Alix Higgins is a fashion and textile designer. His breakthrough commercial success came this year through stretchy typographic suits that performed a moment of escapism at the peak of endurance isolation. Straight from the horse’s mouth, his work is about inclusivity, openness, freedom in beauty and freedom in image. “Endless possibility, new beginning,” he tells us over an interview soundtracked entirely by Grimes’ Miss Anthropocene.
“The idea of these prints is this never-ending sunset or horizon you can wrap yourself in. I want people to feel like they’re on a screen and shining and bright.” Well, consider us swathed in the eternal glow of everything this brilliant legend is radiating. The 26-year-old Australian emerging designer has come full circle since his more architecturally-draped pieces of 2016’s graduation: with time under his belt at Institut Français de la Mode, and an intimate stint as print designer at everyone’s fave Marine Serre, Higgins has returned with full faith in his intuition… and body-hugging mind-melting nylon.
Alix! Can you tell us about your upbringing and when fashion came into your life?
I grew up in a small town in south of Sydney called Otford. It was super beautiful — a super tiny haven, super green, super lush. It was so far away from everything that I didn’t really think about fashion, or anything like that, for a really long time. Until, like, the internet.
Ok, so what were you doing on the internet?
Tumblr [laughs]. It’s so cringe to talk about, but for in my formative years as a teenager it was so incredible. You were able to connect with people who had similar interests as you, and the speed at which it moved was so incredible. The way that text, image — fashion image and selfies — all blend into one; there was no real barrier between couture and this exclusive world, and this fantasy of people in their bedroom with posing like Dior Galliano. That was really exciting.
And that’s where it all started with fashion?
My first real memory of fashion — so clear in my mind — was watching Channel 10 news in 2004, so I was 10, and they were talking about the extravagance of Paris Fashion Week. It was Dior’s SS04 couture show, the Egyptian collection, and it was just like models walking super slow, with these huge head dresses on. I’m now realising this was racist, but at the time I was like ‘What the fuck is this?’ I thought it was so incredible, but clearly taking the piss out of something. I was quite intrigued. My earliest exploration with fashion was draping with a bed sheet and things I could find around, really terrible [laughs]. I definitely wasn’t a fashion-obsessed kid until I was a teenager — becoming obsessed with the world you can create, this sort of opening of a really inclusive fashion world with a lot of possibility. I was on Tumblr at the same time as Vejas, and seeing him making stuff in his room was a realisation that that’s all it is. Everyone has the possibility to do this. Then also seeing Dara Cruz, Hari Nef and all of those kids in New York making these incredible photo shoots in their bedrooms with, like, nothing — and it looking like Irving Penn. That was really inspiring to me.
When you decided that fashion was what you wanted to do, how did you see that path developing in Australia?
I am a person who thinks on their feet, I knew I wanted to go to UTS. I guess because I did quite well in school, when I turned around and said I wanted to do fashion, my parents were really like, ‘You need to go to university and it needs to be this serious pursuit…’ It was important for them and for myself to have a degree. It’s a really hard course to get into so it was my way of proving to myself — and my parents — that fashion was a serious pursuit. While I was there I started interning. My first internship was with Romance Was Born, then I moved to Josh Goot for two years. In my final year when all my friends were talking about wanting to work with Romance, Dion, Josh or Ellery — they were The Jobs — in that year Josh closed down, Ellery moved to Paris and Dion moved to New York… all in this same space of time.
What did that make you think? Did you feel like you needed to leave Australia to succeed?
I didn’t. I was always thinking of working after uni, and it has always been a dream to start my own label, but it wasn’t something I could afford. My tutor Armando motivated me to apply for Masters and I got into Parsons NYC and IFM in Paris.I remember in my interview for Parsons — they asked me, ‘What do you like to do when you’re not doing fashion?’ And I told them that I like to go out, I like to party and… I thought I sounded so stupid but they must have liked that [laughs].
But you decided to go to Europe?
All of the designers who I’ve loved come from Europe. IFM is a really weird school — they take 10 students a year internationally. They really push you to establish your skill as a brand so that you’re really identifiable. They really focus on the business aspect of fashion. I was there for a year and a half.
And what next?
Then I went and worked with Marine Serre, which was incredible. It was psycho but incredible.
