Fueled by the energy drink Red Bull and its corporate goodwill Catwalk Studio Project, rising London designer Alex Mattson took the stage with Ima Read famed musician Zebra Katz last week at London Men’s Fashion Week, for the debut of their sponsored collab. Both promising, young upstarts, Mattson and Katz worked together on an original soundtrack and fashion film, Pulla Stunt, embodying the themes from Mattson’s AW 13 collection. Those themes were, and I quote, “the large-scale immigration of the Latin Community to California in 1940s America, blending references from kitsch-Americana and post-war gangster culture with Zoot Suits, work-wear and South American inspired denim mixes.” Mattson zeroed in on The Mongols, a “notorious biker club make up almost exclusively of Latino immigrants rejected by The Hell’s Angels due to the colour of their skin.”
Five professional seasons in, Mattson continues to make intriguing streetwear rife with reference and, while he claims to be making no statements, there are important stories to be unraveled from the clothes he cuts. We caught up with Alex after the collection and fashion film/music video/advertorial/whatever launch to talk inspiration and vocation.
With each of your collections, you’ve claimed specific influences, like high-tech Soviet technology for AW12 and UFO sightings and the Rendlesham Incident for SS13. This AW13 collection, you’ve said, comes from 1940s Californian/Latin post-war gangster culture, as well as the Hell’s Angels Latino offshoot, The Mongols. Are these influences important only in so much as they influence your design process or would you like to see these references expounded upon by someone encountering your design? Is it important to you that your consumer be aware of the influences?
Inspiration is very personal to me as there is never a message I try to convey. It’s a means to an end for me. I like to play with combinations of influences to create contrasts in my collections. They are simply different ideas and aesthetics mixed together by strange and sometimes vague connections in my mind. People always seem interested in the influences that inspired my work so I tell them. Whether it makes sense to them or not is doesn’t matter. It’s my way of inspiring myself in order to create.
Going from that, could you expand a bit on the inspirations behind AW13? What were the stories that captivated you and how have they been distilled into the fashion object?
This season was actually a bit different in terms of inspiration. It had a more pragmatic approach than what I have done in the past. More grounded. At the moment, I’m enjoying designing clothes I would wear myself, and to do this, I had to narrow down the influences in order to make a less surreal and slightly more sober collection.
I have been into Latino-American culture since my teens. I suppose it resonated with me as a half-Colombian watching Latino gangster films while growing up in little Oslo. ‘Chuco 2.0’ was influenced by ’40s and ’50s pachucos, biker gang culture (The Mongols in particular), and modern Latin-American street and gang culture.
What do you see as the limitations for communication in fashion? Can we only cite aesthetic influence or can fashion—like your reworking of this Latino biker offshoot that was rejected by the Hell’s Angels because of their skin color—be political?
I’m really not trying to make a social comment. It’s simply make-believe inspired by reality.
Do you have a second vocation? If you weren’t designing clothes, what would you be doing?
Good question! I would love to build custom motorbikes. Or fly helicopters.