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Front Row with Alexa Brews

All images courtesy of @alexakimbrews

Front Row with Alexa Brews

At FRM we continuously have the privilege of being exposed to the most raw & remarkable fashion talent on the African content–and today is no different. Our next interviewee, Alexa Brews, is a fashion student currently based in Cape Town and whose work commanded my attention a few months ago. Narratively inspired by the human experience and creatively charged by her background within the Arts, Alexa is an emerging student designer on the rise and impossible to ignore.

I'm a sucker for youth-driven messages and creatives who implement youthful approaches to their relevant artistic disciplines. During our virtual to-and-fro, Alexa mentions:

"... I mean the ideas and expectations of what it means to be a young person living in today's world with today's obligations and energiesand how despite our different backgrounds and paths, there's this special little space where we can all relate to one another in some way."

What further intrigues me is what Alexa cites as eeriness within her work, which has transpired from a modern dystopian approach towards her design process. Qualities such as the tints of feminism which trinkle throughout her work are ever-so evidentbut what shines out most to me is how Alexa manages to infuse this aesthetic throughout her work whilst maintaining this aforementioned eeriness. To me, this is signified through her creative juxtapositions, such as the usage of straightjackets, masks and neckbelts styled with corsets and lace in her previous collections. And considering the poignant timing of her Fedisa graduation showcase taking place tomorrow–I cannot wait to see what unique design concoctions she manages to conjure up next.

Alexa's work feels like an artistic interrogation of nuanced human topics expressed through womenswear; something like an avant-garde McQueen-esque interpretation of a (potential) South African label; so enjoy this ensuing interview which serves as a peak into the brilliance of her mind; what brings her creations into being, her art background and its relationship with fashion, the final grad show taking place tomorrow! And more.

Would you mind introducing yourself and including a short description of what you do?

AB: My name is Alexa Brews, I’m a 21-year old fashion student and I'm currently about to finish my final year at Fedisa, Cape Town. The work that I make could be categorized as avant-garde fashion, particularly womenswear. What I am most invested in achieving through my work is the sense of fashion as an art formnot just as something wearable and necessary. This, I think, is what most informs what I do and hope to do in the future.

What are you most inspired by when it comes to your design process?

AB: I think the thing that I seek my inspiration from is honestly just the human experience itself. By this, I mean the ideas and expectations of what it means to be a young person living in today's world with today's obligations and energiesand how despite our different backgrounds and paths, there's this special little space where we can all relate to one another in some way. Particularly, this has translated into my work so far through the lens of femininity, and what it means to be a young woman in the modern world. Something else that really inspires me in my design process is the idea of a kind of modern dystopiaand what the world could potentially look like one day. I've found that this seems to have come through with a certain element of eeriness in my work so far; which is interesting to me because that wasn't something which I necessarily intended for but at the same time, I am not at all against.

To me, it feels like you have such an interesting art background. Through your fashion work, I pick up niche art techniques & sensibilities which I really enjoy and I think allows your work to stand out. Is this true? Would/could you call yourself an artist first?

AB: Firstly, thank you so much. This question makes me really happy. Yes, I've always loved artand remember quite distinctly struggling to decide whether it was art or fashion that I wanted to pursue post high school. I think that a big thing for me in my design journey so far has been trying to find a place where they can exist together in my worksort of like a marriage between the two worlds. It's funny, because I feel like often people have this notion of fashion’s “worthiness” being centered around its marketability, which is something that has always frustrated me. I think we should be able to appreciate fashion for its beauty or message alone, without its profitability having to be an agenda. In this collection, for exampleevery look is intended to be viewed as part of an exhibition, rather than to be actually worn. Also, the area of fashion which I’m most drawn to is definitely the avant-garde, which I think in itself allows for a really special mid-way between art & fashion to be experimented with. So, to answer your questionI’m not entirely sure whether I could call myself an artist first, but I think that the idea of being an artist is something which has become intrinsically woven into my work. There’s this expression that I really enjoy, called being a “designer for designers”, which I hope one day to grow intoso I’m very proud that this seems to have come through in my collection.

