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‘30 jeans 30 days’: Alexandra Armata unveils her quarantine project

‘Quaranjean’, the latest project of CSM graduate Alexandra Armata highlights the power of denim and its endless interpretations

2021 has been particularly busy so far for Central Saint Martins’ MA graduate Alexandra Armata. Initiated last December, her project featuring 30 unique pairs of jeans makes for a reinterpretation of the iconic garment. Whether it’s the ‘long fly’, the ‘curved waistband’, or the ‘upside down’, each variation is more surprising than the next. The designer used more than 70 pairs of jeans from inception to completion, creating contemporary designs out of recycled denim. Here, she explains her inspiration behind the project as well as the challenges that came with it.

‘30 jeans 30 days’ by Alexandra Armata
‘30 jeans 30 days’ by Alexandra Armata

Can you start by walking us through your background and experience?

I have a Bachelor of Design from Ryerson University, the University of Toronto, which is where I’m from. I moved onto doing a graduate diploma at the London College of Fashion for a year, which opened the door for me to do my MA at Central Saint Martins. Between my BA and moving to London for the graduate diploma, I worked for almost a full year at Vejas Kruszewski, and I helped with a lot of production and design. I started as an intern and after he won the second prize at LVMH, it opened the doors for me to work full time. During the summer break of my MA, I started working with Chopova Lowena as a design intern. We became really good friends, and I would often pop in and help whenever they needed it.

How were the months after graduation?

Not to be dramatic, but it was pretty terrible. I think you get into the MA, it’s incredibly exciting and you have expectations that it will be career-changing, and it oftentimes is. The ending of it was just so anticlimactic. Our year-end exhibition was cut short by a couple of days and a lot of the guests who were invited to come look at our work in person, like recruiters and talent acquisition people, cancelled their trips. Some were coming from Paris, but even those from London were a lot more cautious and decided not to come at all. That was really sad, and we didn’t even get to say goodbye properly. For a lot of people, it felt quite scary because one day we were there and everyone thought it was fine, and then the next day we went into uni and everyone had booked a flight home. It was really intense, and I booked a flight home as well. I think it was almost six full months after the show, I was back in my parents’ house in Canada, and I felt totally defeated. I knew that it had happened to a lot of people, so I wasn’t too bumped about it. I’m sure it’s the same for every recent graduate or anybody who finished their course last year; it was totally disheartening. Everybody was so underprepared that I feel really bad for the people who were in the middle of a one-year course at that time.

“My parents immigrated to Canada from Soviet-era Poland in the 1990s and when I was growing up, they would always tell stories about how jeans were the hot item in their youth; they were an empowering garment for people. ” – Alexandra Armata

‘30 jeans 30 days’ by Alexandra Armata
‘30 jeans 30 days’ by Alexandra Armata
‘30 jeans 30 days’ by Alexandra Armata

“I absolutely love jeans, I think they are the best garment, symbolically and historically. They can mean so much, they can represent so many different lifestyles and interests.” – Alexandra Armata

Throughout March, you are unveiling a project called ‘30 jeans 30 days’ or ‘quaranjean’. Can you explain this concept and how it came to life?

I was in Canada until August 2020 and in September I flew back to London because I was incredibly depressed about the whole situation. The fact that I moved continents made me feel even more isolated from the industry that I wanted to be a part of. I came back, recovered a little bit and in December, I started to have the idea that I should really do something, that it would make me feel a lot better. I knew getting back into doing things would make me feel more productive. So, I came up with the idea of 30 jeans for 30 days because I was looking at a book by Martino Gamper, which was 100 chairs in 100 days. It’s one of my old-time favorite projects because the idea is so simple. When I was working for Vejas, I became so well-trained at sewing jeans, I knew I could sew an entire pair of jeans in a day. Also, my MA collection was about my ancestry and heritage. My parents immigrated to Canada from Soviet-era Poland in the 1990s and when I was growing up, they would always tell stories about how jeans were the hot item in their youth. They were always trying to acquire jeans because they were such a symbol of freedom and reunification with the West; they were an empowering garment for people. Some people would spend an entire month’s salary to acquire a pair of jeans, especially young people. It was such a fashion item for them and that had so much weight. I think all these different anecdotes painted a picture to me. I really love jeans to put it simply. The primary motivation for the project was that every pair would be unique. Also, when I start my own brand in the future, there will be some pieces there to start from. The thing with jeans is that it’s really cool to make a very creative unrealistic pair of jeans, but I’m also a very practical person and I really would love to see people wearing and living in the things that I make. That’s just their whole purpose. In December, I started acquiring a bunch of used jeans, and then in January, I started designing and making.

Why choose to explore denim?

I absolutely love jeans, I think they are the best garment, symbolically and historically. They can mean so much, they can represent so many different lifestyles and interests. When you think of all the subcultures that incorporate jeans in their own way, I think they’re so rich with potential. I also thought about my own wardrobe. I only wear jeans; I don’t wear skirts very often. To me, jeans are the most exciting.

