Talking inflatable trousers, a dog’s vision, and Indian-heritage with Harikrishnan

Harikrishnan Press Show

In the era where anything goes, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to determine trends in the fashion industry, but Harikrishnan is the epitome of this outré trade. The panache inflatable trousers have captivated the industry, from media outlets to Twitter, these are the pants that got everyone talking and typing.

The 26-year-old from Kollam, Kerala presented his graduate collection at the London College of Fashion and something stood out. Cropped tailored jackets with billowing latex trousers made for exaggerated silhouettes that instantly prompted headlines. 

We spoke to the designer himself, and whilst they’re not looks you’ll be expected to wear to the office or squeeze into the central line at 8 am in the morning with, they’re a truly fascinating creation – Harikrishnan let us into his beguiling world. 

MESA: Who is Harikrishnan? 

Harikrishnan: Growing up I was influenced by my dad’s life drawing collection, and always tried to replicate them. I was very interested in anatomical drawings. I went on to attend the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bengaluru before working for the 2015 International Woolmark Prize winner Suket Dhir. 

Working closely with Suket Dhir was amazing. He gave me a good start in the industry. I got to work with international buyers and events [which] contributed a lot to my understanding of textiles, since we used to work with a lot of textile manufacturers and weavers. 

MESA: We want to talk about the inflatable trousers, where did the inspiration come from? 

Harikrishnan: The idea of this research cast a light when I was playing with my pet dog. I was aware of dogs vision and differences compared to humans, but the interesting aspect was the exaggeration of objects viewed from such a low angle, reminding me of fisheye lens images and wondering if he sees the same way others see. 

Visualising the world through his eyes was exciting and humorous with strange possibilities in terms of proportions. The thought of him seeing me as a giant figure or not seeing my head was quite puzzling. So I decided to visually reimagine the people around me through the game of distortion, inspired by his eyes. 

It lets me perceive the world differently, more like from another reality entirely detached from the stereotypical notions of the human perspective arousing curiosity for new proportions over pre-determined ones. 

However, my challenge with this collection was to seek the essence of the human form in a dimension that goes beyond the normal yet not grotesque like the depictions of Jean-Paul Goude. Celebrating the extremes of the human form. 

MESA: How do you feel about the response to it all? Have you checked the comments on Twitter yet? 

Harikrishnan: A runway presentation was never for [regular] people. It was always industry-focused and then it trickles down to the crowd. But [in the] last ten years with Instagram and Twitter, anybody can see what’s on the runway. Which is good in a way but not very helpful when it goes into cyberbullying and misinterpretations. 

When I approached this project my intention was never easy fame or going viral. My ultimate goal was to create these beautiful forms in my head into actual wearables without compromising their elegance upon practicality. A lot of calculations and craftsmanship went into making those trousers fit between legs yet retain the beautiful roundness which only experts will notice. For a [regular] man, from his perceptive its a mere eye-catchy imagery. At the end of the day is all down to interpretation, I cannot influence someone’s mind. In this instance, there is a lot of misinterpretation. 

A lot of people think a graduate collection is supposed to be ready to wear by the public but, actually, it is to push boundaries. It doesn’t, to an extent, have to have wear-ability, but the MA is the platform where we launch our career, where we can explore and these are some of the pressures we face – some expect us to push our collections in a certain direction, and conform to wear-ability, but actually it’s all about expressing ourselves and showcasing our skills. Initially, you don’t see the details or story when you look at my fashion imagery, but when you focus on the pieces as separate, the tailored jackets are commercial, made of great quality hand-dyed wool from India and can be sold commercially. 

MESA: How has your heritage-inspired you (if at all)? 

Harikrishnan: Channapatna toy is a very familiar craft from South India. There used to be a time, all the families in the south used to have at least one of their products in the households. 

For me when I started working on the project I did a small [amount of] research on Bauhaus and I could relate it with Channapatna. The uniqueness of their products is the lacquer they use and the process of lacquer application. I would say it is one of India’s minimal crafts in terms of raw materials and process. Therefore I wish to make it apart of my collection. However, it wasn’t easy to bring in wood to clothing. we went through a lot of difficulties and trials in terms of pattern development, communication and many other problems to achieve the products. While working on this project I realised wooden beads could be used a major material for therapeutic clothing. 

This was one of those projects where I would say it’s done only when it’s done. Typically when I design a jacket or a dress I am sure about what I am doing, but with Channapatna it was more like betting. We all included the artisans believed in the work and that positive energy helped us a lot throughout the journey. 

This project helped me a lot in understanding to motivate and develop traditional craft clusters. A lot of designers today, including international big names, have this consumer mentality where they approach a craft cluster with the power of money just to buy their products, without contributing to their development other than financial development. In most cases, the agents or middlemen get all the financial gain, leaving the artisan in a tough state. This should change. These clusters are role models for better living in many ways. They taught and made me rethink my way of life and perception. And thankfully I was able to contribute to their skills. It was, therefore, a 100% mutual collaboration. I think it’s high time we stop saying 100% handmade or sustainable. It should be a 100% collaboration instead. 

MESA: Tell us more about your collection…

Harikrishnan: Personally, a fashion collection is like a movie – it should be a well-formulated mix. It should excite people, make them think and speak. I want to create something that speaks to the viewer rather than just passes through their visual horizon. I wanted their eyes to stop and think for once. I have stories to tell about each piece. I believe that only people will start questioning the usual when they see the unusual. 

Within this collection, I attempted to compose aspects of tailoring and craft along with the inflatables to create something surreal. Each aspect of this collection is unique and got a distinctive story to tell. 

Where the tailored pieces are made of 100% wool hand dyed in collaboration with artisans from New Delhi. Also, a bicentennial toy-making craft from South India is reinterpreted, through wearables, to create new lifelines for the community. And most of the inflatables are created using roll-ends and dead stocks contributed by UK’s leading latex manufacturer, Supatex. 

MESA: Do you plan on commercialising the collection? 

Harikrishnan: Yes, I am working on it at the moment. Making and refining a framework for commercialisation. My designs at the moment need a lot of refinement and correction to be showroom ready. I am also approaching more manufacturers and suppliers to get the best. Hopefully by this time next year, I will be able to bring the full collection. I don’t know, it’s a much bigger responsibility. 

MESA: How would you describe your brand? 

Harikrishnan: Fashion and humour with the right amount of silliness. I attempt to blur boundaries between clothing and high art, with disruption at the centre of my work.

MESA: What can we look forward to seeing next? 

Harikrishnan: I wanted to critique the current proportions in fashion. There are so many amazing people who I look up to and want to be part of their practice. I believe in the power of collaboration; my way is been and forward is collaborations. I want to collaborate with as many people as possible. This keeps my creations and creativity alive and reinterpreted. It brings fresh perspectives into my practice and helps me move forward.

Runway pictures: Francisco Rosasand, Studio pictures: Ray X Chung

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