#ONETOWATCH | Creating ward robes with soul – Azura Lovisa
Azura Lovisa is a London-based seasonless slow fashion luxury label. Marrying Southeast Asian artisanal and aesthetic traditions with a Scandinavian design approach, their identity is wholly rooted in authenticity, craftmanship, multiculturalism, storytelling and sustainability. That storytelling manifests itself in designs which explore our hidden histories while creating a contemporary mythology that we who wear them, can all inhabit.
I spoke with Azura after London Fashion Week last month to discuss the new collection "Moment, Momentum" which had showcased there and the core values which anchor and inform both the creative and design processes.
(1) Congratulations on your new capsule collection which revisits key pieces from your archive reviving them in new colours. I loved the juxtaposition of deep blues with sandy tones and wondered what inspired this revised colour palette?
The deep blue has been a favorite of mine since my Central Saint Martins graduate collection, and I have used it in every collection since except for one. It’s become something of a signature – perhaps because of the connection to my name, which means blue in Italian, although a different shade. I am drawn to colors found in nature and really wanted to showcase the beautiful natural sandy tones of the undyed handwoven raw silks, as well as how the silks really take to brilliant hues, and I think that together, along with the brilliant leafy green that also features throughout, these tones capture some essential spirit of natural landscapes, geologies, and plant life.
(2) The pieces are adorned with stunning earrings, brooches and charms which I understand you collaborated on with jewelry designers Tanaporn Wongsa and Birgit Frieman. What inspired these unique designs that complement the clothes so perfectly?
Tanaporn, Birgit, and I have been collaborating for some time now, always with reference to organic forms and natural objects. In the past we have incorporated dried flowers and plants, spices, vegetables, and other materials; in developing this collection, we wanted to consider how we could take the jewelry beyond the more ephemeral realms that incorporating found objects allowed for due to their fragility and limited lifespan, and cast some of these objects, such as garlic cloves and peppercorns, in gold-plated brass, and for the charms that remained organic, treat them in a way that elevates and almost venerates their natural form. The selection of organic materials used, as well as the crescent and root shapes of the brooches / earrings, was inspired by 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.
(3) Azura Lovisa is a staunchly sustainable slow-fashion brand. Could you talk us through how that ethos translates through the production journey from the sourcing of textiles to supporting traditional crafts to your seasonless approach to fashion?
Intimacy with Earth, from concept to creation, is a core value. I believe it is essential to consider the human and socio-political aspects of sustainability and approach it from an anti-colonial perspective. Shifting towards ways of making that respect traditions in tune to specific local environments works from the inside to decrease reliance on foreign imports and toxic systems that deplete resources, throw ecologies into imbalance, and dislocate people from their land. We believe the interconnectivity of communities and culture with the land is an integral part of regenerative and holistic care for the environment. We prioritize the people whose histories are tied to a heritage of weaving, recognizing the symbiosis between the environment and the hands that tend to it and transform its natural resources into materials. Supporting makers means supporting ways of life that have adapted to a specific place's conditions and cycles.
Our garments are mindfully designed and made with intention in London. We craft small limited runs of garments and offer our archive pieces on a made-to-order basis, both with the intention of reducing overproduction and overconsumption. All textiles are natural, organic, and sustainably produced, with a focus on fabrics handwoven on handlooms that require no electricity to create and which are sourced from cottage industries and weaver-owned businesses, empowering rural communities in South and Southeast Asia while sustaining legacies of traditional craft. Other textiles are manufactured using methods with low environmental impact and sustainable fibers like ramie, hemp, and linen. We also produce limited editions in deadstock fabrics and heritage fabrics collected in our travels.
Having grown up in Miami, where seasonal dressing really is not a thing due to the year-round subtropical climate and where we see firsthand the effects of climate change and sea-level rise in real time – not to mention how society has been steadily shifting into one that is ever more itinerant, always traveling and chasing good weather – it just seems to me that the time of seasonal dressing is behind us. I’m more interested in a wardrobe with soul, that becomes part of who we are – not a layer we shed when our tastes change.
(4) When creating this collection did the pandemic provide any particular challenges to maintaining the brands core values and the integrity of your supply chains. If so, how did you deal with them?