‘30 jeans 30 days’ by Alexandra Armata

“I really didn’t care when I was making it if anybody would like it if it was going to get a lot of attention. I just wanted to make it because I was really depressed from the quarantine and I needed something to cheer myself up.” – Alexandra Armata

What were the main challenges throughout the making of this collection?

Definitely the process of disassembling the used jeans. In a normal setting, you’d have the fabric ready to be cut, but having to upcycle a used pair of jeans adds another step in the process. Coming up with a way that was quick and efficient in disassembling the used jeans so that they were ready to be recut and sewn was the biggest challenge. I tried to come up with the quickest methods. Sometimes it was just cutting them apart as fast as I could, but it still adds an extra hour or two to the process. And then sometimes if I needed to cut apart three pairs of jeans depending on the design, it was obviously another extra six hours of work. It was really tough.

How is this project different from your previous work?

It’s more focused on a singular garment rather than a collection. A collection is very formal, and it needs to be very consistent. You have one overarching concept that you need to be able to translate into each item, but this project provided me with a lot more freedom. The fact that they were all jeans was enough of a link between each piece. I could do just whatever I wanted. Piece to piece, it just offered so much more freedom for designs. I thought it would be easier [than my MA collection], but after the first 10 pairs, you start to run out of ideas. At that point, it also starts to get more interesting because you have to get a lot more creative with how you’re going to put things together. It felt like the first 10 or so were really obvious designs. Part of me thinks this was easier because my MA collection was the first “formal” collection I made, and the environment was really stressful. The fact that it was the very first one felt like it had to be special, and it added a lot of pressure, whereas for this [project], I had no expectations. There was a lot more freedom and it was just fun. I really didn’t care when I was making it if anybody would like it if it was going to get a lot of attention. I just wanted to make it because I was really depressed from the quarantine and I needed something to cheer myself up – and it did! It definitely gave me more purpose day-to-day and made me feel a lot better.

What are your favorite pairs of jeans in the project and why?

I have two favorites. The very first pair I’ve made, which is with the long fly at the front. As a traditional pair of jeans, it has all the elements it’s meant to have. It’s not too dissimilar from a traditional pair of jeans, which makes it really wearable and practical, but at the same time, it has one simple innocent deviation from the standard that provides a little bit of excitement to the design. It’s not too outrageous that you can’t incorporate it. Then, another pair I really liked was the one where I reused the pocket bags. The way I was disassembling jeans as part of the process, I was left with a bunch of pocket bags. It’s one of my final pairs and that one was completely improvised. I didn’t have a plan for it, I just put it together and hoped for the best and I thought the result was really cool. You can flip them inside out and they have so much movement. That one on the flipside is kind of impractical, but it’s just so unexpected. It’s my second favorite.

“If you have an idea or a project that you really want to do, just go for it. I think a lot of the time, you have an idea, you sit on it and hesitate. Just go straight to making it. ” – Alexandra Armata

‘30 jeans 30 days’ by Alexandra Armata
‘30 jeans 30 days’ by Alexandra Armata

What piece of advice would you give to new fashion students or recent graduates?

I don’t know if I’m in a place to give advice because I feel like a mess! I thought about this project for quite a long time, and it was something I really wanted to do, but I hesitated on it for a few months. If you have an idea or a project that you really want to do, just go for it. I think a lot of the time, you have an idea, you sit on it and hesitate. Just go straight to making it. Even if it doesn’t work out, there is always something that you can take away from the project. Worst case scenario, it can go into your portfolio as a fun additional project that you did during quarantine; it shows you had initiative and motivation. Don’t sit on a project for too long, just make it happen.

“Now a year later, a majority of the brands are doing the same shit as always and it’s really discouraging because it felt like everybody at the beginning promised so much and really didn’t deliver on it.”

What are your plans for the future? And what part of the industry do you see yourself in?

I definitely want to start my own brand, focused on jeans and some kind of a hybrid or a combination of my MA research with this denim idea. I just found what excites me, I could keep making jeans for another few years and be happy with that. I think that’s a good sign and I’m just going to go with it and not overthink it. I still need to figure out the details exactly, but I think I see myself creating an artistic emerging denim brand.

Are there any parts of the fashion system that don’t make sense to you?

There are tons! I think the number one thing, which was a big motivator for this project was that the pandemic offered a really unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for brands to do something, anything that was outside of the traditional runway or presentation. In the beginning, it was really cool to see all these brands say that they were going to do something incredible but very few followed through. Now a year later, a majority of the brands are doing the same shit as always and it’s really discouraging because it felt like everybody at the beginning promised so much and really didn’t deliver on it. Also, you have the perfect excuse to say, “We made this design decision because we have the pandemic going on” and nobody can blame you for it. It’s kind of discouraging to see that all these brands have so many resources and creative people at their disposal; they could really do something unorthodox that would almost have no consequence and yet nobody takes that chance.

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