Masks created by Rebecca Foot

As a final year fashion student–please tell me a bit more about your experience thus far. How has the experience of being in a fashion institution influenced your overall craft?

AB: The experience of being in a fashion institution has definitely influenced my craft. Studying at Fedisa has been a crazy experience and I don't think people appreciate enough how much work and energy the students there have to put in. There have been times leading up to a big hand in when I haven't sleptas in literally not stepped foot into my bedroom for days in a rowwhich isn't even uncommon amongst my classmates and I. It's actually pretty insane. In a lot of ways, I think something that I never used to appreciate in the first few years of being at Fedisa is that it takes a lot of time and a lot of practice to get to a place where you have enough technical skill to actually be able to bring to life the ideas in your head. For example, I used to get super frustrated sometimes when sewing certain technically difficult garments, and constantly complain in my head that I have never intended to be a world-renowned seamstress, so if I don't understand how to sew some niche, medieval looking collar, so what! But what I didn't realize at that point was that you need to understand the nitty-gritty technicalities in order to be able to fully realize what it is you are trying to create. It isn't, or at least hasn't been for me, something that I could have achieved without the help of my degree. I will say, though, that I feel that the institution where I studied does place a specifically strong emphasis on commercial/ready-to-wear fashion. In that way, creatively, I'm not entirely sure if university has served me as best as it maybe could have. All-in-all though, I definitely don't regret choosing to study at Fedisa.

What mainly informs your decisions with regards to materials & silhouettes?

AB: Over the last few years, especially recently, I’ve really grown a strong appreciation for different fabricsand think that material choice genuinely is something which can make or break an outfit. There is something so intriguing about combining different textures, or even prints, that you know don't really go togetherbut end up working somehow. It's like, the most satisfying feeling. I also find something particularly interesting about a textile in its most organic, raw form. This is something which you can see pretty strongly in my grad collection, which I've made mostly from different raw silks and leathersall of which have really interesting but subtle textural qualities. Silhouette wise for this collection specifically, I really wanted to lean into the ideas of constriction and conformity; both in a literal and figurative sense. For example, the collection features corsetry as quite a heavy element, as well as a fair amount of cage work, which to me feels very reminiscent of historical womenswear attire, and plays with the ideas of femininity and the ways in which women have had to adhere to certain standards and molds. In a way, this collection has kind of been a way for me to flip the widely regarded notion of clothing used as a mode of self-expressionand look at the ways in which clothing can be more of a means of societal conformation.

According to you–what does it mean to be an 'ethical designer' within today's fashion ecosystem?

AB: For me, I think that being an ethical designer has a lot to do with transparency. I feel as though when people speak about sustainability in relation to the fashion industry, they tend to focus on issues which occur on a very macro, large scale level. Of course this is importantI don't mean at all to imply that it isn't but it's also very very difficult to change as individual consumers. This is why I believe that the best, most tangible way in which myself and other young designers can move forward in an ethical way is to establish good, honest relationships with our customers, and create an environment where we are held completely accountable for our actionsand aren't allowed to just hide behind a myriad of different greenwashing techniques. I know that this is something that people love to say (and are probably a little bit sick of hearing) but that's why it is so important to support young, local designers! Supporting people who operate on a smaller level really is such a guaranteed way to eliminate overproduction and waste that comes from the fashion industry. At the same time, I can almost guarantee you that in supporting small businesses, the quality and care put into each garment that you buy will be astronomically better than what you would get from huge, international retail stores.

What are some of the things you are looking forward to during the remainder of 2023?

AB: Honestly, what i'm most excited for is just to have some down time. At the risk of sounding a bit lame, I truly can’t wait for the opportunity to just catch up on some post-fashion show sleep. At the same time, I'm definitely more of a Winter girl at heartso I'm not exactly excited for those long December days where the beach decides to steal all of my friends… not to say that I won't be enjoying some day-time drinking with my girls. Woohoo for party season! On the work front at least, I don't intend to even touch a sewing machine at least until Januarymaybe even February, who knows! But nevertheless, I will be back at it after a long-awaited little break :)


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