Gauantanamo Bay is not the first thing that comes to mind when you look at high brow menswear. Nor should it be. Unless you’re Angela Strabone and your fashion sense is inspired by current events at the depths of painful realities. By no means is this fresh out of school, German-born diva a human rights activist, nor a political savant. But she definitely has an edge for dressing men as she kicks a few fashion walls to grab her audience. Art, film, period pieces and excotic lands are not the foundation of beauty in stitching materials and concepts together for Ms. Strabone. Torture rather. Leaning towards strong personal matters for creative inspiration, she incorporated psychological torture into her final collection at the Marangoni Fashion Show this year in Milan. Her demand for eminent detail is apparent in her raised pattern representing veins and brain waves. There is a clear effort to make her concept visual and almost interactive as you can feel what appears to be ropes used to build the blood veins as apart of her templar-meets-naughty-prince vest.
The heavy trench and oversized knee-length tee cater to a changing attitude towards men’s fashion in general. When asked where she sees menswear in the next few years she was quick to reply that it’s definately changing now, and that “the leaders in menswear today will try to put men in more creative clothing and act against current conventions, particularly in the business arena.” The men’s department leaders, Dior Homme or Dolce & Gabbana, Lanvin to name a few, have all set examples on the commercial front with their popularity in tastefulness. Strabone is a firm believer that menswear will grow with leaders on the subsurface, less commercially influecntial yet powerful such as Juun J., Jean//Phillip, or Patrick Mohr.
It’s a full house for emerging designers and being different is vague and remote anymore.At 18 you are dreaming. At 19, you’re stocking shirts at Macy’s. By 20, you have enrolled in art school, dating someone in HR at Barney’s or sweeping floors at Antonioli. In your early 20s, you empty your pockets on merino or silks and costly tailors while cutting out W Magazine shots and tracing Versace dresses. After a hefty sleepless two months full of needles and Nodoz, a presentation comes together with the goal of pocketing some good coverage. Good coverage at this phase is anything from an iPhone shot posted on Facebook to a four-word mention on a blogspot (or in Italy, you’re best bet is a mention on Theblondesalad.com). By your late 20s, you are interning – if you’re lucky as a draftsman – and dining below your apartment, while five-fingering Kit Kats, sneaking shots and stealing contacts. From here you can march up Rick Owen style, or hitchhike to Monsieur Mychael Knight status.
Despite this less than fairytale outline to earning your first designer paycheck, Ms. Strabone has her own ladder and her first step includes a climb away from what is “suppose to be” – in other words, all things trend tap to another beat than Strabone’s. She almost works hard to avoid knowing what’s “in” yet somehow maintains a distinct style without the traces of mainstream fashion. “There isn’t one designer to whom I can say truly inspires me. It’s more about parts of designers that I find interesting. Like that Dries Van Noten doesn’t have advertisement, or that Ann Demeulemeester’s collections are not necessarily commercial but are considered clothing with soul and that Rick Owens designs acts against convention in a really rebellious way.”
Few current designers will catch her eye with the exception of Hedi Slimane, Rick Owens and Ann Demeulemeester. She is encouraged by the attitude and boldness of Karl Lagerfeld who once stated in an interview “perhaps I could be inspired by vulgarity” and later responding to what his influences are “I work with my instinct.” There is sheer evidence of a shared mood between her influences. The elegant rebel (hinting herioin chic) in her menswear is suitable for the artsy-type, the experimenter, the musician. She intends to adorn those personalities that walk a line and snake below the radar. There is subtle sway in the direction of regal transgression in men’s fashion for Ms. Strabone. She is elevating the male machismo and balancing with his chastity, nearly childlike. Strabone who refuses to read fashion magazines and keep up with trends has managed to capture the ethereal characteristics of a style which at first glance could mistakenly pass for Gothic, Punk or Emo. Uniquely, Ms. Strabone encompasses both of her Italian and German roots in her flair for materials and minute patterns.
“Growing up with two different cultures shapes you a lot. It made me tolerant and gave me the gift of paying attention to the detail.”
A big fan of Italian leather and intrigued with her country’s past, her creative direction is a wide open path for exploring personal themes and threading them with exquisite materials. Her work in progress aims to incorporate the Made In Italy mark and give rise to Made In Germany. Peering into Berlin fashion houses, Ms. Strabone is gearing up to take on the next step of becoming a leader in menswear to dress the younger creative intellects, a target she states “is defined by individuality and authenticity. They understand and emphasize the importance of details on a basic garment.”
Not only is Berlin more present on the fashion map than ever before, but the roots of art and culture in a once divided city already provide a rich platform for emerging designers. This past year Berlin swept the fashion carpet with some of the industries more pronounced and fresh collections such as Guido Maria Kretschmer, Frau Wagner, and Augustin Teboul. Michael Michalsky tunred heads in effort to provoke multiculturism, during his collection themed “Tolerance”. The benchmark for German design is rising and is being held up by Berliners. Suitable for the indie scene, Ms. Strabone seems to have landed in the right place. She was looking ahead years back and she’s looking ahead now. While churning out accessories, and couture pieces, the 21 year-old is quietly peaking over to Britain and eyeing Japanese and Korean markets for enthusiasts and eccentrics among male style. She has a big eye for a young designer, and she certainly sets her sights on nothing short of personal challenge. After a successful collection at Marangoni’s 2011 Fashion Show in Milan’s renowned SuperStudio Piu warehouse, Ms. Strabone returned to her home near Berlin where she will plot out her next phase of becoming a fashion designer. We were able to catch up with her in Milan before her departure and get a little insight on her approach to design and her future plans.
Interview with Angela Strabone by Angela Gleason
AG: You’ve completed a two full years of fashion school, and ended on a high note in this year’s show. Where do you go from here?
AS: Well I’m still trying to figure that out myself. When exactly are you a fashion designer? On paper I am. But I’m sure I lack a lot of experience. For now my goal is to practice my job, move to Berlin and when I feel ready to go into business for myself.
AG: What are some strengths and weaknesses at this point for you?
AS: My weakness or fear I have now is that I’m on my own now. In fashion school there was always somebody to guide you. Now I have to find the right way using my knowledge and skill set. But I’m really ambitious and once I have and idea in my head I’m eager to realize it with all the means available.
AG: Is your personal style factored into your approach to design?
AS: I don’t even know yet if I have a personal style. I guess one needs to design for a long time to look back and see the continuous red line which defines your own style. I hope to arrive at that point one day.
AG: How much of a role do other brands play during creative development?
AS: I’m not somebody who is interested in what others do. In school I was forced to look at other designers, but now I’m going back to where I started and where all my focus is going into: myself in relation with the world.
AG: How do you strive to communicate concepts and messaging through your design work?
AS: Best by explaining it like now in an interview (smirk). I don’t think it’s always easy for an outsider to understand what was going on in the designer’s head at that moment. You can always print out clear messages, though sometimes it’s best to keep them hidden so strangers have to really think about what they are looking at.