Actually, not really. If anything, the slowed down pace allowed me the time to really think about my values and how I wanted the brand to grow. Because I’m such a small label, I’m able to react very quickly to shifts in the industry and be agile in the implementation of changes. I came out of the first lockdown with a sense of clarity and purpose I haven’t felt in a long time.
(5) The collection was showcased at Junes LFW in a fashion film entitled “Moment, Momentum". The film took us back to those halcyon days of indoor clubbing with South London based music curators Touching Bass providing the sound track which I loved. How did that collaboration come about?
I met Alex Rita, one half of Touching Bass, a few years ago at a performance by our mutual friend and brilliant musician Charlotte Dos Santos. We are all mixed-race Scandinavians and bonded over that and a love of music. Touching Bass puts on arguably the best music events in London and they always support the best talent. As we are fans of each others’ work we have long wanted to collaborate in some way, and at the suggestion of our friend Akinola Davies we decided that some kind of music and dance event that captures that feeling of a live experience and featuring a crowd wearing Azura Lovisa would be a great idea for a fashion film. After many months of postponement due to me escaping to Miami to be with my parents during the lockdowns, we finally shot it for June LFW. Alex and her partner in life and business, Errol, brought in their friend Tayo and his collaborators, who together form the brilliant Child Studio, to bring our vision to life. It ended up being a gathering of good friends old and new, and the energy on set was so natural and beautiful. We really were celebrating being together on a dancefloor again – not just simulating it. We were all dancing behind the scenes as well; it was the most fun I’ve had in ages and was a joy to shoot. We look forward to more collaborations in the future.
(6) While it's set on the dancefloor the film has a very ethereal and otherwordly quality to it. What message did you want it to convey to us about the brand, its ethos and these times we are living through?
I have always tended to shoot my campaigns and films in natural settings, as I feel that these places allow for an escape from linear time and the limitations of the structure of our lives, allowing the imagination to wander and situating the brand in a world more aligned with the mythological and nonhuman. But after a year away from people, it felt like the right time to return to our world, the one we hadn’t been allowed to relish, to celebrate shadowed inner spaces and proximity to people and the freedoms and the here and now that had begun to feel almost like a dream after all this time in the pandemic. But we wanted to invite that same otherwordly spirit I am always seeking to join us in that moment of return to the dancefloor. I wanted to create a transcendent moment where we could still be present and recognize that intoxicating energy. I wanted to suggest that potent magic is found even in familiar spaces and habits when we engage with intention and honor rituals of connection and celebration.
(7) How do you want the person who wears Azura Lovisa to feel when they wear your clothes?
Like themselves in a dream. Heads high, steps sure – maybe floating. Or like when the sun filters through the trees and warms your face and fills your vision with light.
(8) Storytelling is key to everything that you do. How important is your origin story and multicultural heritage to the creative process and what influences and inspirations do you draw on from them to inform that process?
I’ve always been very drawn to storytelling, oral history, safekeeping old knowledge, listening to elders talk about their lives. There is a sense of responsibility to honor that knowledge with respect and integrity, to carry on and create in a way that illuminates aspects of culture and history. Part of that is through researching archives and recorded memory – but the rest, the part that stirs emotion, is through dreaming and filling in the gaps between facts and records. The way I experience fashion as a designer is also very much in the space of dreaming, a state of mind intertwined with storytelling and mythology. So in finding references that move me, I am particularly drawn to personal items, old photographs, worn furniture, cherished jewels, empty rooms full of memories, also, naturally, the stories woven into clothes themselves. I try to listen to what people and objects alike tell me about what they have witnessed.
The idea of mythology as the original form and function that allowed humans to give and describe meaning to life, creating the very condition and vocabulary for understanding it – that is a bit part of what inspires and informs my work. I enjoy the practice of seeking ways magic and mythology are embodied in ordinary and extraordinary lives as well as the natural world. Placing my own origin story in this context, and seeing the magical in the circumstances of my existence and the ancestral, is central to my process and the world I am building with the brand. I’m quite influenced by the genre of magical realism in literature, film, and art and how our world and the world beyond can spill into each other.
