Aganovich founders dress to express

Having won fans the world over with a cerebral approach to design, Paris-based Aganovich debutedin Asia this week.Divia Harilela caught the show

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 January, 2013, 9:53am

In a world where fashion is dominated by cookie-cutter brands and ruled by the bottom line, Paris-based label Aganovich is a breath of fresh air. Since 2005, founders Nana Aganovich and Brooke Taylor's cerebral approach to design has been winning them fans the world over, not least in Hong Kong, where their work was showcased for the first time in Asia with a runway show this week.

It was not your usual, glam-packed show. As the lights dimmed, church bells could be heard in the background as each model walked slowly down the stark runway dressed in half skirts and dresses that were structured on one side and loose and flowing on the other. Many of the silhouettes bordered on futuristic, with rounded shoulders or cape sleeves, all in a white palette punctuated with vintage green brocade. Later, a pale faced clown emerged, a regular in every show and an homage to Aganovich's past.

"Clowns are based on Nana. When I first met her she used to wear clown make-up," teases Taylor.

"I was young and arrogant," says Aganovich, laughing. "But clowns aside, we like to explore contrasts. For spring it was about gypsies, but at a street level hence the brocade. We are still trying to figure out things that don't go together that will actually meet. This way we can try to create something that is new."

The duo's desire to experiment has garnered them a reputation as one of the few intelligent labels in fashion today. Their clothes hang alongside brands like Comme des Garçons and Maison Martin Margiela at edgy boutiques like Dover Street Market in London and Joyce in Hong Kong, while industry insiders such as influential blogger Diane Pernet have become pertinent supporters of their unique approach. Most recently they managed to grab the attention of Hong Kong based fashion investor Jimmy K.W. Chan, owner of Paris label Rue du Mail, who has invested in their business.

"Rarely do we see a brand which not only focuses on design but on the overall story. They breathe and live the world they created. They are really focused on creating art for our industry," Chan says.

In the flesh, the designers make a striking pair. Aganovich is dressed in a pair of bright red, drop-crotch Comme des Garçons trousers, a tight black jacket decorated with floral badges, black shirt and printed red tie. Taylor wears a cream and blue jumper, oversized draped trousers and a newsboy cap.

Partners in both work and life, it was a chance meeting in a London pub in 2002 that brought them together. At the time Taylor had experimented with everything from writing to club nights. Belgrade-born Aganovich studied art and had completed her MA in fashion at Central Saint Martins. They knew they wanted to work together, but fashion was not top of the list.

"After Saint Martins, I didn't want to do fashion. I actually hated it at that time. It was like a pocket philosophy," she says.

Like most emerging designers, their start in the business was a rocky one. Aganovich went to Shanghai with a fellow graduate who was from the mainland to set up a production studio. But they parted ways and she sold him her half of the studio.

Aganovich in its current Brooke/Nana incarnation started in 2008 and did its first official presentation in October 2009.

"We fell in love and were trying to work out how we are going to work together and fashion came into the picture," says Aganovich.

"We love clothes. When we dress, we actually get treated better. It is a visual thing for other people," says 42-year-old Taylor.

"Dressing is about that game, your personality, about how are you presenting yourself and how you can change. It's such a strong engagement and we wanted to explore that," says Aganovich.

The duo's debut caught the attention of Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo, who bought the collection for her boutique, and Chanel muse Amanda Harlech. The collections that followed were equally intriguing as the pair continued to reference everything from Russian artist Alexander Rodchenko to early 20th century art movements such as Futurism, constructivism and Bauhaus. They started to attract creative clientele such as Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid, who view clothes as a form of self expression and identity.

"Many people called our work conceptual but the term seems so dated," says Aganovich. "As far as we see, it should only be the same as the term 'underground' in music. U2 were a kick-ass Irish underground band with two great albums in their pocket before they went massive. For me conceptual should be the same thing, which is that you try to rethink the current status to come up with something new.

"We are not in this because we are obsessed with beauty," Aganovich adds. "We analyse what we think could be better, what might our problems be and then come up with a better proposition that we believe in."

That isn't to say their designs are overly cerebral. Their pieces stand out for their quality as well as their ingenuity. They insist that every item is handmade at the Bocage Avenir Couture factory outside of Paris. Last year they moved their operations to the French capital.

"No matter how many designers you poach from London, the stage of creativity in fashion always happens in Paris. I recently read a book where a Japanese designer was asked why he moved to Paris. He said, 'I came to be criticised because if I want compliments I'd stay at home.' We are playing according to those rules now. Paris is just refining the idea down to the absolute. You have to be sophisticated," says Taylor.

The fashion capital poses new challenges for the pair, such as having to live in the shadow of huge fashion labels and conglomerates such as Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior. Even so, the duo are determined to blaze their own trail. Their autumn-winter 2013/14 collection will feature many new techniques.

"Right now we are still building our signature look. It's about being true to yourself, and when we do, these things come naturally," says Brooke. "I have eight files on my desk ready to go with new ideas. We would love to do products from wallets to rings as well as menswear."

Sometimes, says Brooke, the customers' taste can help define a style. "You start to see what they identify as you then you start being more you. Then it's interesting, it's a relationship.

"If I think of Leigh Bowery, Rei Kawakubo or [Alexander] McQueen, you end up feeling a lot of emotion in their work," says Taylor. "They gave so much outside of themselves. I don't know if we will end up being that type of label, but I'd like people to look at what we do and appreciate it."