Zhanar will come up with clever text or Karina... Definitely not Darina






— Robert, you've been drawing since you were a little kid. We saw your sketches online and they are really amazing. Just by looking at these images, I'd call you an artist independently from what you're doing now in fashion. But there are ups and downs, first experiences, first wounds, especially when you're starting on your own. Have you ever had any second thoughts on your career choice?
— Thank you. I don't think that actually ever happened. I'm pretty sure of my path. My parents have been very supportive since the beginning. Although, when I was 13-14 they might have imagined me doing something else. I could have been a scientist or something like that, because I'm obsessed with nature. I always read books and articles on science + nature topics... but I was pretty sure about my choice in art and design areas.

— I completely adore your interest in science. Can you remember the latter thing that served you an inspiration?
— I'm always in the Internet looking for the new discovery of whatever it is in science. Recently I've been reading about species I never heard of before, like, for example, velvet worms and their unique capability to process toxins. I always come to a certain point when I find a discovery that match with my visuals, then that might form into an idea and I can further develop it into one of my pieces.
— Are you into animal nature?
— Well both, all of them. Actually, they're very relevant. For example, when they discover new sort of species and what they're capable of doing it always comes to the part of how to get to that point or have that ability for us to process the evolution, which always comes back to genetic thing and how we all come from microorganisms and are developed into different species. I always come back to the very basic route of what biology. It's so intriguing. Forms how they are now bring me more visual ideas: the way the shape is, the color is, or how they interact with other things — yeah, that's more like the visual part. But the core idea goes back to the root of why they're doing this — is it for survival?

— It's great that London attracts so many people in creative industries who are inspired by things like nature and science, which is very distinguishing from other cities. What's your story with London?
— Even before I came to study here seven years ago I always visited it at least once or twice a year to stay with my family relatives in Wimbledon. But I really started to learn London when I came here to study. When I was 15 I started thinking that I wanted to move from Hong Kong here to study design and art areas because obviously it has a great platform to step up the game.

— You have very spectacular, eye-catching ideas — one second glance is enough to focus attention on your clothes. How do you come up with all those visuals? You don't have to be inspired by other visual forms.
— Yes, absolutely. I would say I'm more a visual person because I like to direct all the visuals that come out as my brand. I won't let myself only care about the clothing, I'd spend equal amount of effort on the shoot as well — because they are about my works. A visual is an important thing that communicates with people the most. In terms of the other side, when you deal with fashion, you need to be aware of technical knowledge as well. One thing is what you imagine, but if you're incapable to create it — like the luxury fashion is all about the details — and if you don't have the technical support and knowledge, you can't really follow that dimension, even if you have the most unique vision of them all. I'd say it's the entire package. You need to have everything. But I would prefer to be inspired from my visual side because at the end fashion is visual.
— You're seeking the balance between nature and human, but at the same time you probably on purpose use a lot of synthetic fabrics...
— Exactly. First of all, I love the way they feel and how they can hold the shape and the thing about the harmony between the two extremes, because my first collection consists of all very synthetic, very artificial materials, but using very organic working method like burning.

— All of these shapes, I don't see purposeful man-made shapes, no triangles or rectangles...
— I'm a man of curve. There's a famous line from a recent movie, fuck, I don't remember the name... 'God doesn't create straight lines'. So, whenever you see a straight line or a geometrical shape, they're from humans. We're the only ones in nature seeking that perfection. When God creates something organic, that's always asymmetrical, there's always flaws, that's why there are curves and I found that really beautiful. Fashion is very artificial, very human-made and my two extremes are basically just about finding the ideas and resources and shapes inspired from the organic world but then you use the artificial way to form them, turn them, use material, cut them and go to futuristic dimension.

— What's your vision of future?
— Future is always about change. If it could have been predicted, it wouldn't be future. It's about unpredictable, so I wouldn't say I'll really try and guess what the future might be, but then I will always try to understand where is it heading to. And what I see, it still is going to be really fast. Everything. That really can't change. For designers, they have to find a way to cope with new. Try to make something more ready-to-wear.

