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FOR THOSE WHO EXIST IN POETRY AND POWER
BETWEEN CULTURES AND IN DREAMS
MEET THE GAZE
Azura Lovisa is a London-based slow fashion luxury label rooted in storytelling, exploring hybridity and transcultural flows while crafting a contemporary mythology people can inhabit.
Drawing from her mixed Malaysian-Swedish heritage and influenced by her experience growing up in Miami, Southeast Asian aesthetic traditions are interpreted via a Scandinavian design approach, with a focus on sensuous materiality, elegant silhouettes, mindful craftsmanship, and holistic harmony with the earth.
Garments are made with intention, featuring handwoven natural fabrics where marks of the maker are evident. Committed to sustainability, ethical practice, and honoring traditional crafts and heritage, Azura Lovisa designs collections that are small, seasonless, and gender fluid. Narratives unfold in interconnected cycles, building a distinctive visual universe that accumulates density with time, returning to signature elements and themes.
Azura Lovisa is a Swedish–Malaysian designer, artist, and writer based between London and Miami. She graduated from Central Saint Martins with a BA in Womenswear, and earned experience at Balenciaga and Peter Pilotto before launching her label. Her multicultural upbringing and background in fine arts informs her work and research, which spans across archives and hidden histories, folklore and mythology, ecology, and critical theory.
For those who exist boldly in poetry and power, between cultures and in dreams. The brand offers an otherworldly wardrobe for international identities building worlds and carving out their own histories.
Azura Lovisa is committed to sustainability, ethical practice, and supporting traditional craft. Intimacy with Earth, from concept to creation, is a core value.
Garments are mindfully designed and made with intention and care in London. The label crafts small runs of garments in limited-stock fabrics and one-off editions, and archive pieces are available on a made-to-order basis. Designs are intended to be seasonless, timeless, and of impeccable quality.
Collections feature handwoven raw silks and heritage textiles sourced from small-scale cottage industries, supporting and empowering women in rural communities in South and Southeast Asia while sustaining and showcasing legacies of traditional craft.
The handwoven silks, known as ahimsa silk or peace silk, are made in a process that allows silk worms to complete their life cycles and break out of the cocoon, unlike with other silks where the cocoons are boiled with worms still alive inside. Other sustainable natural textiles we use, produced by mills that innovate while steeped in tradition, include ramie, one of the oldest fibers used in Asia with benefits for both ecology and people; horsehair, a durable waste fiber woven in the UK from horse mane and tail hairs using original handlooms from the 1800s; and organic cotton-hemp-linen blends woven in British communities historically rooted in textile manufacturing.
Azura Lovisa debuted her degree collection at the 2016 Central Saint Martins press show, and presented her second collection independently in 2018, exhibited alongside artwork, research, and a film at a solo exhibition in London. In 2019 she began showing at London Fashion Week, as part of BFC’s inaugural Positive Fashion Exhibition. She has since 2020 showed as part of the digital LFW showcase.
Azura’s first international stockist, Kuwait’s Boutique N, will carry Azura Lovisa in 2021 alongside brands like A.W.A.K.E Mode, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Beaufille, Robert Wun, and Khaite. Her designs feature on the November cover of Notion magazine, starring singer Jetta, and she has dressed other rising musicians including Charlotte Dos Santos, Denai Moore, Pip Millett, Cosima, and Red Moon. Azura recently headed costume design for Akinola Davies’ new sci-fi short film for Film4, and has also collaborated with director Iggy LDN. Her work has been shot for LOVE, Re-Edition, Indie Magazine, Teeth Magazine, Public Magazine, TUSH Magazine, Also Journal, Blanc Magazine, Design Scene, Puss Puss, Infringe Magazine, among many smaller independent publications, and she has been profiled by Coeval, Ginza Magazine, Mission Magazine, Elle Japan, BBC, and Dew Magazine.
