The Masters: Alexandre Arsenault
Growing up in Montreal, Alexandre Arsenault was drawn into fashion from the very moment that he began to choose his own clothes. It became apparent to him that fashion was a tool for expression, experimentation and fantasy: a fluid vessel which transforms the wearer. Throughout our conversation, I quickly grasp that such insights are frequent to Alexandre, who has an acute awareness of his practice and process and reveals that he takes his biggest inspiration from that which surrounds him.
“I’M GRATEFUL FOR MY TECHNICAL BACKGROUND: IF I WANT TO START A BUSINESS, I KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH CASH FLOW, AND HOW TO NAVIGATE THE BUSINESS SIDE OF THINGS LIKE MARKETING. THERE’S ALSO THE TECHNICAL ASPECTS: I WOULDN’T NEED TO HIRE PATTERN-MAKERS, I CAN SEW LIKE A TECHNICIAN: IN THE END IT SAVES MONEY.”
Such surroundings come in the form of friends and, more broadly speaking, in the attitudes and tendencies of ‘our generation of youth.’ This spirit, by its very nature, is about being poised in between: nostalgically romanticising the past and mimicking it in the present, seeking definition and exploring sensuality: these very forces manifest themselves within his graduate collection. He shrugs, “I didn’t make it into the show because it was too… in-between.” I would argue that such a position of needing definition, of being uncanny, paradoxically becomes the very thing which is so definitive of our youth; and what makes this collection so interesting and mesmerising.
This idea is best illustrated when Alexandre speaks of the hedonistic psyche which he is fascinated by and which dominates his collection. It stems from nights out where everyone was high and fucked: “I remember thinking how depraved and dreary everyone looked, and in contrast they all felt so glamorous. I thought this was one of those feelings that encapsulates a big part of our generation. I found this destructive search for this transformative moment… quite poetic, in way. I like to make clothes that look very glamorous in their form, but the actual spirit of them is defiled.” It conceptually puts forth a distorted notion that to achieve glamour, one must defile the self: and this can be seen through Alexandre’s techniques. For instance, the use of bleach stains upon velvet represents strobe lights on a jacket whilst also suggesting the idea of obliteration, as the basis of the fabric is taken away. The same is demonstrated through excessive devoré on a silk and cotton jersey: the material’s presence only remains within the seams of a garment.
Naturally, Alexandre favours punk, metal and rock music, but the aesthetic with which it comes is ‘over-done in fashion’, he states. “You have to go deeper,” and for this collection, a feeling of destruction was consistent: “everything looks like it’s collapsing to the floor.” This crumpling movement and fuzzy ambience is beautifully communicated through his campaign, photographed by Steph Wilson. Here, sunshine hues accentuate the licks of bleach upon the garments. The raw, ripped scragginess is rendered decadent, evoking the inspirational imagery of Paolo Roversi and Corrine Day, and the viewer faces scenes which seems to have a gravitational pull: low and long. There is a movement, a glamour, an absolute confidence, but also an equal fragility and vulnerability which echoes sentiments of youth whilst creating an in-between space of indefinition. It must be said that such poetic descriptions are unavoidable when the clothing itself is so rooted in poetry and pain — recalling the music of Nick Cave, who is one of the collection’s main muses.
“THEY HAVE TO BREAK YOU DOWN AND SLAP YOU IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS UNTIL YOU REALISE FOR YOURSELF, THIS SHOULDER IS NOT RIGHT BECAUSE OF THIS… THIS LAPEL IS NOT PERFECT BECAUSE IT DOES NOT SAY THE SAME MESSAGE AS THIS OTHER JACKET… IT’S ALL ABOUT INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION.”
This feeling of abandonment and void is equally seen through Alexandre’s lookbook, where the face of the wearer is deleted: this faceless man becomes a universal figure, able to explore masculinity and challenge the ever-existing passé archetypes of the alpha-male. “I think there’s a lack of garments which acknowledge the fluidity of masculinity,” he says, adding that this is something he wants to continue to explore in future projects. Alexandre enjoys to play with such tensions, highlighting that “there is always a fight that is present within my work, something which is tearing and signifying a struggle.” If we are to follow the established notion that your work is an extension of yourself, then this fight may be the incarnation of Alex’s struggle throughout his time at Central Saint Martins. He came to the school for the Undergraduate Diploma Course, led by David Kappo: “I had studied my BA in Canada at Lasalle College, and so my education was deeply technical. We were graded on if a notch was a millimetre away from where it was meant to be. We had marketing classes, trend classes, sewing classes, drawing classes: it was all about technicality, and this training and knowledge has proven to be invaluable for me.”
The Undergraduate Diploma, it seems, enabled Alexandre to approach fashion from a new perspective. “It makes you think about fashion the way London thinks about fashion, which is a really unique methodology compared to the rest of the world.” His time upon the MA emphasized this even further, and the evaluative way in which he speaks about it demonstrates precisely how much he learnt. “I can be extremely stubborn and, as pretentious as it sounds… Me being a perfectionist is a huge hindrance.” It was after the precollection, when he was not satisfied with any work he had produced, that a shift occurred, and he accepted and welcomed change. “I realised there was a problem and so I changed the whole collection, presenting something I made in two weeks. The same happened in this final collection and it’s like: Shit! Why didn’t I do that from the start?”
So what does the future hold for Alexandre? He has decided to launch his own line, “which won’t be easy, but what is?” The December agency recently picked up his work, and currently he is working hard to build the foundation of his company. “I have a couple of good things coming up,” he shares, “and hopefully I’ll be able to do it with little funds and find the support needed.” What to expect from his upcoming work? As ever, he’s intrigued and excited by that which surrounds him. “I design for myself or people like me, and I like the idea of building upon your existing wardrobe. It’s more relevant for fashion in my opinion anyway.” Ever-evolving, evaluating and experimenting; there’s absolutely no doubt that Alexandre speaks of, and to his generation.