Because it is so personal, I do not want to lose the vulnerability that comes with opening up and exploring because it is that ambivalence of understanding and impossibility of fully knowing one’s ancestral past that draws us deeper into it. I hope to build a body of work that both looks and sees outwards and also looks inward and sees itself. My process emphasizes the importance not just of storytelling, but of clarifying who is the narrator. Whose story is it? Although I center my work around the idea of myth, in which tales are told by a detached omniscient voice characterized by repetition by multitudes of narrators through time, recognizing the speaker and their subjectivity is essential in carving out micronarratives and hidden histories. And that means recognizing the hybridity of gaze, humanity, and specific circumstances and particularities that color my tone of voice in my narrative.
(9) Cultural homogeneity is no longer the norm and yet the fashion industry continues to view the world through a Western, often very Eurocentric prism. How does the industry need to change to welcome and empower the citizens of the postcolonial 21st century?
I think one of the most important ways we can open up all creative industries is to recognize that the rest of the world does not exist in some static vacuum outside of modernity where the ‘exotic’ and the ‘other’ owes it to the West to preserve some perceived uncorrupted ‘purity’ or ‘primitive’ character as an antidote to Western malaise, discontent, and boredom. The rest of the world is in flux just as the ‘modern’ West is, and it does not owe the West an explanation when its culture diverges from what Westerners consider aesthetically pleasing, quaint, or agreeable. And if it does recognize shifts in foreign cultures that look eerily, disturbingly similar to the McDonald’s-and-Zara emblazoned skylines of our Western cities, maybe the West can recognize its part in that and think about what that means and the systems in place that got us to this point. Now the citizens of the world are here and they are ready to shift culture. They have the presence, they have the buying power, and they have the passion. The West needs to recognize it is no longer the center of power it once was, and reevaluate its position within the global culturescape, lest it be satisfied with delusion and nostalgia.
(10) As we enter the second half of 2021 what are your immediate goals and aspirations for the brand; and longer term how do you want Azura Lovisa to evolve and develop over future years?
I have just moved into a new mixed studio-and-shop space in Covent Gardens / Seven Dials, as the designer-in-residence at Atelier Olubiyi Thomas, 37 Endell Street, and I’m very excited for this new chapter. Here I invite clients and the curious alike to visit and see the garments in real life and also see how the studio operates day-to-day, and the mixed-use space also allows for workshops, events, and exhibitions.
Azura Lovisa intends to develop into a leading slow fashion brand amongst London’s emerging designers, with a distinct identity anchored by multiculturalism, authenticity, craftsmanship, storytelling, and sustainability. We intend to secure key stockists globally, targeting a mix of luxury multibrand boutiques and innovative concept stores; as a brand we believe strongly in looking beyond the West for growth and aim to develop a strong presence in East Asia, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, not to mention the fast developing market in Africa.
We aim to strengthen relationships with craftspeople and handweaving communities in South and Southeast Asia and continue working with socially responsible creative initiatives that provide autonomy and support to the makers, in turn caring for their community and environment. I aspire to work with farmers to encourage practicing regenerative agriculture, create new links with communities whose traditional ways of life are threatened, and collaborate with community leaders on the ground to develop programs and provide opportunities.
We want to grow into a design house anchored in the world of fashion and extending into film, writing and publishing, art exhibitions, curation and programming, other areas of design, and community work, with decolonization and environmentalism at the core. I’m excited to collaborate with artists, writers, researchers, curators, and performers to expand the world of Azura Lovisa into new dimensions. I also hope to collaborate with museums, research groups, and universities. Fashion is a force rich in cultural currency, and using that influence in the service of cultural education is a priority.
Huge thanks to Azura for taking the time to speak to Sodium and giving us such a fascinating insight into the brand, her motivations and her inspirations. As Azura tells us they are a brand whose DNA is wholly anchored in social responsibility and environmental empathy. A brand who creates with intention to give us wardrobes for the soul. A brand that are very much the blueprint for how fashion can and should do things differently.
You can connect with Azura Lovisa here https://www.azuralovisa.com/ and on IG