LONDON FASHION WEEK – SEPTEMBER 2020
Azura Lovisa creates slow fashion rooted in storytelling. Her most recent collection continues to draw on her mixed Malaysian-Swedish heritage, reflecting references to folk dress, the exploration of traditional mythology and shamanism, as well as investigations of and adaptations to contemporary modes of itinerant living. The designs attempt to strike a balance between ritualism, ease, intuitiveness, emotion, sensuality, and magic. The collection marks a shift for Azura Lovisa towards more modular, adaptable, gender fluid design, focusing on small runs of garments in unique limited-stock fabrics and one-off editions, while also making the entire archive of previous collections available on a made-to-order basis.
As an exercise in minimizing waste, the collection samples have been made with leftover fabrics from previous collections as well as an assortment of unique textiles collected over the years, rather than sourcing all new materials. Garments are rendered in a rich and sumptuously textured mix of distinctive raw Thai silks, diaphanous sheer checked silk, Malay silk songket in traditional checked patterns interwoven with gold thread motifs, airy ramie, deadstock silks and cottons, and characteristic horsehair cloth, in neutral colors punctuated by bright jewel tones.
The utilitarian designs, some of which can be tied and worn in various ways and feature modular detachable bags and pockets, are adorned with a range of statement brooches created in collaboration with jewelry designers Tanaporn Wongsa and Birgit Frietman. The jewelry references the Malay folk magic practice of susuk, the ancient art of embedding charmed gold needles and diamond shards under the skin as talismans, as well as other traditional practices which often enact the use of plant-based ingredients like roots, flowers, and spices. The gold brooches, some in a crescent shape and others cast from roots, are adorned by an assortment of charms tied on with metal wire or thread, cast or electroformed in metal as well as in their raw organic forms.
LONDON FASHION WEEK – SEPTEMBER 2018
Navigating contemporary Orientalism and postcolonial identity through a deliberate centering of the Othered body, Azura Lovisa fleshes out an aesthetic and emotional presence, drawing inspiration from her own family archive of photographs and garments from 1950’s-60’s Malaysia. The collection is a testament to extracting our own meanings, locating our own contexts, and learning our own histories via salvaged memory. Diversity, displacement, and globalization are recognized as simultaneously destructive and creative forces that shape our collective cultural production.
A recurring touchstone is the issue of modernity posited as the antithesis of traditional culture. In pursuit of progress, traditional garments, through which we once projected our identities and cultural heritage, have been replaced by t-shirts and jeans, suits and shirts, the contemporary uniform from America to Asia. It symbolizes the association of the ethnic traditional with the antiquated, relegating folk dress to the margins of history, relics of a tribalistic past. Azura Lovisa’s goal is not to modernize the traditional, but rather to dismantle the value judgments that cause traditional ‘ethnic’ forms to be diametrically opposed to modernity in this way.
The collection features handwoven Thai silks sourced from markets which promote small-scale cottage industry weaving, supporting rural communities. By incorporating traditional textiles into her designs, Azura Lovisa hopes to help bridge the gap which isolates traditional craft from contemporary fashion and promote responsible sourcing practices.
Azura Lovisa’s strives to re-evaluate so-called ‘ethnic’ fashion, not as a tokenistic reference, but as a perspective shift, a legitimizing strategy, and a commitment to elevating underrepresented aesthetic modes. She aspires to richer, more inclusive narratives which attest to the fluidity of postcolonial identities.
LONDON FASHION WEEK – SEPTEMBER 2019
Azura Lovisa creates slow fashion rooted in storytelling. Her third collection imagines a wardrobe inspired by days exploring the alpine tundra of Northern Sweden, hours drawn out by midnight sun.
‘Body as forum, Earth as form.’
The relations between ecosphere and ego-sphere. The unraveling of our selves into nature. Using the female form as a map, a destination we return to endlessly, shapes and seams follow, overlap, and imitate the silhouette of the body like shadows.
Garments are rendered in colors picked from the tundra’s lichen-painted rocks. Airy white ramie; linen-hemp blends in lustrous copper and deep textured black; distinctive horsehair cloth in shimmering ivory stripes and green-and-black herringbone; shocks of orange and sulphurous chartreuse.
Evoking the states of action, rest, and awe that we cycle through on long journeys through beautiful landscapes, looks are designed as modular separates to be combined, built up, customized, and deconstructed in the way we shed layers or attach equipment during hikes. Garments are decorated with straps for hooking on hiking-inspired accessories: carabiners, compasses, pocket knives, carrying cases, and whistles hang on hardware decorated with lichen and moss picked from the tundra and forest.
