Think Antwerp, and the avant-garde workings of the Antwerp Six come to mind, but the city continues to produce outstanding up-and-coming talents today that shouldn’t be overlooked. Born in Azerbaijan and raised in St. Petersburg, Sanan Gasanov is part of this year’s promising BA graduating class at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts’ Fashion Department. The 23-year-old recently showed his undergraduate collection, an emotional full-circle culmination of personal stories and accumulative research from the past six years.
Echoing German artist Katharina Grosse’s spectacular rainbow-hued gestural environments as well as Michael Beutler’s sizeable bricolage work, Gasanov’s collection is a chaotic cacophony of sumptuous jacquards, touchy-feely interior materials and adhoc vintage garments. On the runway, the looks pack a real visual punch; (example) a deconstructed babydoll dress is attached to the sleeve of a menswear coat, almost like an appendage. When taken apart, the 60-piece collection was made to be surprisingly wearable on all kinds of bodies, both female and male — see: an oversized menswear coat that could be draped on the shoulder as an elegant cape on a woman – but also more importantly, on heavier set guys, a demographic generally ostracized by the industry. “I’m a big guy and I really like fashion, but it is such a pity that it is always super small. I have saved money to buy expensive fashion, but only to have it as an art piece,“ Gasanov laments. “Also, when I started my collection, it was such a stressful time that I lost ten kilos every month. I felt it was important to integrate it into the narrative of my collection.”
“I had the idea of doing huge silhouettes in a light way; most of my pieces are around 200g, and can be carried with a single finger.”
His painstaking efforts and intellectual rigour have caught the attention of Antwerp’s key industry players. Marjan Eggers, owner of designer retailer Louis, awarded him with the annual Louis prize, which consists of €1,000 and the opportunity to present his collection in her store windows on the busy Lombardenstraat boulevard. “What impressed me about Sanan at first was his use of amazing fabrics, as well as his technical construction skills. There is a lot of experimentation, but there’s also a couture side that I like,” praised Eggers. “I also liked the personal aspect of it. The conversation around size and gender is very important and the industry needs to deal with it now. It was highly intelligent.”
Gasanov remains undecided about his future. Right now, Antwerp holds a certain persuasion over him. “I feel so comfortable here. I really like my teachers and friends, so I can’t imagine moving and starting from zero again. I’m afraid a move will affect my work,” he concedes. “Antwerp is really calm. There are small parties and events going on, but there aren’t many opportunities to get distracted from your work.”
What was the starting point for your collection?
This year’s collection was very personal, it was about my relationship with the garments that I have been gathering for a few years now. I am constantly buying lots of stuff from vintage shops. After collecting them, I took them apart and combined them. I also wanted to create a sexless collection for a lot of different sizes, and I was interested in couture construction. I had the idea of doing huge silhouettes in a light way; most of my pieces are around 200g, and can be carried with a single finger.
From what you’ve said so far, it seems you were thinking about three main ideas: gender, size and collage-making.
Yes, exactly. Katharina Grosse also inspired me, she’s an artist from Berlin and does really beautiful installations with a lot of colourful stuff. She paints huge pieces of fabrics and drapes it across a huge space. I was shocked when I saw her installation in Moscow: it was a vast space that was covered in coloured fabric. You can’t see it referenced obviously in the collection, but it reflects an atmosphere and feeling that I was trying to convey.
I would like to talk a little a bit of the ‘sexless’ aspect. Did you do fittings on women and men? What was the process like?
My fittings were really interesting, because I was fitting on three different sizes. The first fit model was a big guy, who was between size 58 and 60. Then, I tried it on normal male and female models; I tried to find a balance. You can also interchange a few garments. For example, guys can wear a piece as a jacket, while girls can turn it into a cape.
Why was it so important to you?
I’m a Muslim, and in my family, I can’t really show myself in a super trashy way. I like it when you can share your garments with your friends. This idea of a shared wardrobe is a really interesting idea. I have been in Antwerp for three years — when my friends visit me, they always ask to borrow my pieces. You can imagine a skinny girl asking me for a huge menswear coat.
Looking back, do you see any similarities between your collections or has each collection been distinct and unique?
The links you would see is that I’m using extremely heavily printed fabrics. It has become a signature style of mine; I’m always working with jacquards. I’ve also used a lot of fabrics in every collection: there is a minimum of 10 to 15 different fabrics in one collection.
It sounds like a nice full-circle moment.
Everything has come together with this collection.
Words by Aravin Sandran
Photography by Pablo Di Prima