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The name already gives it away, but this is not your ordinary fashion brand. Sirloin follows its own motto of “stupid elegance” as it provides luxury underwear as outerwear for all: no matter gender, race or even species. Designers who happen to be a couple, Mao Usami and Alve Lagercrantz, Japanese and Swedish respectively, are here to talk about their peculiar home-base of Shanghai, as well as their latest wacky campaign in which Chinese models wear white girl masks, and the objective of their clothes showing up when image searching this cut of meat. Now that’s what I call couple goals.
Hi, Mao and Alve. Could you first describe each other in a few words?
Alve: Mao is pretty lazy.
Mao: Alve is a workaholic.
How do you think your Japanese and Swedish backgrounds, respectively, have influenced either your aesthetics or working styles?
We both have a practical approach to fashion, which might be a reflection on our backgrounds. Alve looks more into the whole structure while Mao concentrates on each detail carefully. These are not only when considering the brand and concept, but also when we reflect on how we work on the collections and garments.
You state that your brand portrays “stupid elegance”. How did you come up with the concept? What does that mean to you both?
“Stupid elegance” for us means a humorous take on embracing one’s imperfection. Sirloin is about personal clothing, whimsical and bare; loaded with subtle, delicate details. We do think fashion, at the moment, is way too nervous and self-destructive, and we want to bring a more carefree attitude towards clothes. It’s fashion, it’s fun!
Our core product is underwear, our vision is to redesign the wardrobe literally from the inside out – owning underwear that matches with your favourite designer outfit. Like, what would you wear underneath your toughest denim or ski uniform? What is the perfect underwear to match with your lazy sweatshirt? Sassy dress? Tuxedo? T-shirt?

You met at Central Saint Martins in London; do you have any funny stories from your student life there?
During our final year, we were both really obsessed with corners so we spent a lot of time looking for great corners. Maybe that’s why we decided to be in Shanghai and not in Paris – it’s a little nice corner of the fashion world.
I’m guessing it has to do with mixing high and low, but how did you come up with the idea of merging ready-to-wear and underwear?
Not really, we both have always been very obsessed with underwear. We consider good underwear as the ultimate luxury. For a fashion customer, there are plenty of options to find outerwear that reflects your personality, but for underwear, it’s much harder. Traditionally, underwear always gets degraded as a commercial product. In fact, there’s no fashion brand taking underwear really seriously. For us, underwear, socks and T-shirts really are the absolute core of the label. 
Why have you decided to be a genderless brand?
Alve: We get that question quite a lot, but actually we don't see Sirloin as a genderless brand at all. We do use quite a lot of menswear references, but to be honest, we’re not so concerned about gender. Mao: I never see the gender in garments or even in general, personally. I have always been wearing men’s underwear, whether that be on its own or as outerwear, which gave my mom a little trouble to recognise which were mine and my brother’s clothes.

“We do think fashion, at the moment, is way too nervous and self-destructive, and we want to bring a more carefree attitude towards clothes. It’s fashion, it’s fun!”
How would you describe the typical person who wears Sirloin? What do they look like? What is their personality like?
I think we have a quite broad fan-base. Everything from sassy Los Angeles girls that enjoy our undies to super geeky Japanese people that are the most interested in our subtle, twisted detail, as opposed to how pop it looks. Sirloin is more about an attitude rather than a style, which we think makes it more appealing to quite a wide base.
Sirloin, as a brand, is based in Shanghai (China), which is quite odd, given that neither of you is native to the country. I’ve read that you moved there to be closer to the factories, and also as you’re far away from Europe, that gives you a lot of freedom, distance, and sort of a uniqueness from other brands. However, doesn’t the frustration of being so far away from home and not being able to use simple tools like Google or YouTube ever get to you? Doesn’t it ever get discouraging?
Of course, it makes things a bit more complicated sometimes, but it also opens up to different ways of researching. We do take a lot of inspiration from what we see around on the street. One of our house gods, Douglas Coupland, talks about how he’s missing his ‘pre-internet brain’; we do think it is something interesting when the answers for everything are not always at your fingertips.
In your latest campaign, you’ve collaborated with photographer Rita Lino. What is it about her work that you think fits with Sirloin? Is it for her Berlin-arthouse vibe?
It’s always tricky for us to deal with underwear and nudity in images, since it’s an overexposed topic. However, we’re interested in how Rita works with the body and nudity in a completely non-exposed way. It’s not about it being naked (or sexy), as it’s about how pure or maybe personal it is. She often uses very staged, constrained poses, but somehow manages to make them very natural.

You’ve explained that the images poke fun, in a way, at the Tuhao generation, which are the nouveau riche Chinese people, whose purpose in life is to flex their clothes as if they were in a never-ending rap video. You’ve shown this through the use of the same mask – therefore implying unoriginality and loss of identity –, of a blonde, white girl for models of East Asian descent. Are you criticising the westernisation of Asian cultures? Also, is it just me, or do they look like Kate Moss when wearing the mask?
(Laughs) The mask is created out of a mosaic of our most iconic supermodels and icons, reflecting on mass-consumerism and copy culture. But yeah, those old Corine Day pictures of Kate were definitely on our mind. I don't really think westernisation is a problem; it’s completely normal that when different cultures mix they pick up from each other and that’s super healthy.
We are much more worried about the fact that people these days are becoming so protective of their own culture. I think ‘Western culture’ wouldn’t be hurt by a bit of ‘Asianifaction’. And it’s completely okay for a Chinese girl to be Kate for a day! We also think the idea about west and east, the identification with one’s own country, etc. is becoming extremely old for fashion (and dangerous).
Although you’re a couple, you’re not strangers to working together, as you had done some projects together at university. However, isn’t it hard to separate work from leisure?
We massively failed so far on that point, as it is hard to be romantic when working together!
Where do you see Sirloin in the next five years?
Replacing images of meat with fashion when you image search our name. For better or worse!

Mercedes Rosés
Jeff Yiu
Rita Lino

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