In just a relatively short space in history, the Menswear scene has gone from the Regal Dandy, the Flaneur, to a feast of jeans and t-shirts walking in unison down your local high street.
Spindle however finds amongst the easy care labels, designers with the edge. The creators who are ripping up the basic silhouette and creating something new and the designer Ashok Ji Odedra is no different.
Ashok Ji Odedra, infuses past traditions with sleek tailoring in his menswear range. He gives the modern man a whole new silhouette, whilst maintaining the sophistication and look of a character out of an Evelyn Waugh novel.
With his designs about to be featured in the latest issue of Spindle Magazine, I caught up with him to ask him all things fashion and what’s next for Ashok Ji Odedra label:
I would say my Mother and Grandmother were a major influence from very an early age on. One of my first fashion memories for me, was being fascinated with how a 6 meter long sari material could be tucked, draped, pleated, come in a range of almost every colour and material imaginable. The embroidery, beading, heavy or light weight, were all used to adorn a female body which gave an indication of her social status and age. It was just mesmerizing growing up seeing all the different materials.
Also growing up in Leicester in the late 80s and early 90s, it was a hub of leisurewear factories and high street fashion. I used to go around factories and ask for end of line material which would have been thrown away. I got Menswear jersey tops and experimented with infusing the sari draping techniques, onto the men’s t-shirts. At home there was the use of an over locker and hemmer, so I was making t-shirts for myself from around 14 years old.
You graduated from Salford University as the only Menswear designer in your year. Do you think it is harder to design for a male audience in a world of jersey and jeans?
Yes I was the only menswear designer, but also only 1 of the 2 boys in the year group, why do I make this point? As I think fashion is strongly influenced and directed by women. In fact due to this I was even told as the only menswear designer I would have to find and pay for my own models, as it was not cost affective for the course to pay for just one students’ stubbornness not to design womenswear (this was eventually cleared up and the course did pay and were very supportive).
I chose to ignore being asked to design womenswear and designed something that I was passionate about and meant something to me. I found it an area of fashion design that I wanted to persue, to create with constraints which can only be described as a trouser, blazer and shirt. To make them into new shapes and new styles. I do not find the male audience hard to design for, in the world of jersey and jeans. I find it interesting and stimulating as an innovative challenge.
How did you find studying fashion at Salford?
Fashion at Salford for me, HA! Amazing! At the start of the course I was a social butterfly and had a bar job – so very late nights. I really didn’t understand the link between research and final design, from a young age I would do all this in my head. Being dyslexic I guess made me more creative at problem solving, using my nugget rather than having to write it down.
Normally the concept, material, design, technical pattern, and make process for a sample would take an hour, so when asked to spread this out over several weeks doing sketch pads, 100 designs and, toile new garments, it was unfamiliar to me. But it makes sense now, and even though I still work in a similar way as I used to in the early days, I now try and use a more logical process of developing initial ideas.
Salford University has built up internships with many major fashion houses – how were your internships?
Listening to experiences from previous year groups, big fashion houses would only let those on placement do photocopying, make teas and coffees and do the sandwich run. I was put off applying to large fashion players. But what I wanted from my placement was hands on experience. The placement I chose was at a company called Source Unknown Ltd.
My first project was a blow up 3D angel with a trumpet for a club night in Brighton, it was amazing. I was lucky to be part of making and research of period costumes, from fancy dress to competition Irish dancer dresses, to catwalk designing for runways to wedding dresses, menswear pig skin platinum leather jackets, hats, trousers, womenswear dresses, corsets, skirts, childrenswear fancy dress outfits, puppetwear, new upholstery, recovered old puppets. Sample making for new collections, truly challenging and an inspiring environment, and yeah I still did some photocopying and tea making but that was not my main job!
Do you feel it’s harder to get your fashion voice heard coming from a northern based university?
I’m still trying to find my feet, my fashion voice is not even a squeak yet.
In all honesty I haven’t even tried down south to compete, to show my work, having been crippled with the debts from university and trying to earn a living. The only time I showed my collection in London was due to it being selected by my university to show at Graduate Fashion Week. Of course my dream would be to have a new collection and maybe show at London Fashion Week one day.
What would you say was the Ashok Ji Odedra aesthetic?
In my point of view I see fashion design as a piece of moving art; I see the body as a canvas and the garments and accessories worn as the painted medium. The frame: the individual personality which can’t be created must already exist. The personality is a critical reflection on what they wear and so an overall controller of the canvas.
My background culture and upbringing, having two strong viewpoints in every step of growing up has made me analyse and appreciate attention to detail and quality. I have a keen interest in history and development of current day fashion.
My knowledge and interest in nurture and nature has made me want to look at new avenues of fashion design by using materials that are not so damaging to the environment. For my collection I used organic fabrics which are un-dyed and not bleached – as little chemical treatment as possible. I also like the concept of making something new from something old, for example my last garment commissioned was a jacket made out of a pair of Denim Jeans and a old Leatherette polyester jacket.
I am a huge fan of what has been dubbed as your ‘men in skirts’! Is the play on gender a running theme in the Ashok Ji Odedra brand?
Gender identity is often judged by the way a guy (or girl) is dressed and presents themselves in public. The way men have dressed historically in circles where fashion was a symbol of social status, they were often adorned is rich attire, and often in flamboyant skirts, tights, breeches, even makeup was worn more so than on women; these can still be seen in some cultures abroad.
My designs are for the man that doesn’t feel like they have to prove their gender identity, the metro sexual who doesn’t care if it’s a skirt…as long as he looks good in it.
My collection is a fusion of something I was always intrigued by: male gentry’s formal attire, the upper class and my ancestral Gujrati Maher Rajputs attire (caste known as ‘sons of kings’). Growing up in such a surrounding made me think, what if they both had to be fused, how it would look and appear?
My intention was not to cause gender confusion. It was more to emphasise gender distinction, and to fashion new silhouettes and styles. Drop crotch and ripple caused by tight trousers on men’s legs, showing off masculinity, tailored jackets with flamboyant shapes following through it to show beauty within structure and formality, shirts that fitted and complimented the shape of the male body. This collection was designed in 2008 as a trend forecast for 2010/2011.
How are you finding it moving from university to setting up your own label?
Getting started is the hardest part, distracted by working and having very little time. The time I do have doing one off garments has taken up all of my time. A label, getting set up, should be happening very soon.
You’re currently based in Manchester, a city which has a very fashionable edge. What would you say Manchester’s got that’s missing from the London fashion scene?
First of all and foremost, London has so much more to offer than Manchester in the view point for fashion design opportunity. But, Manchester being a city of opportunity can work in your benefit, if you work hard.
From what I have heard, London is a black hole for money and very expensive for a young designer to be starting off or surviving. So for now I am very happy up north, plus being in Manchester I also get to see Leeds and Liverpool which also have a strong fashionable edge which I find very much an advantage. Sourcing fabrics, having production done in Manchester is also much more cost effective than down south.
What’s next for Ashok Ji Odedra?
Im currently looking for a sponsor and a mentor, I would like to work for menswear designer first though to gain more experience.
Any designers in particular?
Designers that I ideally would like to work for would be, Dries Van Noten, Kim Jones or John Galliano. Designers who have inspired my work.
Finally to all the inspiring designers out there, what would be the best advice you could give them?
Come back to me in 10 years and I might have an answer!
Natasha Alipour-Faridani www.natashaalipour-faridani.com
Full shoot can be seen in issue 4