In collaboration with sculptor Birgit Frietman, a series of wearable sculptures have been hand-carved in wood, whose organic shapes form a harmonious dialogue with the body and the garments.
Notion Magazine cover story
Styling Abigail Hazard, photo Josemaria Solanes
Dew Magazine fashion feature
Written by Vanya Harapan
Styling Naomi Barling, photo Oghale Alex
Styling Ola Ebiti, photo Casper Kofi
Styling Naomi Barling, photo Tom O'Neill
Styling Sammiey Hughes, photo Auriane Defert
Charlotte Dos Santos Harvest Time music video
Styling Tess Pisani, director Fiona Godivier
Styling Mert Yemenicioglu, photo Sumuste Caplioglu
Red Moon Dogma music video
Styling Azura Lovisa, director Joshua Thornton-Allen
Writing Kiyoko Matsushita
DESIGNSCENE Magazine cover story
Styling Lyla Cheng, photo PJ Lam
Charlotte Dos Santos press photo
Photo David Sheldrick
Ashden Shango music video
Styling Fabiola Fofana, director Iggy LDN
Styling Lea Federmann, photo Wendy Huynh
Puss Puss Magazine
Styling Denai Moore, photo Nadira Amrani
Styling Alexia Planas Lee, photo Jiajia Tan
Writing Emma Holmqvist Deacon
Styling Neesha Champaneria, photo Henry Gorse
Styling Louise Carmel Hall, photo Nathan Appleyard
Styling Lucy Proctor, photo Aleksandra Modrzejewska
Writing Helene Selam Kleih
Q&A WITH DESIGNER AZURA LOVISA
WHO DO YOU CREATE FOR?
I create for people like myself and my friends – mixed-race people, people of color, third-culture kids, immigrants, thinkers, creatives, educators and students, innovators, the brave and curious, dreamers, those with bright visions of the future. People who are subjected to the gaze, and meet the gaze with unwavering eye contact, strength and knowledge of self.
WHY DO YOU CREATE?
I'm motivated by a drive to explore my own relationship to the different cultural influences in my life and to interpret the exciting things that occur at those junctions and seams of culture. In an era where cultural homogeneity is no longer the norm, and migration and diaspora is a commonly shared experience, many of us find ourselves revealed at these intersections, simultaneously defined and freed by the experience of hybridity. We build worlds, we create our own contemporary mythology located in the in-between. Radical imagination thrusts us forward, through self-invention, invention of tradition, transcultural flows.
I like to explore possible avenues of questioning the potentials and problems of fashion as a cultural phenomenon and system of cultural production and affirmation, one that reveals the interconnected nature of fashion as a record of humanity, infinitely entangled in intersecting systems including but not limited to imperialism, postcoloniality and neocolonialism, institutions and structures of power and wealth, industry, the internet and social media, the environment, human nature and spirituality, art and aesthetics, performance, ethics, metropolis, globalization, ritual, material culture, mass production, tradition vs. modernity... Fashion's position at the cutting edge of cultural production, as an engine of aesthetic modes, provides unique insight into the ways we process the value and legacy of art as reflected in our own lives.
WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL MOTIVATIONS FOR STARTING THE BRAND?
I wanted to start my own label because I’ve found that fashion is a medium where I can explore concepts in a dynamic way that opens up the narrative beyond what I have to say as an artist. It becomes a conversation, an exchange between the creator and those who wear the creations. Meanings are transformed and unpredictable variables intervene as the garment is integrated into the lives of others. Fashion allows us to engage with lived realities in a physical, material way that begins with the individual and then ripples outwards. I approach fashion as an extension of anthropology/ethnography/sociology and that’s what makes it so compelling to me.
My graduate collection was created as I was writing my dissertation, which discussed Malaysia’s postcolonial identity, the effect of Orientalism on culture and aesthetics, and hybridity as an essential characteristic of postcoloniality. That research altered my perspective on everything and helped me navigate my Malaysian heritage, which I had always felt quite alienated from as a mixed-race person.
