IT’S NOT FASHION

 

There is a common misconception that clothes and fashion equate to the same thing. Yet clothes are objects constructed from fabric, whilst fashion is a culmination of those constructions with the crucial additions of style, attitude and the individuals who wear them. The distinction is important to Ryan Frigo and Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia, two young creatives making two very different kinds of clothing. Despite technically making clothes, neither one considers themselves part of the fashion industry, nor do they wish to be.

In his freshman year of high school, Ryan Frigo found himself growing sick of the negative portrayal his hometown of Oakland received in the press, gradually becoming so frustrated that he decided to take a sartorial stand on behalf of the town. He explains that, “It seemed as though there was a strict divide between people who lived in Oakland and people who didn’t. Oakland residents unanimously loved Oakland, and people who didn’t thought of it as a violent wasteland.”

Hoping to combat these negative perceptions, Ryan started a street-wear brand, stOAKed, which could serve as a badge of pride for the community and bring people together. When asked why he didn’t feel the need for a fashion education before starting a brand, he responded, “The point of stOAKed isn’t to design apparel at the cut-and-sew level, it’s about marketing the word and mindset.”

Central Saint Martins BA Knitwear graduate Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia angled her graduate show towards a similarly altruistic purpose, raising awareness of the rampant abuse of Filipino domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. Appalled by the frequency of headlines reporting cases of housekeepers having been beaten, raped and even murdered, she put together a collection that is a chilling evocation of the oppression these women suffer daily.

The confrontational power of these pieces piqued the interest of Orsola de Castro, founder and director of Fashion Revolution, a non-profit organisation promoting fair-trade and democratic principles in fashion, who proceeded to sponsor Chiara with upcycled materials. Chiara’s concern at the human rights abuses in the Middle East was very much in line with the ethos of Fashion Revolution, which aims to redress the unbalanced power dynamic between domestic labourers and their employers by campaigning for proportionate treatment and fair pay.

Chiara says she never intended for her clothes to be viewed as items of fashion, so much as art. “They’re not really wearable, I wanted this collection to be a message and a reaction to the abuse of these women.” The collection is characterized by a kind of punk handicraft that marries vibrant textural chaos with a neon playfulness. One look features a blue and white knitted sweatshirt, ornamented with layers of ruffle lock-stitched on in the same colours. The model stands in front of an ironing board and appears to be ironing his own shirt, only when the performance installation is finished, the ironing board collapses and falls back into the garment to which it is in fact attached. Another model wears a pair of knitted patchwork trousers, which hit the floor and form a bundle of fabric in front of him. Attached to the bundle is a mopping stick, which the model uses to mop the floor but because it is attached to his trousers, as he walks backwards the knitted ‘dirt’ follows him in a sinister dance. It is a Sisyphean cycle of relentless cleaning that is impossible to break out of, a perfect visual metaphor to describe the iniquities of the industry that inspired the collection.

When asked what her plans are now that she has graduated, Chiara responds that she is leaving fashion behind and applying for a course in fine art, which seems a fitting repudiation of the adage.