A free flowing interview with the skin-tight innovator.
Alix Higgins makes legible clothing. Whether working in diaphanous silk or the tight-fitting nylon with which he made his name, the purpose of his designs is clear: to draw out a sense of feather-light freedom in the wearer. Like a spinning top or a spool of thread, his trademark stripes circle the body in perpetuity. They manage to hum with movement even when standing still.
Higgins’ work is also legible in the more literal sense, emblazoned with non sequiturs and exclamations drawn directly from his personal diaries and handwritten lyrics. You might wonder if a muscle tank that boldly reads ‘Fairy’ is referencing the magical creature or just casual queer slang. It’s most likely to be both and therein lies the essence of his brand: simultaneously whimsical and grounded in the realities of twenty-something nightlife, Notes app poetry and Tumblr-core collage.
Moving from Sydney to Paris and back again, Higgins has now settled into the first year of his business—all while carving out time to make music on the side with his PATAMON collaborator Joan Banoit. Here he talks childhood obsessions, keeping a journal and expanding his vision.
Your colour combinations often remind me of a digital error, like stripes of bleeding printer ink. How do you approach colour?
It's really funny that you say that. Everyone I know who has done their Master’s has arrived like “I already know what I’m going to do for my project”. But when I went to do mine in Paris, I kind of showed up with no plan. At the same time, I was casually making all of these chromatic collages—all sorts of blocks and palettes and movie screenshots—because I'm obsessed with colour. There was this one landscape from My Own Private Idaho (1991) that I printed on a crappy university machine and it came out all fucked up. The gradient of the sunset was all wrong, it had gone brown, yellow, purple and pink. But it was really beautiful. So then I scanned it and started making fabric prints.
I didn’t know that story.
Nobody does! It’s always been important to me to think about the relationship of body to screen, and back and forth. That’s how I grew up and how I saw everything. I’ve also realised that I’m really drawn to colours that are cool-based—I like a cool yellow over an egg yellow, a cool red over a pinky red. I think it has something to do with growing up exposed to backlit colours on a computer or phone. Everything on the internet looks a bit blue.
What were your childhood obsessions?
I was obsessed with Pokémon and Digimon. I grew up as an only child and spent a lot of time in my own head. There was a lot of nature around too—a beach down the road and a river in the backyard, so it was the perfect setting for make believe. Combine that with playing Neopets and I was living in a kind of cute fantasy world.
I feel as though what we recognise as glamorous and dramatic when we’re children really informs our taste when we grow up. What resonated with you at that age?
I always thought Lindsay Lohan with glossy lips was really glamorous. And Taylor Momsen in Gossip Girl. Even though I used to love the super artificial drama of something like a Dior runway, I think I’ve always been drawn to a certain easiness. I love a ponytail and a messy bun. [Laughs] Even in a Polo shirt, Lindsay seemed to embody glamour to me.
Unlike Lauren Conrad, you are ‘the girl who went to Paris’. What made you choose to study at Institut Français de la Mode?
Well, my family's from Holland originally and I was just drawn to Europe more than America. All the designers that I loved were based in Paris, and New York just seemed too big and scary of a city. Plus I couldn't afford it. I’m glad I ended up going somewhere where I didn’t know anyone or anything.
How do you compare the experiences of designing in Sydney and Paris?
It’s so different, it’s so crazy. Before I left, I was always trying to make my work international or feel like it was coming from a European perspective. But once I was in Paris, I found myself thinking about the colours of Australian nature and of going to the beach. I was really trying to create stuff that was bright, joyous and open, which is, I think, very Australian. Suddenly I was in this foreign context, and things that I tended to take for granted turned out to be uniquely tied to the place where I grew up.
How much of fashion, in your mind, is a joke or a knowing wink?
This is a complicated question because I take myself very seriously. [Laughs] Fashion should be fun and fashion should be funny. I say that to my students all the time. I’m like, "That's funny." And they think it’s rude, and I'm like, "No, that’s a good thing!” When I worked at Marine Serre, everything we did had a certain sense of humour and self-awareness.
