Some people may claim that architecture and psychology do not have anything to do with fashion, but this statement doesn't certainly apply to Sudanese-born London-based designer Omer Asim.
After moving to London 18 years ago, Asim studied architecture at The Bartlett, opting then for a postgraduate course in organisational and social psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
While training as a psychoanalyst, Asim started thinking more about fashion and at the relationship between mind, body and clothing. After a few internships during which he learnt his technical skills and that included stints at Maurice Sedwell of Savile Row and Vivienne Westwood, he launched in September 2009 his own label with an installation at London Fashion Week's On|Off exhibition.
Asim's designs usually feature controlled volumes and geometric structured shapes that at times betray his architectural background. The designer's first collection, based on round patterns that hinted at a vulture circling over its prey, was inspired by the tragic award-winning photograph by Kevin Carter of Bang-Bang Club Fame; his latest collection is instead a juxtaposition of tight-woven panels, matte and sheer lightweight plain-weave fabrics revealing the construction details underneath and creating visually pleasing light and dark areas.
You first studied economics and psychoanalysis, but what prompted you to then move onto fashion?
Omer Asim: I didn’t study economics as such, but both my architecture and organisational psychology training involved a serious element of commerce and enterprise. I never enjoyed that part of my training but I was good at it. My initial interest in fashion developed with my research in cultural psychoanalysis, but the more I found out about the process of clothes making, the more I started to slowly move into fashion design.
What did you learn from your internships and in particular from your experience with the wardrobe team for Harry Potter?
Omer Asim: I did 3 years of internships including some time with Maurice Sedwell in Savile Row. I don’t dare calling myself a tailor, not even after spending 1 or 2 years with a tailor. I started with no conceptions or practical training so I learnt a lot from all my internships. Harry Potter was one of my first paid jobs in fashion; I worked as a freelancer so I didn’t really work on set. I hate to be a gossip monger but I don’t think that was one of the best experiences I had in the industry!
What inspired the S/S13 collection?
Omer Asim: I am not an inspiration or muse designer, I resent that very much. I have only sketched a few times because I had to, a friend was helping me with patterns so I had to give her an indication of what I was trying to develop. Making a collection is a ‘process’, it started with my very first collection and the process is on-going. I think ‘inspiration’ and plagiarism are the same thing in fashion.
The new collection is characterised by very clean and pure lines, but also by a sort of interplay between sheer and matte motifs, when you design your collections, do you move from fabrics or from the silhouettes?
Omer Asim: I always work with texture and cut, you will find that these two strands run throughout my collections. I don’t rely on art or any other source to jumpstart a collection. There is enough going on within the process cutting and making clothes, I don’t find the need to look elsewhere for ideas but perhaps I do that unconsciously! I don’t think; I just make. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. My favourite pieces are the ‘beautiful mistakes’.
You describe your work as "regressive future" what does this label mean to you?
Omer Asim: I resent things that are ‘futuristic’ and desperately avant-garde. I like to base my work on something pre-modern, but I develop and push it into post-modernity. I find the most refined modern things have a déjà-vu quality, yet they are very original, and this is what I try to achieve with my work: borderline pre-post-modern.
Is there an artist/designer you particularly like?
Omer Asim: I like many artists and designers but I don’t look to their work for inspiration. I love Gaudi, Thimister, Haider Ackermann and many others.
How did you feel when your A/W12 collection was selected for the 4th edition of On Stage?
Omer Asim: I was very surprised at first, the thought of being selected for such a project never crossed my mind. Sara Maino from Vogue italia is one of the most courageous people I met in the industry, she plucked me from nowhere for On Stage when nobody knew about me. I was very happy and reassured.
You also took part in Lagos Fashion Week, which was the highlight of this event for you?
Omer Asim: I always vowed never to show on the catwalk until I am established enough as a business operation, and I don’t think I am ready yet, but Omoyemi Akerele asked me. Ms Akerele, the Creative Director of Style House consulting company, has a great spirit and I wouldn’t have agreed to do it if she was not involved. I didn’t expect Suzy Menkes to be there at all. It was a huge supportive gesture and I think she was very understanding in her expectations of what a catwalk should be like, knowing that us African designers were flying on a wing and a prayer.
There is a lot of interest at the moment for African designers, where do you see the fashion industry over there going in 5 years' time?
Omer Asim: Five years isn’t a long time! That said, a lot has changed in Africa’s fashion scene in the past 3 years. While the honest answer would be ‘I don’t really know’, I think there will be a greater commerce and talent exchange between Africa and the rest of the world.
Will you be taking part in any fashion shows/fairs next year and where are you stocked at the moment?
Omer Asim: I will probably have a showroom in Paris. I am currently stocked at Luisa Via Roma in Florence, and Symphony in Dubai.
What plans do you have for the future?
Omer Asim: I plan and god laughs so I don’t plan anymore, maybe a little bit! I do want to grow my work in every sense of the word.
Image credits: All images by Robert Bellamy
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