Colleen Allen

Menswear Designer
New York

Colleen is a 19 year old menswear designer who founded her label in 2015. Her work has been featured in Fucking Young, Bullet Media, The Last Magazine and Deux Hommes. She has spent time at Wes Gordon and is a sophomore at Parsons.

This interview took place between Colleen and Tate at her apartment in New York

TVPS: How was your time at Wes Gordon?

CA: Wes Gordon was a really great environment for me to learn about the business side and logistics of fashion as a designer. They taught me how to organize my ideas into a collection and how to present them to stylists, editors, or buyers that come in. It was important for me to see the way Wes Gordon would explain his ideas and then develop them into concepts.

Okay, what did your role consist of there?

I was a design intern. I worked with the design team and brought together fabrics for the season and sat in on meetings, which was really cool for me. Making flats to send to Italy for our clothes to get made and just helping them organize on the design side of things.

How would you describe the company culture at Wes Gordon?

It is a really small team, which I love; it is very much a family there. I think that is what I enjoyed the most, being able to know everybody in the company and being able to work with Wes in the office. So many designers are absent from the brand and Wes is really involved, which was so great for me to see him every day and to see the production team working and all of the sales going on, which you do not get at every brand.

Seeing Wes work, what stuck out to you?

I think Wes has really great relationships with the people that he works with, whether it is people on our design team or clients who come in for custom looks or fittings, working with our fit models. He is so personable and so great to be around, he really makes the Wes Gordon experience exciting for everyone who is there.

How do you like Parsons?

I love Parsons. Parsons, first of all, got me to New York City, which is where I always wanted to be. It just took me here and now I’m surrounded where fashion is in America. I think that it really pushes me beyond what I thought I was capable of, both with my peers and with my professors. Both are always pushing me further to create work that I would not have done on my own. They are pushing me into new territories and out of my comfort zone, which is really important to me. My peers are really exciting, especially when I can collaborate with them. They are photographers, stylists, and digital editors. It is so amazing to be with other people who are my age and who are just as passionate about creative industries. I also think, to see other designers in the community is inspiring as well; to bounce ideas off of each other and to be influenced by each other is amazing.


Why do you want to go into fashion?

I think fashion is just really natural to me. I've always been involved in art and I have these ideas that I can't get out of my head until I make them. Somehow fashion was just a natural way to do that. I think ever since I started sewing in middle school, it just worked. I started wanting to be a designer and thought that I would never be able to do that, so I started thinking about becoming a stylist, which I thought was close enough. I started taking design classes at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago throughout high school. Things just clicked there. I think that it was a really encouraging environment and it pushed me. I conceptualized and saw the world I hadn't before. I think that was the moment that I knew that was what I should do become a designer.

Who are your favorite designers right now?

Right now, I have a great love for JW Anderson; I have for a while now. I love everything that he does, menswear and women's wear. I think he pushes things out of where they have been and really progresses things each season. I also love Dries Van Noten’s menswear. I think there is such a richness to that brand, even their fabric manipulations; it is just a luxury that is starting to disappear from other brands. I think it is really still strong there.

What is your take on gender?

I never intended on gender being a main theme of my work- People started questioning my intentions after my first collection and it sort of caught me off guard. I was just portraying men how I saw them, as a reflection of my personal worldview. I think being a woman designing for men is a big part of this. I thought well why can't men experiment with different elements of style each season like women do? If you're into ruffles one season and military jackets the next, that doesn't mean you're changing your gender identity or sexuality. I think it's exciting to give men options to have fun with clothes. For women, it's commonly accepted that the way they dress is an extension of their personality. But for men, once you hit a certain age you get stuck in this uniform. I'm really starting to explore and subvert these societal expectations. It has both a very serious conceptual side but also can be mocked in a sly humorous way. I really love walking on this line between the two.

Where do you gather inspiration from?

I spend most of my free time going to the Met, or the Museum of Natural History is probably my favorite place in the city, and I can spend a full day wandering around. I think that has led me to science, which is really inspiring to me because it is hard for me to understand. I think I have the creative, artistic brain and there is something that is so unreachable, there is always something new in science and I think aesthetically it has had a huge influence on me lately. I think a lot about the scientist as a person and the way that they view the world versus the artist and the way that they define the everyday. I think both the artist and the scientist knows what exists and what we cannot know. I think a lot of people try to comfort themselves by trying to solve or answer questions that cannot be answered at the moment. I think that all the artists and the scientists have an acceptance of the known and the unknown worlds.

Why are you drawn to the Japanese culture?

I got really into Japan last year, my segway to that was the concept of Wabi-Sabi, which is a Japanese idea of living life. It is about accepting the world for its imperfections; it is about living this organic-ness, which is so important to me. It is about mortality, and I think it seeps into every aspect of their life, whether they actively know about it or not. It is part of the tea ceremony, which is so beautiful and was really important to me in making my last collection. I think it is just this flow with nature, their holidays and their calendars are surrounded by the way that the season's change and the way that nature works, and with the way that the world is changing as well. It brings up the conflict of what happens when the seasons change, and when our environment is changing as well, that was the struggle that I was confronted with my last collection.

Can you give an overview of your brand?

Each item I create celebrates the individual spirit away from the contemporary
mass produced culture. Going forward I strive to root each collection in this world where science acts as a ritual practice while also challenging societal
expectations of menswear.

Do you want to talk about FW16?

