It’s not so often that a runway takes our breaths away. In the age of the algorithm, collections are viewed as content, coming and going in 10-second stories which rarely make me pause my glaze-eyed scroll. Yaz XL’s graduate collection was markedly different. Merging cyber futurism and the naturally grotesque, (think fetuses, pustules and the landscapes of Johfra Bosschart) Yaz presented an otherworldly interpretation of insincerity at this year’s Central Saint Martin’s degree show.
Her visionary practice has already caught the attention of FKA Twigs and launched her into internet stardom, amassing over twenty million views on TikTok alone. We caught up with Yaz to delve deeper into the realms of her dystopic designs and find out what’s next on the cards for this promising graduate.
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Photo: Andrew Gilbert
As it's your first time talking to us, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
It’s always hard to know where to start as I’m a bit of a Jack of all trades, but I am a designer, maker, and art director based in North London. I have just shown my final graduate collection at Central Saint Martins after studying Fashion Design with Marketing. I’m obsessed with the place where nature clashes with the artificial, and love and hate the advancement of technology all at the same time. My work currently sits in a special place between fashion, costume and prosthetic special effects.
Your work is sensationally beautiful yet dystopic. How would you describe your creative practice?
Thank you so much! I think dystopic is a pretty key word which I have rarely used myself but might start doing, as it sums up perfectly the world most my research images and references sit within. Whether it's a surreal Bosschart painting from 1962, a grainy cursed image from the pits of Instagram or TikTok hell, or a screenshot of a completely insane jaw-shrinking gadget from, they all fit a dystopia.
My creative practice involves me sifting through my 80,000-strong iPhone photo archive and following a certain flow of attraction, collating and scrolling until a concept starts to develop in my head. This normally happens at about 4 am when a certain image comes to mind that I have to try and find in my screenshots, and I just get stuck in an actual frenzy from there! It's very exciting when I hit this wave, I become addicted in that moment, so hungry to keep making conceptual connections within the images. I then start printing these images and pairing them together in different combinations as my concept develops alongside my 3D responses. I start to gather loads of objects I’ve collected from boot fairs and eBay over the years, combining them with my fabric scraps and other materials. My house often reflects the world I am currently submerged in at the time as well. It’s consuming.
What are currently your key sources of inspiration?
For my final collection, it started with images such as a Ken-like plastic Pinocchio doll with wood grain carved skin, screenshots from my eBay watch list of insane glass-blown ornaments, Alexander McQueen’s carved prosthetic leg boot, and a pulsating fat loss machine from the '90s I found in a second-hand furniture shop. To mention a few!
Film and film BTS are my main sources of inspiration, as well as my own archive of objects from boot fairs and eBay. Alien, Fifth Element, Predator, Arrival and Titane are always tickling my brain. I love their behind-the-scenes content as I prefer to see sci-fi costumes and effects against the mundane settings of a studio or workshop. Especially the making of Avatar.
Your graduate collection Hot Air has caused quite the stir online. Can you tell us a little bit more about it and its inspirations?
I wasn't quite expecting twenty million TikTok views! Hot Air is an allegory for lying. To speak a load of ‘hot air’ is a saying I really clung onto in a Covid-era where I was finding it impossible to tell who was telling the truth.
Hot air comes out of our mouths in the form of breath and in the form of lies, exaggerating and speaking nonsense. Hot air rises and expands. As it rises it gives weightlessness to my collection – causing levitations like with my boots and dress trains that appear to be hovering above the ground. EEG lie detectors and the copious wires that are plugged into the patient inspired the warping, wood-grain print that grew from the back of the dress into the train as a steel levitation device. The vents and vortex holes that appear within the hips of the garments and the train were used to represent a vent that releases and sucks ‘hot air.’ The ones on the hip appear to have given birth to a ball that has levitated up and out into the wrist of the model. This ball is actually a bag, as it opens on a hidden hinge. The vortex vent holes also influenced the print, as me and my airbrush collaborator Will Bond strategically placed the airbrush print on the dress to make it appear as if it was being sucked into the holes.
The aforementioned levitation stand that attracted all the TikTok traffic was a steel frame I spent many months welding and engineering. It can be wheeled behind the dress, pulled by the model who was secretly harnessed in. This stand was meant to be part of the main runway, but I found out towards the deadline that the runway would have stairs and ramps. I had to adapt it to zip off the levitation stand, which means you haven't seen the last of this yet as it still needs its proper moment.
What was the creation process like for such a varied and intricate collection?
The process was intense, and I kept switching from workshop to workshop like a kid in a candy shop. I threw myself into as many processes as humanly possible. The collection involved welding, some woodwork, CNC cutting, sculpting, mould making, casting, seaming, airbrushing, vac forming, prosthetic engineering, airbrushing, patchwork, 3D printing and wiring alongside the pattern cutting and sewing. I’m absolutely spent and hopefully can learn to hone my focus for future projects now that I have this collection out of my system.
