Fashion

Central Saint Martins Grad Abzal Issa Bekov Subverts Classic Menswear with Kinky Undertones

Fashion

Central Saint Martins Grad Abzal Issa Bekov Subverts Classic Menswear with Kinky Undertones

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Fall ’16 Lookbook

Born in a northern town in Kazakhstan, Central Saint Martins grad Abzal Issa Bekov grew up observing his mother’s craftsmanship, who was a seamstress during the USSR era. This is perhaps why fundamental tailoring is so important to the London-based designer, his breakout student collection recalling tradition and subverting time-honored silhouettes through an underground queer lens.

A subtle juxtaposition of Savile Row discipline and ’70s kink culture, Issa Bekov revisited the legacies of British tailor Tommy Nutter, praised for his iconic check suits, and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, known for creating charged black-and-white imagery. The result is a well-researched, well-balanced debut collection—one of CSM’s strongest this season—that revels in history, sexuality and the potency of a focused inspiration.

We caught up with the rising talent to talk about masculinity, hedonism and London, and are thrilled to debut his official lookbook, above.

There’s a strong element of traditional menswear, here. Why did you choose to subvert classics in this way?

It all started with an idea that I wanted to go against what was happening in menswear right now, like gender fluidity, womenswear as menswear, the post-vetements madness, oversized [silhouettes] and all those Eastern Bloc influences. So this collection is really an ode to masculinity and tradition. I wanted to go back to craft and technique. It’s also about the skill that I possess, which is tailoring, so I decided to make use of it. Many can make out-of-shape, blocky, boxy garments, but it takes years and years of training to make a tailored jacket—to understand male body and proportions.

You’re well-versed in queer culture. How did this influence the collection’s direction?

It did from the very beginning. One of the first images I drew inspiration from was [Robert] Mapplethorpe’s photo of a man urinating into other man’s mouth. The way Mapplethorpe invested the homosexuality subject with grandeur [is] the very same way I wanted to translate that rough subject of [the] underground gay world into fashion and make it look noble and desirable. It also involved going through very niche gay magazines and books, like Hal Fischer’s ‘Gay Semiotics’ or Andrew Holleran’s ‘Dancer from the Dance’—movies like, Taxi Zum Klo, and researching the ’70s gay lifestyle before the AIDS plague started. It was interesting to really investigate lives and style of those great men, socialites, models, illustrators and designers that represented ’70s hedonism.

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Robert Mapplethorpe

Any names in particular? 

People like Jacques de Bascher, Antonio Lopez, Juan Ramos, Walter Albini and Tommy Nutter were a great influence to me. During the day, they were the epitome of dandy and elegance, but by night they’d be involved in dark sexual activities in underground gay clubs and cruising places. But [my collection is] also very personal—it’s about me going to techno clubs in Berlin or London and observing men, who like Albini and de Bascher, during their daylife do dress up in this amazing suits and on the weekends let themselves indulge in fetish wear, dancing side-by-side. I drew parallels with the past and present, with my experience and the research I made, and wanted to bring these day and night worlds together in my work.

Were the collection’s fetishistic undertones conscious? 

It was intentional, but not in a sensational way. As I said before, it’s more about [presenting] that fetish, underground world in a very elegant, [luxurious] way. It has to disturb you just a bit, but not make you cringe. I think I knew that sexuality was always important to me, but before MA I didn’t realize it could be my design identity. When I presented my first projects to Fabio [Piras], he would say, ‘Why you trying to be someone you’re not?’ I tried to be ‘trendy’ and he said it has to be about me and ‘my guy.’ There was a moment, when Fabio said, looking at my work, ‘Would you shag this guy?’ Then I knew my work has to be an honest representation of me and my world.

Runway 1CSM Runway 

Overall, what inspires you as a designer?

Films are a great inspiration to me. As you already mentioned, I’m really into queer cinema and its history. Like many designers, I find art [to be] a crucial visual inspiration to my work. I love works of Peter Hujar, Mark Morrisroe, Tom of Finland, Walter Pfeiffer, Andy Warhol [and] Luke Smalley. My central mission is to make garments for my surroundings, my friends, the person I’m dancing next to in a club. I want to make guys feel sexy, desirable and kinky.

Tell me about the collection’s textiles and color palette.

It was all really linked to Walter Albini and Tommy Nutter’s textiles, like different kinds of wools with Prince of Wales or Checks weave. The whole black-and-white idea started with these black and transparent rubber swatches I found. Also, I wanted to tie it to the concept of a groom and bride theme; if you check the lineup, it starts with the whole black look and finishes with a white one, as an ode to the couture tradition of closing with the bride.

tommy_nutterTommy Nutter

You’ve lived in New York and London. What do you see as key differences between the two fashion scenes?

I love both cities—both are tough. I feel like New York is a bit isolated, when London, being close to Paris, Milan and Berlin, [has] this constant flow of ideas. As you know, most of the independent fashion publishing is done in Europe, so designers, stylists and photographers take a 40 euro flight to always collaborate and interchange ideas. In New York, I feel like it’s a bubble and people eschew the same ideas many times because, of course, no independent magazine will have a $700 fare to pay for a starting stylist or photographer. But at the same time, London and New York [are] both getting so gentrified, so the creative class starts to move out of these fashion capitals. I’m against someone who has a privilege over someone just because they have money.

Runway 2CSM Runway

What’s next for you? 

I’m open to opportunities [and] beyond menswear, too. I definitely want to go and work for a luxury menswear label, as I want to get more experience. My designs, and the craft that goes into them, require a lot of time and money, as I wouldn’t want to produce cheaply made, tailored garments. It has to be done properly and I don’t have means to do it—after MA, I’m literally broke.