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Asher Levine is one of fashion’s rising stars, a forward thinking, avant garde designer at the forefront of New York’s ‘new guard’ of menswear designers, who are breaking the mould by pursuing a bold new aesthetic. Like many of America’s most successful designers such as Donna Karan, Levine entered fashion after noticing a ‘black hole’ in the market; in essence, what he designs, is what he himself wants to wear, and his aim ultimately is to provide men with an alternative to traditional menswear options. His statement making line, with its dark, often sinister and post apocalyptic undertones, is a bold visual aesthetic that has made the designer the go to guy for of a veritable who’s who in celebrity, including Will.i.am, Rita Ora, Adam Lambert, Johnny Weir, The Scissor Sisters, and of course Lady Gaga. As the face of menswear changes, this pioneering young designers’ cult status may just transfer to that of household name.
Tell us about your background and what first drew you to fashion?
I grew up in Florida with a fascination for wildlife and making figures in the sand. Jumping from different art workshops was a norm, and a haven, for me. One of the classes I took taught me how to sew. I made an army vest and shorts in 1998 and I haven’t put down the scissors ever since.
Your Menswear line is one of the more progressive labels around. In your opinion, how is the NY menswear scene changing, and with you now being in your 8th season, would you say you were a pioneer of this ‘new guard’ ?
A few days ago I was wearing these asymmetric bondage drape sweat shorts, not crazy to me, but different for your average guy’s sweat shorts. I noticed one of the airport security guys admiring the shorts, so I took the opportunity to ask this straight-edge person, “so, would you wear them?” He replied a definite “Yes.” I started my fashion career in menswear four years ago because I noticed, not a gap, but a black hole, in the choices that men had in fashion. Why are the same suits men wore over 200 years ago in almost identical styles to those today? Something had to change, and so, my label manifested.
I see a complete symbiosis of technology and fashion in the future in three main areas; wearable technology, bio/nano materials, and 3-D printing. I have already begun dabbling in these three main arenas, but we haven’t even begun to test the possibilities of what I see the future to be like. Imagine seeing an augmented realm that you can touch through haptic accessories. What if you can print clothes specifically made for your measurements right at home? Or we can create materials that grow and change with your body? It’s my goal to pioneer this new realm and facilitate technology companies with design and market strategy.
Aliens and other science fiction aspects play a big part in your collections; do you see fashion as fantasy over reality, a mixture of both, or more as your interpretation of the future?
If you ask those around me, I am a realist; I run a business and need to juggle many real things in my day-to-day life. But I believe you can make any fantasy a reality, you just need some smarts and a lot of dedication. As for the inclinations towards ‘Aliens,’ I’m inspired by what we call life, in its biological sense. Who are we? What is an organism? The array of inspiration the natural world offers is mind-boggling. I have an amazing book by Ernst Haeckel who was a scientist that pioneered nature’s symmetry, and when I’m in a design block, I go “let me consult the book with all the answers”.
I have incorporated more tailored elements than in my first collection, which I thought I would never do, however, I have grown to fetishize over tailoring techniques. It’s something so classic, yet I love bending the methods into something that feels modern. I have been using more wavelengths from the electromagnetic spectrum in my recent collections, as opposed to the blacks and greys from the first collection.
In your opinion, what edge does your youth give you as a designer?
I have nothing to lose and I am creating my own business model that works for me. This does make me nervous, however, for the future, that (knock on wood) I would have something to lose and I have created the business model that works for me. I need to employ certain mechanisms that would create change in both the design and the company. Change is what keeps this world going with new ideas and I would never want to have one-way of thinking, designing, or living.
Celebrities you have worked with include The Black Eyed Peas, Will.i.am, Scissor Sisters, Adam Lambert, Jim Steinman, Rita Ora and Lady Gaga. With whom would you like to work with ideally; Say on tour costumes ala Jean Paul Gaultier for Madonna?
We should talk in a few months, just saying. I would love to work with icons like Cher, Madonna, Prince, Britney .. really anyone who is bold enough to wear my designs and bring them to life.
You just showed SS14 at NYFW. Tell us about that collection and how it has been received?
The collection and show was fantastic. I used human anatomy as my inspiration in a way that reorganizes the levels of the body – skin, muscle, bone, and veins. We created a new take on the classic paisley where the shapes are made from bone and muscle. We’ve also used our exclusive leather molding techniques to create leather muscle and leather bones that emerge from the motorcycle leather pieces. For the first time we have also molded bones into denim apparel. Accessories always play a role in a collection so this season I wanted to imagine if we grew a handbag in a lab as a creature, then skinned it, what would the musculature look like underneath? So then you have the Muscle Weekender. We used the AL ‘classic’ gill silhouette and incorporated a muscle texture into it. This collection feels downtown, youthful, with a bondage spice in the mix. For the show we collaborated with new band MXMS and held the event on Friday the 13th, 2013. I mean, how could you pass up an opportunity like that date. So we held a funeral, casket and all.
How many surprises does the future hold for your fans?