Fashion / Fashion News

“Earthier, grittier, dirtier”: Alix Higgins returns to AAFW with clothes fit for his friends

alix higgins aafw 2023

Alix Higgins dedicated his second show at AAFW to his friends. But you knew that already. Delectable Earth Shudder is influenced by the way they dress, not some vague mirage of a target consumer. It has heart, it has purpose. Anyone who has followed the rise of the 29-year-old designer, will recognise that this a large part of the appeal.

Two weeks before his presentation at AAFW 2023, I meet Alix Higgins at his apartment to reprise the conversation that began last May. Norman Fucking Rockwell! by Lana Del Rey plays softly in the background and Miu Miu, the ginger kitten Higgins recently brought home, stalks his living room, threatening to topple over the stacks of books on his dining table. The piles comprise of gold delicately-patterned first edition volumes of William Blake, a gift from his dad which double as pattern-making weights, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh ("this is her best book"), which Higgins has just finished. As I’ve come to learn, books, music, films – they all tend to arrive right on time, and when Higgins surfaced from Lapvona he was struck by its similarities with Delectable Earth Shudder.

“The medieval town, god-fearing filthy peasants,” Higgins says, “this is exactly it. I just really wanted to make this collection with more earthier, grittier, dirtier, with ruined elements.”

alix higgins aafw 2023

Sophomore projects will inevitably be shrouded in moments of imposter syndrome. Alix Higgins seems to have sidestepped this part of the process.

"Fashion is so much like a game of chicken. You have to be really tough and hold your ground."

The person in front of me is not the same one I spoke to 12 months ago. He's more self-assured, confident. That is reiterated by Higgins himself, who says, "I don't really get nervous. I get very emotional, and sometimes stressed, but I think that this year, I feel more confident in the collection and the brand's direction"

In March, Higgins made the leap and began working on his label full time. Over the last year he’d been juggling an art director role at Think Positive Prints while teaching fashion at UTS, establishing his eponymous brand and doing freelance jobs. “Everyone said to me it won't grow unless you give it the time to grow.”

As a result, Higgins has been contemplating the future of his brand for the better part of this year. He's found a fresh sense of purpose. "One of those is how important it is for me to straddle a creative and commercial brief because I feel like that's where the gap in the Australian fashion market is," hes explains. "There's a lot of brands that are super commercial. And there's a lot of brands that are super creative, but the garments are made of paper mache or just inaccessible."

To give you an example, last year Higgins says he was adamant on having a show piece. This time around, not so much. The clothes feel focused, more mature and as a result, impeccably realised and deliciously wearable. "It's much simpler. I mean – it's not simple. But there's just a directness to it."

alix higgins aafw 2023

“I’ve loved learning from my business as it grows. Seeing the way people wear things and mix the garments inspired the wardrobe of Alix Higgins to grow as well." These interpretations has prompted new categories, including up-cycled shopper bags fashioned from individual t-shirts and plain grey dresses without any text. "Which is scary for me, because I'm just so attached to my brand being this digitally printed thing.”

Although he admits to bouts of self-doubt in the early days though. “When I started my brand I was very sheepish about selling anything, because I was like, ‘this is just crap, it's just going to fall apart’. And now seeing stuff that people have had for three years, I’m constantly happily surprised with the durability of my garments.”

There are some returning faces in the lineup this year, including Gemma Cowling, Solly Frank, Elliot Cowen, Nina Treffkorn, the business manager of China Heights Gallery, who served as the fit model for the collection, her son Max, and Chloé Corkran who is performing a double act as casting director also. RUSSH fashion director, Charlotte Agnew, is responsible for the styling. As for the other models, Niamh Galea and Alice Englert will make their Alix Higgins debut.

Last year, Higgins summoned up an arid landscape, transforming Gallery One at Carriageworks into a sparse desert. This time around, he’s opted for the feeling of a lush, muddy forest. “A bit like A Midsummer Night's Dream,” he says. The collection gets its name from a screenshot of a poem he’d written on Tumblr some 10 years ago. “It wasn’t very good,” he admits. “But there was this line: I want to feel the delectable earth shudder, remember oblivion under all of this”.

alix higgins aafw 2023

“I kept thinking about a feral, soiled person,” he says. “And this idea of an earthquake and also an orgasm and a scream.” Higgins mentions Lars von Trier’s film Antichrist, noting how the Danish filmmaker’s body of work appears to be “about wanting to shake the world and feel something”. 

