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Where ideology and design clash: Andrew Boustani

Woollen textures, dynamic cut-outs, curved lines and fragmented pattern pieces are what inform the idiosyncratic nature of the talented Andrew Boustani’s work. It’s more than just cloth, sewn on buttons and fabric stitched together (though done in undeniably clever ways); when analysed closely, a deeper facet of meaning arises within his collection. This comes from his connection to Lebanon and his impactful observation of its divide by a political stronghold. One that permeates the design’s soft curves and even shows in the detail of his pant leg. For example, he describes how “straight-cut pants define the rigidity of uniform, while free-flowing flares in light cotton are new vehicles of fleeing civilians”.

Potent in its delivery and subtle in its finish, the collection touches on subjects of perceived masculinity, political disorder, and conflict. However, it seems to also stand as a means of personal reflection for Boustani himself.

Having recently graduated from The University of Sydney’s Fashion and Textile Program, Boustani’s introspective and inadvertently political designs have resulted not only in a finalist position for the Carla Zampatti Foundation Award but acceptance into the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York. With evident success waiting, we talked to the rising designer about his collection, his relationship with it, and how the connection between conflict and clothing is made. 

What has your journey into fashion design looked like? What attracted you to the art form?

It wasn’t the easiest at first. I didn’t come from an art or design background but had always been around it.

How has your cultural background played into how you create, as well as how you are inspired?

It’s intrinsically connected. It’s hard to ignore when it’s formed you through and through.

From ideation to creation, what is the step-by-step process behind constructing a garment?

It depends. I imagine some garments to be very closely linked to a reference I find, to make it a present-tense version of the same garment, replicating energy. Other garments might take fifteen different references from all different angles and become this sort of silent, hour-long performance. I first draw the intention with any garment because without that, there’s no point of even starting.

Could you elaborate on your ethos and intentions behind your collection and how they are conveyed in your physical designs?

Find me strolling in the back or doing something else; that’s my ethos. For me, there’s no point protesting, people usually find their way to realisation, or they don’t. I enjoy hearing what people have to say about my work before I have said one thing. My work’s purpose has never been about being the most notable or most transparent.

Your work ‘uses distorted silhouettes informed by the hilled terrain of a Lebanon divided’. The idea of conflict seems to play a large role in your work, both in your collection’s aesthetic properties and the ethos behind it. Was conflict an important aspect for you to convey in your work? If so, how?

Definitely, it was a conflict at all times, in silhouette and form. It was shown in the material used, colour, or shapes informing or misinforming the body. It was too, the sort of conflict that sort of never ends and maybe is not supposed to end; you’re still able to live through it. That’s what Lebanon is. 

One aspect of your work that is interesting is your use of the material in exploring the fragility of male expression. Why was this an important concept for you to traverse, and how did you conceptualise it?

I wanted this because that’s more the opposite of what you see. All around Lebanon, you see posters heralding the face and uniform of men in power, prominent politicians with an even larger political agenda behind them. When and if they become martyrs, it becomes more fragile, more worship and more remembrance. A scar begins to form. The posters’ colours become softer, the graphics are gentler, and honour is placed on their image. I wanted the collection to talk into this idea directly. 

Credit: Photo: Tim Lo, Styling: Joseph Leone, Hair: Margaret, Models: Finn and Tissa

Your work seems to be instilled with personal and historical Lebanese history. How does it feel to release work culturally different and with personal significance in predominantly white spaces? How is it received?

It feels good. So little do people see different things, even in my own space. It’s exciting to have something to present that isn’t expected. You won’t find any Arabic anywhere in my collection. Most of the time, it gets overlooked because of this, which isn’t the worst thing. I’m proud to have my work not depend on others’ attention; however, it continues to exist. I feel entitled that I can create and have time to reflect. 

What are your future hopes for your designs and work? 

I can’t wait to get back in. There’s so much more to say and do. I’m hoping to do smaller projects, things on the side that don’t mean as much as this.

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