I was always interested in print. My UTS work was all about screenprinting and my IFM work was all digital prints. I still wanted to work as a women’s wear designer, so that was what I was looking for. There was a position with Marine Serre as print design assistant and I thought, ‘I can do that.’ When I applied at Marine Serre, she was this semi-unknown girl who had won the LVHM prize the year before, everyone had heard about her but there was nothing to see yet. I went for the interview and the day after I had an interview at Margiela Artisanal, which I was so set on and thought it was it. I was like, ‘I need this job!’ I had a month’s preparation for my Margiela interview and remember Marine had called me on the Friday to have an interview on the Monday. I went to the Marine interview and was very unprepared and casual about the whole thing, day after that was my Margiela interview. The day after that I got told I didn’t get the Margiela position, and then the day after that I got a call from Marine saying come in [laughs]. My mind was so occupied with Margiela Artisinal and Galliano — it was just hard to see around that. But, I’m so happy it worked out how it did.
Young creative’s have always worked so hard to reach these points to be defined by these other people and huge names. Do you feel it still works like that today or if that’s still important?
I think in that instance — Marine over Margiela — I really dodged a bullet. I know people who have worked and interned in those big brands… when you’re a junior you’re very much swept off to the side. At Marine I was the only print designer, so it was Marine the head designer Lucille, and myself. I worked on every print for the show, every graphic for the show, every logo for the show, everything. I had an incredible experience because I went to a smaller brand. I know friends who have a degree like me and who worked for those bigger brands and stapled for six months.
From your time internationally, what did you learn and continue to consider in your design process?
What has changed most for me, and what I really learned at Marine, was that commercialism is not bad and wearable is not bad. I really wanted to make these sculptural, beautiful things; I thought couture and unwearable giant sculptural pieces was my interest. I still love draping and creating shape around the body, but when I started making the nylon skin-tight pieces, and the first sort of 30 garments I made at the beginning, which were personal orders for people I knew, I was so touched. It was the middle of quarantine so I couldn’t really see them, but seeing people in their bedrooms taking selfies wearing my pieces — it was such a special feeling. My work is so personal, the text is indecipherable to most people… I think people buy the pieces for their aesthetic, and then I hope it becomes this other thing for them to try and understand or brings them something. It’s completely changed my goal for my brand because I want people to wear it.
You’ve realised that you want to design for the people and not for yourself?
That was something Marine really taught me — all the work is so wearable and it was all based on what we in the studio wanted to make or were already wearing, it changed my process a lot. Working for a smaller brand, you have to do everything, you have to think on your feet and you have to… we had no footwear designer, we had no handbag designer, whoever had a small moment in their day would design the bag or shoes for the show, so I did things like that that I never learnt and still don’t know to do but you just do it.
It removes this entitlement in position that exists in fashion?
Exactly! You’re a team and you’re making this world together. I also really freed up my ideas — before I went overseas I was such a perfectionist. I realised when I was over there that you have to learn to think on your feet and that is often how sometimes you get the most genuine result, because you’re just digging from yourself.
Yes. It’s something that I had struggled with for my graduate collection, it was like me trying to conceptualise something and explain it to people when it’s really just personal work.
It’s just what I like and it’s what I need to create, what I feel from inside out with what I want to put into the world, and Marine was really like that to. There is a point of view about the environment, youth, freedom and dressing and feminism but that is all just from her — there is no concept. There are ideas she wants to explore but it’s just this ongoing evolution: there’s always the next collection, always the next project. What you feel right now is what is right for right now, and it’s never going to be perfect.
You can learn all the skills but it’s the idea and the understanding, knowledge and intention in your ideas that is your biggest power.
There’s always going to be someone who has trained a million more hours than you, but it’s always going to be the ideas. Unrelated, but — My friend Julian and I started a band and we were talking about lyrics and I was like, ‘I think we have to change this because it’s too embarrassing and too personal.’ And he was like, ‘No, embarrassing is good. If it’s embarrassing because you’re revealing to much about yourself, that is when people connect.’ I think about that with my writing or design practice all the time — people love that. The age of a really white washed glossy image of life is so over, I don’t want to see that and I don’t want to buy into that. I want grit and I want personality and mistakes.
I think that is maybe where the industry is slowly changing — where people are interested in the human story rather than the created one.
Or one of luxury.
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