“So that’s what this collection started out as – a scream in the forest.”

Then came the Shakespeare reference. Pair it with the ties Alix Higgins has to queerness and the designer’s fondness for double entendre, and you end up with a brown dress that says “Bottom”. In his own way, this garment was a riposte to Sydney’s recent WorldPride festivities, and thinking of queerness as more than a rainbow.

“Actually the queer people I know are kind of feral and they're wearing grey and brown and black. This collection is for those people, which is how my friends crept into it. But I was thinking mostly about this kind of wild, animalistic person.” As Alix shares these thoughts, he pulls a patterned wool sweater over his recently-bleached hair, his limbs stretching and curling like Puck, the mischievous sprite at the heart of the Shakespearean play the designer speaks of.

Higgins mentions meetings with buyers, salespeople and PR agents over the past year, and feeling "too feral" for everyone. He describes external pressure to dilute his designs to make them more palatable. At various points celebrities approached Higgins requesting the black and pink gown from his AAFW debut, sans the "God" script. People were telling the designer he needed to make a "a baby blue collared shirt and a black wool coat", which if you've seen his clothes, is the equivalent of requesting a cheeseburger at a sushi train – it's just not what Alix Higgins does. "The most important thing is that I can survive and also can express myself. I can manage a commercial aspect, but it also has to have me in it."

alix higgins aafw 2023

Where floral motifs and watermelon gradients saturated his previous collection, animal print is a focus of Delectable Earth Shudder. There's a fur coat, by which Higgins means a simulacrum of one; a cotton jacket that is swathed in scanned prints of a fur coat he brought home from a vintage store in Paris and has never worn since. Elsewhere, you'll find crocodile print, a reworked swatch Higgins kept from a project he worked on in his third year of university and nearly failed. "It's clear I've wanted to do animal print for a while, so I thought I need to do those early ideas justice."

"Charlotte and I have been talking about the return of the post-indie sleaze Tumblr girl. I really see that coming back." Which is the reason for the faded pastel palette, almost as if you'd dyed your hair bubblegum pink or lilac and it's eventually washed out, Higgins tells me.

In keeping with this feral energy, Higgins reflected on how he didn't want to make a collection as pristine as his last. This is partly due to the fact that the designer received his first ever return on his website earlier this year. "Which was fine," he assures me. It turns out the bike shorts had a tiny "pinprick-like" hole, and he replaced them straight away. But those same shorts sat on his desk for ages afterwards. He couldn't in good conscience resell them, but he didn't want to discard them completely. Which sparked the idea of building these flaws into the garments from the beginning, in order for them to have longevity. "Because once they get a hole it's part of the story," Higgins reasons. "It's not this bulletproof thing."

With more time to dedicate to Alix Higgins, the designer spent a large portion digging into material research too. Wool jersey, cotton knits and silk wool diversify his textile offering, which was previously limited to nylon, in a bid to incorporate fabrics that are more luxurious and transeasonal. "I'm trying to narrow the synthetic output of my brand from a sustainability perspective. It's hard though," he confesses. "I've found that using natural fibres means I'd have to move my manufacturing to China."

Overall, there's a lot more upcycling taking place in the collection, with pieces that are actually commercially viable – "not just a wedding gown made out of scraps that will never be worn again". And the poetry has received an overhaul. Words like "desire", "heavyweight", "king", and of course, "bottom", found their way into the collection. As did "Sharktooth2", which used to be the designer's password for everything (this has since changed) as well as his old Tumblr username. For Higgins, the meaning of SharkTooth2 is twofold; referencing his digital history, which led him to meet close friend and casting director Chloé Corkran, among others. It also sums up the animalistic feelings he had, compounded with how they manifest in this collection through the wild prints.

Sponsorship was hard all across the board this year, although few are talking openly about it, which meant Higgins had to forgo a traditional set. "It's always worse to do half an idea than to just do nothing," he says. Which is why he removed the need for a set altogether, creating a thin slice of a runway, where guests could reach out and high five those facing them if they so wished. "We really wanted it to feel claustrophobic and intense."

With Delectable Earth Shudder out in the world at last, Alix Higgins will take some time off to visit his family's house down south, lay on the beach in the middle of winter and read. Perhaps he'll make more pop music as one half of Patamon, his music project with Joan Benoit, which has sat on ice for six months. Hopefully, we'll get to see those friends of his dressed in hazelnut nylon with "bottom" across their chests, which is one way to made this delectable earth shudder. I welcome it.

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