I wanted to explore hybridity as the driving force in my work, simultaneously the lens and the condition being examined. Starting my own label seemed like the only way I could fully commit to that approach to design. As a nod to my roots, I use Malay words to name my designs as a way of learning and coming closer to my mother tongue.
HOW DO YOU CREATE AND WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS?
I design with world building and dreaming at the center. Magic and ritual runs through everything I create. I often begin by looking to family archives and historical records, referencing not only folk dress and aesthetic traditions but also delving into the stories woven into these archives. I am drawn to mythology and folklore, and try to translate that sense of mystery and fantasy visually. Design as visual poetry. I approach pattern cutting and draping as sculpture and enjoy exploring interesting silhouettes that work with the curves of the body. I apply a Scandinavian design philosophy; clean lines, balance, a sense of naturalism, and organic materials with integrity – these are very Swedish values. Equally important is a closeness to nature, a self-awareness of one's position within the grandness of nature – the spiritual and meditative aspect that connects body and earth.
Part of my approach to slow fashion is the strategy of presenting just one main collection a year, with limited-edition designs, capsule collections, and other projects released on occasion in between. I'm also pushing my designs to be ever more modular and gender fluid, and often build on and modify my existing silhouettes.
IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU SEEK TO STIMULATE ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO HERITAGE THROUGH YOUR LABEL?
I look to non-Western aesthetic heritage as the starting point for a reevaluation of what fashion history and thus fashion futures can be. In shifting the focus to marginalized cultures in a way that acknowledges the effects of imperialism and globalization, we can explore otherness without fetishizing it, and investigate the depth and complexity of source material rather than reducing it to ephemeral exotic inspiration.
In my experience, we are rarely exposed to non-Western aesthetic histories in a way that is nuanced and uncorrupted by Eurocentric values, yet cultural appropriation is rampant. These Western imitations of foreign styles are usually superficial and one-dimensional; it reflects how little value is assigned to seriously examining the aesthetics of non-Western cultures, while the classical European canon remains an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Why is Western fashion ubiquitous, with jeans, t-shirts, and suits functioning as the uniform of the world – neutral, borderless – while the rest of the world’s traditional dress is considered alien, antiquated, and incompatible with the contemporary everyday?
As designers we can use our platforms to decenter Eurocentric aesthetics, and promote alterity and hybridity in the ways we see and create.
WHAT INTERESTS ME ABOUT YOUR LABEL IS THE CREATION OF THIS AESTHETIC STYLE WHICH SEEKS TO UNITE CONTEMPORARY GARMENTS WITH TRADITIONAL ELEMENTS SUCH AS THAI SILK FOR INSTANCE. WHY WAS THIS SO ESSENTIAL TO YOU?
I think if we want to keep traditional crafts alive and avoid preserving them as some static thing, it’s important to honor the potential of those artforms to evolve and take on new lives. The notion of the “Orient” and the Tropics or Global South as outside of modernity, stuck in time and resistant to progress, is a false concept which took root in the colonial era and has proven almost impossible to shake loose.
There is so much to communicate through traditional crafts; textiles, for one, carry so much history and information about the people who made it, and there are often strict rules that determine what certain cloths mean based on their weave pattern. There are mythologies and timelines woven into every length of fabric. But perhaps if we can extend the reach of these narratives into new contexts, these artforms can evolve in unexpected ways.
Today the physical product is less important than its currency as a visual idea, transmitted via the internet, Instagram etc. Fashion is less about clothes and more about projections – vivid fantasies for our short attention spans. We should harness that attention wisely. For me that means giving precedence to underrepresented aesthetic histories and forms. Much like we understand the importance of demanding ethical working conditions for those who make our clothes, I think it’s important to support the crafts and heritage of world cultures by honoring diverse aesthetic modes and resisting fashion’s tendencies toward homogenous Eurocentric styles as it becomes ever more globalized. Through fashion we trace the links between people, commerce, culture and identity, and if fashion continues to prioritize Western aesthetics, while reaching farther to engage emerging markets in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, etc, it is simply perpetuating the same old patterns of imperialist dominance.