Emerging Designer: Steven Tai’s Sci-Fi Spirit


Emerging Designer: Steven Tai’s Sci-Fi Spirit

All clothes: Stephen Tai Fall/Winter 2013.

The fashion calendar may be future focused, but few designers engage past their six month market head start. Not so with Steven Tai. The UK by-way-of Canada designer is building clothes with a sci-fi spirit. For Fall/Winter 2013, Tai fused techno skiwear with skateboy proportions, using innovative applications of silicone and a cheerful palette pulled from Italian artist Franco Brambilla’s ‘Invading the Vintage’ assemblies, which decorate the collection’s sweatshirts. In the exclusive editorial above, Franco Brambilla’s space invaders peek under the hood of Tai’s fall fashions. Below, we hear from the 21st century man himself: Steven Tai on silicone, Star Trek, and Philip Seymour Hoffman fandom.

The first thing I want to talk about is technology. Could you tell our readers a little bit about what your collection is made of?
I think what we’ve always been interested in is textiles and innovations, so we enjoy experimenting with unique materials and combining that with the possibilities technology can bring. Ultimately, I feel like we are sort of like science geeks that are just genuinely intrigued by the experimentations and results of bringing unexpected things together. In particular, for this collection we actually played around with a lot of silicone where we tested various ways of applications and molds to create textiles that could be applicable in clothing. For example in our jumpers, ribbings, and neckbands were made of silicone that echoes different types of textures to create things that reminisce of qualities in clothing—but in a new and exciting way.

We also quilted different types of colour fabrics underneath a sheet of clear silicone. The colours shone through the translucent silicone and because of this idea, we continued to use quilting and the motif of the stitch lines in other experimentations. For example, the cut shirt that we have in the AW13 collection is based on the waterproof tapes that are commonly used inside jackets to create seams that are resistant to water. Instead of applying it internally, we fused it into a grid structure that allowed us to cut and mimic the cross stitching in quilts.

Do your materials or experiments in technology dictate your forms, or do you find yourself looking for design solutions to forms you’ve already conceived of?
I think it happens hand in hand , and it happens simultaneously back and forth. We always start with a mood of the collection, and from there we move onto the textile. It informs a lot about the type of structure and feeling the textiles should evoke, and while we continue with the experimentation, we keep in mind what type of mood we want to convey. For example for a winter/ski collection – we knew everything could be quite warm and protective – hence the wadded structures and the inspirations of quilting. Which gave us the opportunity to experiment with the silicone as it gave a little bit more of a structure to the clothes. Going back and forth around that, we were looking at which type of textile would be applicable to which type of garment… and that is pretty much it!

I recently watched Star Trek Into Darkness and I was so distracted by the costuming. One interesting thing the movie did was  dress laymen and off-duty Starfleet in garments that were very close to ones we see today – hoodies and scarves  but the difference was in the fabric. The textiles looked like they might do something. What do you think, or hope, the clothes of the future will look like? 
I watched the movie too! I thought the costumes were very interesting, and living in London and talking to friends around the world, it seems like everyone is feeling the effects of climate polarization. I think a lot of what we wear is really based on the weather, and so as the weather becomes even more volatile, designers may have to learn how to adapt to that. It is hard to say what I would hope clothing would look like exactly in the future. However I do hope that fashion continues to be interesting and inspiring. With the current economy, you really do wonder where fashion is going to look forward to, and what I hope it will be is that it continues to innovate and evoke the magic that I found in it.

I haven’t had a chance to see your FW13 garments in person. Are they heavy? Could you describe what it feels like to be in them?
Some pieces are a little bit heavier than the rest. It’s because they are wadded and ski-inspired, there is that kind of substance that you can feel inside of it… you can say it feels like somewhat like a weight of a coat. It does keeps you warm and cozy for this extended winter we are having here.

What’s the image on the sweatshirts?
The image on the sweatshirt is by an Italian artist named Franco Brambilla. I actually came across him when I was googling ‘sci-fi illustrators’ and I found his work to be really amazing because he combines some vintage postcards and adds this element of weird sci-fi characters onto them. I fell in love with his work immediately and was able to work together with him on this collection, so I am very happy about that.

You strike me as someone who has interests beyond fashion. What are you reading/watching/listening to/obsessed with right now?
Although I don’t usually believe in day-to-day horoscope, I am a Gemini and I do believe I have a bit of a dual personality in me. I’ve just finished reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Other authors I regularly enjoy include David Sedaris, Chuck Palahniuk, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Michel Faber.

I’m also really into Magic: The Gathering playing cards, which I’ve been playing for quite some time now. It is definitely a guilty pleasure dating back to my high school days. I do really appreciate it because it is quite an involved game and it is able to take my mind off of work when work can seem slightly never-ending. In terms of films, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has to be one of my most favorite films. Its awkwardness and humour feels very personal to me.

On the other spectrum I have suddenly found myself watching all the films Philip Seymour Hoffman has played in the ’90s and 2000s. I find that there is something about the characters that he is drawn to that doesn’t give a particular answer to the story but at the same time defines it.

Images courtesy of Steven Tai.
Photographer: Miguel Jacob.
Photo Assistants: James Hayward, Tania Martinez.
Stylist: Rita Fiorucci.
Digital Illustration: Franco Brambilla.
Makeup: David Allan Jones for Cover FX/Page One Management.
Hair: Cody Alain for Tresemmé/Page One Management.
Model: Jenna Earle at NEXT.
Location: Andrew Richard Designs Events.
Props: UpCountry.
Production: Paola Fullerton/The shOws.