish I could have this unskilled quality in my own clothes. I’m a designer, so I make clothes, and I always look for this quality. Where there’s a sense of openness and spontaneity.

I [also] like sewing [with] skill… I designed good [within] in the [commercial fashion] system... so I also designed really finished clothes. Now I hand make clothes so I always look for that more spontaneous coming together of things. That is not restricted within the habituations of our thinking about clothes. I like things that feel free and that have a certain awareness about them.

For me it’s very important that clothes are not a shield. I want to feel open to the world and I want to feel fluid in relation to the world. I don’t want to feel harnessed in relation to the world [and adhering to the aesthetics of the commercial fashion industry]. So for me I always look for clothes that have this kind of opening somehow… the kind of unexpected or unconditioned something…"

New York - January 2013
Photograph by Ellinor Stigle