CATCHING UP WITH ASHER LEVINE
A Follow-Up Conversation with One of Our Favorite Designers
By Tyler Malone
It wasn’t that long ago that Marie Havens and I found ourselves in Asher Levine’s workspace–located in the back of the JEM Fabric Warehouse–taking pictures, asking questions and marveling at the designer’s brilliant, innovative and imaginative designs. Levine was gearing up for last Fashion Week, in February 2011, and PMc Magazine had just launched the month prior.
2010 had been quite a year for him, and he was still riding on that high. But now, with much of the new year behind us, it is easy to see that Asher Levine’s 2011 will end up being as big as or bigger than his 2010. And all his success is truly deserved–he has such a kind personality and a pleasant disposition that you can’t help but root for him, but he doesn’t succeed just because he’s likeable, but rather because he is one of the most talented young designers currently out there working. And if you don’t believe my endorsement, how about Lady Gaga‘s? She’s worn his designs in magazine photoshoots, music videos and elsewhere. Other performance artists such as Sam Sparro, Bruno Mars and The Black Eyed Peas have likewise donned his extravagant looks.
I remain as transfixed today as I was last February by his “beautiful and bizarre fashion sculptures.” To call his art pieces merely “clothing” is to cheapen them. They are extensions of the wearer’s biology, body, self, personality. And yet they remain otherwordly: alien, insectoid, machine-like, futuristic. It’s no wonder that he is fascinated with nanotechnology and bioengineering–his designs are infused with biological and evolutionary flourishes. They are both scientific and artistic. This season he has culled some inspiration from “biohazard environments” (which is perfect because it builds on that duality in his work between biology and technology, between natural and unnatural, between normal and mutant, between organic and inorganic, between corporal and ethereal). In (perhaps unintentional) lockstep with the release of Steven Soderbergh’s new film Contagion (which debuts just one day before Levine’s show), his new cinematic collection brings the biohazardous to the runway.
Even though it’s been just a short while since our last chat, a lot has happened for both PMc Magazine and Asher Levine, so I thought it’d be pertinent to catch up with the designer we deemed “the new rockstar of the fashion world,” and see what he’s been up to since our last conversation…
Tyler Malone: How have you been since we last caught up with you in February? We discussed in our previous interview how 2010 was such a big year for you, how would you say 2011 has treated you? (From what I’ve read, I imagine pretty well.)
Asher Levine: Honestly Tyler, it’s always in flux, and very exciting. We’ve been meeting with amazing stores all over the world for our collections. I want to build strong foundations with our retailers and provide clothes that highlight our craftsmanship. We’ve worked heavily this year with our private clientele and musical icons, which gave the brand a breath of fresh air, particularly our new found love of tailoring–which is key to any menswear label.
TM: Since we last talked you’ve done some custom work for huge artists like Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and the Black Eyed Peas. Last time you mentioned you’d love to design for Justin Beiber. Any headway on that? Ha! And are there any other big names who you’d love to make custom designs for?
AL: Oh Justin–yeah, I remember that. Blow PR in London, who handles our collection, spoke with his stylist, so we shall see. When it comes to our clients, I like work to happen naturally–the design will flourish. We’ve also been working with music icon, Jim Steinman, for a future project. His energy is powerful.
TM: That should be amazing! I know you’ve collaborated with Lady Gaga and her Haus of Gaga numerous times, is there anything in the pipeline you can tell us about with her? Any future collaborations?
AL: I saw Nicola the other day, it was nice to see him, I’m so happy for him and what he’s been doing this year as well. We made this Lucite corset with sculpted spines for a shoot with Patti Wilson. When they were done shooting, we were like: “What are we gonna do with this?” We simply walked a block (his studio is near ours), and dropped it at his place and said: “Thought you’d like this.” Not sure where it ended up.
That’s what I like about fashion; you make these pieces that will end up somewhere. I believe you shouldn’t hold onto things, put them out in the world and let them live. As for future collaborations, it seems positive.
TM: I think you have a very unique style, but I’m curious what you would say defines an Asher Levine piece? Could you describe your aesthetic, your style and your design sensibility?
I started taking sewing courses from a young age, and simultaneously taking courses on wildlife and forestry, memorizing the ecosystem–essentially every animal and plant in Florida. They would test our knowledge by placing different objects in front us–leaves, feathers, scale patterns, shells, photos–we would need to recall the specific species simply by the texture and shape. My foundation for garment design and biology were both established at the same time. Into our fourth season, themes of biological references persist throughout the designs. The challenge here to combine this inspiration with the human body, make it sexy, and sellable. I thrive on this challenge. We make clothes with a predisposition to power, sex, and curiosity.
TM: How would you define “fashion”? And how do you think it affects society?
AL: Fashion is a gateway into the human condition. I believe that the framework for the future is carved from our past, that ideology fluctuates in waves, and that fashion is a visceral representation of the ideology of now.
TM: If you weren’t a designer, what do you think you would be?
AL: Biochemical engineer. Genetics. I believe that future technology in biogenetic and nanotechnology will allow us to engineer organic tissue, specifically human. Not only re-grow organs, but create symbiotic life forms from your own genetic tissue that can attach to your body, creating an advanced species. It’s cyborgism, yet with the tangible reality of genetic engineering. I prefer fashion because I get to interact with amazing people with fascinating points of view. And making clothes is fun.
TM: I know using certain unexpected textures and fabrics is important to you, especially with your biological fixation. Do you have a favorite texture/fabric/medium that you love to work with? And what is the weirdest texture/fabric/medium that you’ve worked with?
AL: I’m obsessed with structure’s fusion with fluidity. We sculpt a lot of Lucite, love working with leather, and enjoy silk. On one side, I love natural fibers, on the other, I adore synthetic. This is challenging at times, because the two repel. We are working heavily with our sculptor, Tyson Tabbert, in liquid neoprene and urethane casting. He does amazing work. Some interesting leathers we’ve worked in include emu, elephant, wildebeest, kangaroo, and carp.
TM: What is your current inspiration?
AL: For SS12–cartilaginous fish embryos, Andrew Chase sculpture, electric fish waves, biohazard environments, humanoid fantasy art, Jim Steinman.
TM: What can you tell us about your upcoming line and show?
AL: We are promoting the collection this season with a cinematic approach. The plotline centers on a mutating virus epidemic staged in New York–our video is a first person account of this alternate universe, and our show is the first public viewing of these scientific cases.
TM: Lastly, what to do you think the hardest part about making a collection is?
AL: The “collections” to me are one continuous, amorphous shape that is constantly changing. Placing these designs into an organized manner, and executing it perfectly is exciting and challenging. We’re already developing our next collection, and can’t wait for you to see it.
Asher Levine is a fashion designer who moved to NYC in 2006. Soonafter, early in his career, his experimental outfits were adapted by many nightlife personalities and could be seen across the New York underground club circuit. Asher’s debut Fall/Winter 2010 collection came shortly after his graduation from Pace University, at which point Asher started creating outfits for various prominent performance artists such as Lady Gaga and Sam Sparro. In September of the same year, Asher’s Spring/Summer 2011 collection was shown in a presentation from his midtown showroom.
He is heavily influenced by the natural world, and often pulls inspiration from organic, biological and scientific sources. An inherent terrestrial presence can be seen in his work, and his pieces reflect his trademark reorganization and abstraction of shape and form. Asher’s unique design aesthetic seeks to evaluate and challenge the industry’s standardized corporal limitations on the human figure.
Asher Levine interviewed by Tyler Malone
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography by Hadar Pitchon
Design by Jillian Mercado
Asher Levine, In His Studio, New York, 2011, Photography by Hadar Pitchon