— You have a diffusion line. Was it an organic decision, because you felt like you need it or was it more of a business move?
— The thing is, people always see me as an artistic designer. My main collections are really dramatic, unwearable, sometimes they are more like an art piece. But in fact, I love designing wearable pieces. It's not that I'm making myself to do it, like I'm not enjoying it at all. I love making garments that are wearable and look good on people as well. It's just because my graduate collection had to be very limited. When you graduate, you can't do a fucking twenty-five outfit collection. You have to minimize it to six. And I'd rather go to a very strong visual to tell people who you are as a designer, and what you're capable of doing. After that, I decided to expand that to bring in more prospective to my collection's elements and try to deconstruct them into different ideas, to break them down into smaller ideas, and create delicate pieces that people can find it easily to imagine themselves in. It's something I really enjoy to do. Of course, it's the business side as well but not something that I'm forcing myself to do. I do enjoy creating commercial stuff.

— How do you approach the creation process? For every artist and designer it's a different scheme. Sometimes it can start from a stroke, a sound, basically anything.
— I'm more a conceptual designer. I always come from the big idea first. For example, this collection, The Volt, was definitely inspired by the Energy and how our veins are capable to create vitamins under the sunlight. I think that's really intriguing. Try to imagine the energy that goes into our skin and gets into our veins and that blasts all over our bodies. So I went further and found out these culture practices of the Africans and the Japanese are co-sound, how they both have that symbolic idea about the sun, which is the biggest energy source we know, and how they applied that in spiritual presentation. Put it into the culture, into the way they dress, the way they behave or anything, so that's how I get into the silhouette ideas of the Japanese and the Africans. So I used tribal African details and mixed with the Japanese kimono shapes. And if you go into the shoes, I studied the energy of glacier boots, it's also about the spread of energy, that's why the platform goes like this. It's about the spread of energy, so there are calculations, maths, physics in-between it, all to support the energy.

— Do you make clothes for yourself?
— No.

— What are your personal favorite brands?
— Omg, I don't have personal brands. If you say, H&M, Uniqlo. I love Muji. I just like wearable stuff. I just want to feel comfortable, so obviously into basic wear. There's no point for me to make basic wear for myself, because that's not challengeable at all, that's why I never make stuff for myself.

— When you'll become a bigger brand — that's where you're heading, right — will you work on your image?
— I think I'm going to be like this for the rest of my life. A t-shirt... I don't really care in that sense. It's not that I don't care the way I look, I don't care if I'm wearing something really expensive or not. I just want something that is comfortable, durable, and looks professional. I like COS.

— Are you friends with any other fashion designers?
— I know Masha Reva. We're really good friends. She's also London-based. Faustine Steinmetz. She got into NewGen recently. Lucas Nascimento.
— Have you applied?
— I'm applying this season. So we'll see. It's my first time. We're very different designers — and it's not a competition at all. Even if so, it's fair and beautiful.

— Obviously you direct all of your shoots. What sounds might interpret your vision of the Volt?
— Actually, it's something I'm not supposed to say. I'm planning to direct a video. I don't know if you've seen the film I did for Burnt. I haven't done video for my collection for a while, so I might do it and combine the Volt collection with E-Den to bring them together. First of all, in the E-Den collection (two seasons ago) I was inspired by the church bells. It's very religious based, about faith. Religion is the best representation of the harmony between nature and human. Church bells are something I want to use in the video. In Volt collection I'll use thunder sounds. It comes out of the dark, lighting up the sky, but then the travel from light comes faster and the sound comes later. You always see a strike first and noise comes later. Light is faster. The visual energy is always much faster than audial energy afterwards.

— For a designer it's quite important sometimes to travel. Have you travelled a lot?
— When I was little.

— What are you favorite places?
— Besides those fashion capitals. Hokkaido is the northern part of Japan. It's fucking amazing, and oh, not Hokkaido. My favorite is Africa. I love African continent. I've been there at least five times thanks to my family. Kenya. Tanzania. I don't like South Africa that much because it's too cosmopolitan. It's not anything about race. There's nothing real about what Africa is. But when you go to the East of Africa, it's amazing. You can live in any place, a hostel or an amazing hotel, but it's in the middle of jungles. I spent there two weeks. There're so many animals. You never see in your entire life that many animal-human relations in other places. That's so beautiful. Reminds me of who I am and what the world is.

— That is where you found the balance?
— I see the raw form. I know that I've been studying animals a lot, I read a lot about them. Being there by yourself is so different. You really can't feel that shock and that power from discovery channel. But when you're physically there, it's amazing. It makes you feel so small. You're just a tiny dot on this planet. Kenya is my favorite place.
Interview: Ruslan Tusnazar for Étage Magazine
Photography: Atif Mahmood
Date: November, 2014