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As a recent graduate, how was your experience studying Fashion Design with Marketing at Central Saint Martins?
FDM was the perfect course for me as I think about the whole context surrounding a collection more than the actual clothes at times. CSM actually put me there as I initially applied to womenswear and didn't really know what FDM was, but it turned out to be a massive blessing. I only really started working at university in my final year as I lived further away in my first and second year, and Covid hit during my second so I couldn’t fully experience CSM until my final year. It is an amazing hub of so many inspiring minds though, I feel so lucky to have met so many of my friends and collaborators because of it. Saying that they are mostly from different years and courses, so it’s not specifically about your chosen pathway in the end.
You collaborated with makeup artist Matilda Mace to create the otherworldly appearances for your degree show. How was this collaboration and how did it help cement the desired aesthetic for the collection?
Collaborating with Tilda was only natural as we live together and have been intertwined since school. She has witnessed every moment of my collection and the run-up to it closer than anyone else in the world. She had to live around the mess of it too, so I really didn't have to say much – she got it from the inside out.
I often fantasise about the makeup looks before I’ve even designed the garments, so Tilda was the only one I trusted to execute them. I sculpted and cast the prosthetics up until 3 am the night before the show, and Tilda was up at 7 am putting them on the models and whipping up wonders from thin air as we ran out of time to plan or test them properly. She grew the woodgrain print out of the looks so that it faded up and across the face and round the head in a way which was so beautiful. I loved that she softened the blow between where the garment stopped and the models' skin started, using eyeliner in a way that acted almost as a prosthetic extension of my garments and print.
Over lockdown, you began working with prosthetics and mould making. How have you utilised these skills to elevate your practice?
Mould-making has broadened my horizons so much. As someone who fell into fashion from a sculpting background, it has allowed me to merge the two together, allowing me to reproduce my sculptures with the same high level of detail in materials that can be worn and can stand the test of time whilst they're at it! Learning the limitations of the materials chemically was a steep and very harsh learning curve, but it’s really pushed me to understand the materials I use from the inside out. Prosthetic making is very technical and includes a lot of precision and care as one wrong step can ruin your whole casting and sculpt.
For example, if I wore a latex glove instead of a nitrile glove, my silicone would inhibit and never cure, which completely ruins your mould, it's messy to clean up and wastes expensive materials. Learning how to make prosthetics also allowed me to create my dream muses and completely warp the body and face. I’ve been able to develop what I call Demi-Hardware, which is effectively soft hardware details made of silicone. This manifested as rubberised palms on the gloves of my garments for this collection.
You recently created the half goat, half mermaid Capri baby for FKA Twigs’ mixtape Caprisongs. You've called this your dream project – can you tell us a bit more about this collaboration and what made it so special?
The collaboration between me and Twigs felt pretty divinely aligned. I had released a zine in the lockdown of an editorial, Health and Bewety, featuring looks I had made centred around farm livestock births, specifically ewes and lambs. All set out in a brochure style next to beauty products made of sheep placenta, lanolin oil and news milk etc. I had had a cut-out image of a sheep or goat fetus (hard to tell as it's very faded at this point) stuck on my laptop next to my keyboard ever since and along came this project. Twigs and I were – and are – relentless believers of astrology during this period too, so when I heard that she wanted to actually physically create a Capricorn and not only that, a foetus, I nearly dropped dead from the synchronicity of all my favourite things coming together in one. It was the perfect opportunity for me to flex my new prosthetic-making muscles and was such a dream to do this for twigs.
As a recent graduate with an innovative practice, what (if anything) do you believe fashion is currently lacking?
Breathing space! The pace of it all is so unsustainable for me on a human and creative level. Also, on an Earth level, in terms of the sheer volume of garments that are churned out. I genuinely feel like I've barely blinked in-between each show the big brands do. It blows my mind how they keep up in this model. I think it also causes a lack of integrity and appreciation of craft. The emphasis often isn't on the work anymore but on who is wearing it. This idea of celebrity clickbait is something I find quite problematic. I try my hardest not to buy into it and just look at the work objectively, but of course, it can be hard, and lines get blurred as many of my own muses naturally fall into the category of celebrity.
What direction are you hoping to take now that you've graduated?
I know I need to step back from making, as my body can't keep up with the pace, so I'd definitely like to step into a role where I can delegate or afford to outsource all the making. Although I know I'd really miss being involved and probably get jealous I wasn't the one making it. Honestly, I am lost. One day I have it all figured out in my head, and I have big plans to start my own company undertaking customs with a team, and the next I want to fly away and move off-grid, so I'm just figuring it out at the moment. Apparently, I might just be in a bit of a burnout daze from the ordeal that was making, living, and breathing my first collection. Time will tell all but I’m just trying to manoeuvre my way through it and figure out how to do what I love whilst still being able to pay the bills.
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