Likewise I think there’s a sense of humour in my gaudy colour choices sometimes, or the way I don’t care about product photography and will happily shoot something on the floor of my apartment. At the same time, my brand is really serious. All of the writing is really personal and cathartic. It allows me to put something out into the world that I wouldn't otherwise say.
How do you go about selecting the text for a garment?
I write every day. I joke that it's in my Notes app, but I actually have these wildly scribbled journals. There are some words that I feel are protective or symbolic, some that are emblems of my brand or identity. It was always about being vulnerable and putting myself out there. I kind of cringe when people read them out in front of me.
Also people would be purchasing certain pieces because the text resonates. You can’t wear them and hide.
You’re often thought of as a designer of tight-fitting nylon but you’re just as prolific when it comes to draping and voluminous fabrics. How do those two approaches merge in your brain?
It's really a grave I dug for myself, because I almost don’t want to do any more nylon. Draping is my real love but the commercial reality is that people want nylon pieces that they can layer and wear to a party feeling confident and sexy. My brand is always going to operate on a piece-by-piece basis until I’m able to work on it exclusively full-time. At the same time I’ve had a lot of people want to buy into the brand without wearing a skin-tight garment which makes total sense. Expanding your brand while maintaining its financial accessibility is a slow process but I’m planning to dedicate much more time to silk and cotton pieces. Alix Higgins has only commercially been around for one year after all.
Knowing you personally, we share a familiar pop culture language—whether it be Dogville quotes or Tumblr-era CocoRosie.
I was listening to CocoRosie this morning. [Laughs]
How do you feel your personality is readable in your designs? How does it project you?
This is very interesting. At the start of my brand, the orders were usually personal requests from friends or mutual acquaintances. It was always people within my circle. I’m now finding that a lot of people who I’ve never even met are buying into my brand. I love seeing people embrace it in that way. But I do sometimes have moments where I'm like, “I wonder what they think of this. I wonder why they were drawn to this, and if they get it. Or if to them, it's something else.”
That being said, the reason that I'm so confident in no one treading on my toes design-wise is that I just feel that my work is so me. I mean, I could write an ingredients list of all the designers and artists and films and music and things that have very clearly inspired me. I openly reference them all, but ultimately they’ve filtered through me in a unique way. My friend Chloe was recently talking about her own influences and put it like this: “I am all of those things, but in a combination that's never been done before.” My work is always trying to be open and generous with emotion, so if people can read that from my clothing then I’m really appreciative.
Do you listen to music while you design?
I listen to music constantly. Somebody I know recently told me that they never think about or remember lyrics, but they become obsessed with songs and listen to them a million times over. For me, as soon as any of the artists I love releases a new album, I'll look up the lyrics first. There are songs that I like the lyrics much more than the song, but I'm like, “Well, I have to listen to it anyway, because it's very, very, very important to me.” The artists that I love are also lifetime obsessions—Florence Welch, Grimes, Kate Bush and Azealia Banks. Before I was making music myself with Julian, the muses for my garments were usually musicians too. I always thought there was something really cool and unattainable about being a performer, and designing something to suit the energy and freedom of a wild musician jumping around on stage.
How do you maintain your own creative energy when you're a team of one?
How do you light the fire? Yeah, I don't know. Ultimately I'm a creative so it's just that I have to do it. I don't know what I would be doing otherwise. I would have a lot more time on my hands, probably. Designing is a way of understanding myself and giving something to the world, it's brought me so much and introduced me to so many people. The motivation to keep going is just that I feel full of ideas. It also helps that people ask me to keep going. [Laughs] People are like, “When can I get this, and when can I get that? And when can I come to the PATAMON show?”. There’s an audience now so I want to keep making it. I think if you have people listening to you and watching you, you should say something.
Words: Joe Brennan