Yes, I am really excited about my upcoming collection, I am going to be showing it and previewing my work in February and March. Every season I have begun to think about the scientist as my muse, I talked a little bit about it, and this season specifically I am really into paleontology and archaeology. I am really romantic about this idea of going on these trips for weeks, where you are just going, and you are in this element of nature, and you are excavating something, and you are looking for something. It is this whole exploration, and it is the exploration of our own past, and I think it is just so romantic, the whole idea of it. I am going into who that man is and what his lifestyle is like. Being able to wear the clothes that are in this collection is going to be a little bit of a way into that life and a way into the romanticism with nature.

You’ve talked about your brand becoming a little bit more raw. Is that your reaction to everything that is going on?

I think yes, it is being surrounded by the internet all day and there is something about this natural organic-ness that I really want to bring back into my own life and to other people's lives. I want them to feel like they can go adventuring in clothes.

Speaking of which, what effect is the digital world having on the fashion industry?

I think blogs became so exciting when it became accessible to the everyday person and you were able to do it. But I think it got to a tipping point where everybody had a blog, and nothing felt original, and nothing felt fresh anymore. It influenced the self-importance of our generation; a lot of social media made us really value what people think of us more than we should. It made us think that we are bigger than ourselves. On a positive note, it also changes the way we see ourselves in relation to the rest of the world. We are so easily able to talk to someone in a country that we have never visited, and I think that is a really exciting thing to do. But I think that there is going to be a push back in the sense that, we need to get back to our every day in real life conversations and focus less on how we are projecting ourselves.

What do you like about the industry today?

What I like about the industry now is where menswear is headed. I think it is so much more exciting than it has ever been and I think the new modern man is willing to experiment. He does not care as much, maybe he cares more, that the definition of the male and female roles in society have been changing for hundreds of years. I think that it is pouring into every aspect, it is pouring into politics, it is pouring into fashion, and it is going to change the way we as people interact. If it changes in the art world, it will seep into our everyday lives. I think menswear is doing some things that we underestimate now but looking back are going to be exciting. I think that fashion is a really great expression of how you see gender rather than society telling you what your gender should look like. I think it’s time. It is 2015; it’s time to enter a new era.

Where do you think the industry is headed?

I am really excited to see a little bit of rebellion from the designers, especially Raf Simons leaving Dior. I think that was a big step for designers because the pressure of the industry to produce and to produce is insane. There is going to be a tipping point very soon, and I hope there is, and I hope that we go back to doing fewer seasons because we are losing the novelty of beautifully constructive clothes, beautifully constructed clothes. Raf talked about how designers cannot think anymore because all they are doing is making, making, making, there is no time to sit and decide to change ideas or to make things differently. I think if we give designers more time we are going to see fashion progress like we used to, but it has been so similar lately because you do not have the luxury of time anymore. Yves Saint Laurent used to go on three-month vacations and come back with his ideas that really shook up fashion. I think if we give people the time to be inspired by the world and to explore that they will come back with things that we would not have ever thought of. In my ideal world, we just go back to two seasons. I would love to see fall/winter, spring/summer and that is all people do. We value excess, and we value the now, and I think our generation is going to want to go to this minimal living where you have these beautiful things. You see the hand, you see the craft in them, and you are willing to buy that one dress that you wear most of the spring rather than buying 20 of them that were 20 dollars each. I think that it changes the way you see your own lifestyle and maybe will put some other things in priority rather than the new.

What do you hope to change in the fashion industry or even the world?

I would love to have some influence on people getting back to their real lives and taking time out of their day away from the internet, away from their phones and to just be with the people that they're with. Going out to dinner. I hope that our generation starts to turn the phones off. I don't know how I would influence that but maybe by just doing that myself. I want people to value the physical and less about this idea of communicating with strangers. I’ve never cared too much about people's perceptions of us.

What do you believe sets you apart from the other 1000 kids out there, who say "I want to be a fashion designer?"

I think what sets me apart is an openness to change. I think a lot of young designers are really influenced by this social media culture, this fast fashion culture and it is so easy to get sucked into the big money and the big quick fame of having millions of Instagram followers. Those are things that are really not important to me. What is important to me is making clothes, whether it is for 10 people in the world or thousands, it is all about the craft and less about the fashion culture and being a part of that scene that I think that a lot of young designers get caught up in.

What sacrifices have you made to be where you are today? Do you feel that it was worth it?

Sacrifices? Yeah, there are a lot of them. It takes a lot of time to make things yourself. It takes a lot of mental energy to always be thinking about your creative life no matter where you are. It's definitely worth it for me. I would go crazy if I didn't do what I do. It's just once I have an idea in my head it has to be produced. It has to become physical for me to finally let it go. I think that is both the sacrifice and the reward for it to really be apart of who I am.

What advice would you give to someone who looks up to you?

Wow. I don't think that there are any of those out there.

I'm sure there are.

Do it if you love it. Don't do it because you think there's going to be perks. Most likely there aren't. I think you should do what really calls to you and be open to change. If you start doing design and suddenly you get drawn into fine art, and you would have never found it had you done anything else, that's the world's way of telling you that's where you should be. I think it's listening to what your true desires are and what you want for yourself and less about what you're trying to portray to please other people.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Yeah. This is probably part of another question that you asked. I am really trying to portray something that is beyond fashion and clothes. I want people to see design. I hope people get a feeling from my work that you would get from going to an installation or a photography show. I think every element of making is so important to me from the way that things are constructed to the way that they're photographed and the models that are in them. I hope that my passion for my muse and my concept for this season comes through the way that it would come through in a film or something like that.