Representing the creative future

New Waves: Nathan Korn

The BA graduate who turned heartbreak into beauty.

Sadness and heartbreak don’t always have to be dull and drab, according to CSM Fashion Print graduate Nathan Korn. His collection was inspired by a guy who is feeling down, but changes his perspective, and begins imagining that life is much more wonderful than it is. For Korn, the collection ended up being largely fantastical, with handmade flowers in bold colours, adorning all of the clothes. The colour blue was present on every garment in the collection which, to Korn, represents a variety of things from gender, to emotion, to nature. Figuratively, and perhaps literally too, the fruit and nature theme of the clothing is meant to hide things around us that aren’t so pleasant. The collection could be viewed as autobiographical since Korn tries to remain cheerful and bright at all times. Korn, admittedly, gets a bit sad sometimes whether it’s due to the current political system or just comparing himself to his peers.The original concept behind the collection was too much of a fantasy causing his tutor to remind him that having some reality involved in his work is not a dreadful thing. Korn kept what his tutor said in mind, and made his collection both realistic with some fantasy. As for genderless clothing, Korn’s intention was not necessarily to have the collection look masculine or feminine, but to evoke boyish qualities. “It was about boyish sensitivity and sexual/romantic frustration,” Korn said. He does acknowledge that not making something “traditionally masculine” could be viewed as form of protest. Ultimately though, Korn simply would like to be able to create beautiful things in the fashion world.

What was the main inspiration behind your collection?

It started off as heartbreak, about a guy who had to get on with his day, get dressed and go to work. But all he really wanted to do was stay in his room and be sad. But that’s not a luxury anyone has, so he gets up, puts on his clothes, and imagines things around him becoming more beautiful than they are. Flowers blooming, berries growing, and things getting brighter and shinier and more colourful.

How did the concept develop?

It started off as this intangible idea about an island, which was so convoluted I hated explaining what it was about to anyone, I didn’t really buy it myself. One of my tutors helped me realise that I work best when I have one foot in reality and the other in fantasy. I made everything up and I needed to have something to hold on to, a more realistic point of reference. So, I thought more about myself, how I deal with sadness, and made a short film in my bedroom – not that kind of film. I played around with decorating the space and trying to fit into shirts that were still buttoned up, putting shoes on before trousers, wearing an ill-fitting work suit, then sticking a flower on it to make everything ok. I wanted it to be something boyish and cute, but also sexy in an attainable sort of way. Grumpy but not angry, and definitely not dark. I think you can say a lot about sadness with bright colours.

What techniques did you focus on?

I got really into beading techniques, which is something I haven’t done since I was young. I used to make jewellery a lot; like real glass beads with clasps and crimps. My mum would get me to make stuff for her friends’ birthdays sometimes. It was nice to get back into that, and I ended up making a lot of jewellery for my collection as well as having beads on the clothes. For the socks, which were digitally printed with a trompe l’oeil texture, I beaded red and blue stripes along the top like those 70s sports socks. I also used this technique where fabric is gathered between two points by a beaded clump of berries, which I made a suit out of, and I think is my favourite look. I used a lot of glitter vinyl as well (thanks for the 30% off code) for the faces I put onto the t-shirts and for the flowers – THAT was a big job. We had to make 600 flowers for one look, with some left over for accessories and styling. We cut each petal separately and they’re all stitched together, no glue allowed. We had loads of styles and sizes as well so it got pretty confusing at times, especially since I was so particular about how many petals needed to be on each flower. Aside from the acrylic flower badges, which were laser-cut, everything else was done by hand.

What was most important to you working towards the final result?

Technique was important, it became such a personal collection that I wanted everything to be as close to me as possible. I wanted the fewest degrees of separation possible between me and the outcome. I was lucky to get on so well with my helpers, and I knew they were invested in it and understood why everything had to be so delicate and considered. They got even better than me at making the flowers. I don’t think you need to stay away from vivid colours if you’re doing a collection with a sad theme. I think the colours were important. I’m not somebody who likes to let negative things affect me too much, I try to keep my environment colourful and happy even if horrible stuff is on my mind. I guess it’s a coping mechanism. From all my research and sketchbook work I was imagining there would be a lot more blue in the collection but there is blue in every look, even if it’s just a small bit. It’s a very specific tone which I think is very evocative of all that I was trying to say. It’s the whole ‘blue-for-a-boy’ trope, blue for sadness, blue for a clear sky.

What was your biggest challenge last year? How did you overcome it?

One of the biggest challenges is remembering who you are and what you’re trying to say. I’ve never been somebody who does big shapes but they always suggest it to you, especially when there’s a runway show at the end. It’s not something that comes naturally to me and working with big pattern pieces just stresses me out. I made that one big coat with the fruit wrappers which I love, but NEVER AGAIN. You look around and see people doing amazing things and you’re like ‘Why can I not think of stuff like that? I learned to ride out the doubt. Sometimes you must let it happen and run its course, take a time out and then get back to stitching flowers together.

Was there anything a tutor shared with you that was particularly helpful?

Yeah, I’m not too proud to admit I got pretty down and distracted by all the horrible political stuff that went on while I was in my final year. I remember talking to my tutor Elisa about the US election, saying I didn’t want another day of waking up and feeling like it was the end of the world, and she said that it was good to be concerned and to know what was happening, but that I don’t have to allow it to distract me so much; that I can be political without my work being overtly political, that creating something beautiful is a point of view, especially if it gives people something to appreciate in amongst all the ugliness. That helped recalibrate my brain.

Do the flowers in the collection symbolise anything?

Both the flowers and the berries were meant to symbolise the things we imagine – or at least, the things I imagine – around us to cover up any ugliness or sadness. There’s the sexual nature of flowers and fruit as well, things blooming and being ripe. I’d say they symbolise sensitivity as well, loads of emotions that keep popping up that you weren’t expecting, but that aren’t necessarily a bad thing. I was thinking a lot about scents as well when I was designing the collection, I had this idea of something between a boy’s musty bedroom and a tropical honey-sweet flower.

Was gender something that you think about when designing the collection?

I suppose I did think about gender in terms of how I wanted to make sure it was a boyish collection. I didn’t want it to be masculine or feminine, but boyish, which I think is quite an evocative term. In my mind, a man is an adult buy a boy can be any age, and he has some innocence and curiosity. It was about boyish sensitivity and sexual/romantic frustration.
With all the imagery, I was using it could have been a very feminine collection and I didn’t want that, my idea wasn’t intended to make a statement about gender, or questioning it. I think any time a man isn’t wearing a bog-standard ‘Outfit for A Man’ then it is a form of protest in a way. A protest of varying degrees depending on what is or isn’t being worn.

What would you like to do after your studies?

Play Animal Crossing and master the art of Korean cuisine. After that… I have no idea. Something where I get paid to make beautiful things, and maybe one day the MA at CSM.

Do you think you’ll easily find your place in the fashion industry?

I hope so. I feel like there’s a space for the things I create, but I’m not sure it’s ever easy. If anybody wants to give me a whole load of money and a studio, I’m sure that would make it easier!