The designer making Halloween-inspired clothing all year round
Fabian Kis-Juhasz’s takes a slow, artisanal approach to her spooky, self-aware feminine designs.
Fashion can be a funny business -- particularly for those only just crossing its threshold. When you stop to think about, it borders on absurd that designers taking their first steps are expected to run at a pace set by and for large houses, endowed with budgets that match their reputations. “I can't really afford to put out a collection twice a year and rush everything,” says Fabian Kis-Juhasz, a designer we last caught up with upon her graduation the Royal College of Art in 2017, “and it’s also so expensive to show your work.” Her testimony is firsthand, having shown her sophomore collection on the London Fashion Week AW19 schedule.
Rather than resign to making the best she could with ever-dwindling resources of money and time, Fabian made a conscious decision to adapt her practice to a slower, more artisanal pace. “It just makes more sense for what I do,” she explains, highlighting the harsh truth that, under current industry norms, designers often have less than two-to-three months to see a full collection from start to finish -- often with little to no external help.
There’s also the matter of trying to remain distinct in an increasingly saturated market: “Yes, there are quite a few designers out there in the last few years who have been pursuing an aesthetic that is, in some respects, similar to mine. But it’s always seemed quite cheap to me,” Fabian says, referring to the prevalence of the sugared-yet-self-aware feminine aesthetic you may be inclined to group her work with. “But often, the pieces you see are purely ornamental or are just a shape decorated with something. For me, there needs to be a sense of intention and consideration behind the details for them to have value; they need to add to the overall construction of the piece.”
Fabian’s particular marriage of form and function results in crisp tailored shirts, their collars and cuffs trimmed with dainty ripples of white lace. Or moulded leather bras in milky white leather, accessorised with pert pink nipples, that are often pierced with safety pins. “It just made sense to me -- they're nipples, why wouldn't they have piercings?” she asks, as if to dash the idea that any other option were possible. There’s method to her madness, it would seem.
Odd as the combination of Victoriana ruffles and crude mask-like versions of bare chests in one collection might seem, this aptitude for peculiar contrasts serves as the foundation of her brand’s language. “I really like things that are contradictory within an outfit or a piece: combining these vulgar elements with something that's really refined and has a historically established aesthetic really excites me,” she says. “It’s something that comes through in the imagery too. I like pairing really labour intensive pieces, like the trimmed purple and black tulle dress, with the Minion socks you see Jordana, my friend and fit model, wearing. After all, they're just clothes -- there's no need to be so precious about them.”
This carefree lack of preciousness is a central feature of the spiritual home that her latest work inhabits: Halloween. “It was my introduction to the things that I’m now passionate about,” she says, confessing an admiration for holiday’s unique blend of pageantry and comic stupidity. “Halloween has given rise to great academic texts and film references, but it's also so dumb at the same time. Honestly, it's just so ridiculous. It's the most capitalist thing ever, save for Christmas, perhaps,” she continues. “I love that whole idea of how it's meant to be so ethereal and spooky, but it just comes down to eating shit candy that you buy in Poundland at the same time. It's the same combination of sexy and stupid I think you can see in my work.”
Despite the specificity of the niche her work occupies, you’d have difficulty isolating a particular ‘type’ of woman that Fabian is designing for. “The best way to put it is that I design for eclectic women. I were to describe them, it would definitely be someone that's invested and interested in femininity, who wants to be seen that way, but who also understands the politics of it.”
In light of the political slant of her work, the designer’s choice of Halloween as a context for her performatively feminine practice makes all the more sense. Though we might typically associate the holiday with often-absurdly sexed-up visions of feminine archetypes (see: any costume store in October), Fabian’s work acts as counterpoint, a bolshy pantomime vision of society’s implicit fears of all that is feminine: “Halloween is meant to be spooky, rather than sexy. I want my work to articulate all that society deems horrifying about femininity, rather than just make sexy cat costumes. At the end of the day, just being feminine, or being a woman, and choosing to perform that identity, is already terrifying enough in itself,” she concludes. “You don't need to add much.”
Photography Anna Kis-Kery
Models Jordana Kalmar and Liliana Posz