Entering what looks like a totally normal studio we are instantly transported into the fascinating mind of Alex Mattsson. It is difficult not to be seduced by the white brick walls decorated with a mind map of his vision; looking at this carefully selected collection of images, it feels almost as though you’re being sucked into his past and at the same time, a flash into his future. Images of motorcycles, transformer-like robots, colourful creatures from another world with hints of outer space and the universe serve as wallpaper. Dressed down in a black t-shirt which is rolled up at the arms, similarly rolled up blue denim jeans with patches of neon pink, finished off with a pair of black Doc Martins with rainbow laces that we later learn denotes his colourful being, Alex welcomes us with a warm smile.
Listing Selfridges ‘Bright Young Things’, which showcased UK-based emerging talent and more recently stealing a double-page spread in the Metro as his career highlight so far, Alex Mattsson knew he wanted to become a designer the day he received a First for his very first university project. Volt Café speaks to this shy yet so very talented designer to get an insight into his creativity…
Volt Café: Was it always your goal to be a designer when you were younger?
Alex Mattsson: I grew up in Norway, I didn’t have any contact with the fashion industry, I didn’t know anyone doing it, there weren’t really any Norwegian brands… so I never had the chance to try it out to see if that’s what I wanted to do. I knew that I sort of liked to make clothes… I’ve always been creative. I started messing about in my bedroom, making silly things and taking things in, and messing around customising things. Then I got to a point where I felt like it was something I really enjoyed doing. My cousin works in a theatre in Sweden so she got me an internship at the costume department at the Royal Opera, so I did a summer there when I was 18. That’s when I sort of figured out that I liked it and it made me want to pursue a career in fashion.
VC: Where do you find inspiration for your designs? Do you ever struggle?
AM: I never struggle with inspiration but sometimes it’s hard when there’s a time limit, like sometimes you need it now, you need it yesterday, and you haven’t got it, and when it’s not there, it’s so hard to force it. Then sometimes you have to, ‘cos you don’t have the time to not know what you’re doing. But when it comes, it comes. And it’s never ending it and feels like you can just design so many things, and use that inspiration for so much.
VC: Is there anything you do or anywhere you go to to trigger your inspiration?
AM: I get inspired by music, a lot of internet research, I like myths, like you know on the internet everything is uncensored and there’s all sorts of weirdos, writing weird shit about weird stuff! I like the sort of energy of ‘imagine if this is true’, you know? Imagine if this were real…that would be amazing. It probably isn’t, but maybe it is.
VC: Your ‘Analogue Visions’ collection has lots of prints, colours and shapes, they’re all unique pieces individually but manage to come together as one, what was the inspiration behind that?
AM: It was basically steam punk. Normal type of steam punk is sort of the Victorian high tech idea, like for some reason they had advanced technology in Victorian times, they were sort of steam powered instead of digital, sort of electricity based. The best example of it is a really, really shit film, The Wild Wild West. Like the worst film ever but it’s sort of like mechanical high tech robots but they’re all Victorian looking and shit, that’s basically steam punk which is kind of tacky but I love the idea of alternative futures or pasts or the present, imagine if somebody invented the computer 100 years earlier than they did, or imagine if someone never invented the computer, and this is kind of the idea of that collection…my version of steam punk.
VC: How would you describe your aesthetic?
AM: It’s sort of retro futurism, alternative futures, alternative realities; I like things that look sort of…alien, like it’s not from this planet. Like something a bit otherworldly. I’ve always been interested in sci-fi, always loved sort of films I guess, and you know your toys when you’re growing up, I’m a huge fan of Transformers, I was since I was a kid…I guess it comes from childhood, but then I try to keep it alive.
VC: Would you say your designs are an extension of yourself?
AM: It’s like an alter ego. It’s like now I’m actually trying to go into the place where I’m trying to make it more wearable and try and design things I would want to wear. Where as before, times where I make stuff which isn’t actually wearable, and that’s good for my work and for me and I love spending a month on a jacket, and making it amazing and no one could really wear it or buy it but it’s amazing so it doesn’t matter, but now I’m getting to this point where everyone is like yeah it’s great…but what are you gonna do with it?
VC: Do you design for a specific person?
AM: Umm no. I think I design for myself. I think it’s bad to say…but any sort of straight menswear designer would design for himself, like why wouldn’t you? For me, I sort of design for a super version of myself, like an alter ego. That’s how I see myself in an ideal world in a parallel universe.
VC: What do you enjoy most about being a designer?
AM: Finishing a collection. When it’s all like…done, and you’re happy with it…which is rare. I think designing obviously, it’s a very small part of being a designer these days – unless you have a business where you can hire people so you can have the luxury of sitting there designing, the finishing things off is a nice feeling, like making a garment, making clothes is such a pain in the arse, I don’t think people realise garment construction is a complete nightmare. It’s really satisfying when something comes out when you couldn’t have done it better, and you can’t imagine it being put together in a nicer way.
VC: Has there ever been a point where you’ve thought ‘I can’t do this, I want to quit’?
AM: Yeah all the time, at least once a week! (Laughs) I’m always honest about this because I don’t think it should all be like ‘yeah it’s amazing, it’s so easy’. I’m completely honest about it and I think the things is – I think it was Karl Lagerfeld that said it that ‘fashion should be effortless’, and I totally see what he means, people just want to see something fabulous, like no one actually wants to know that it’s actually hard work, because it’s an illusion. It’s an illusion in fashion that everything comes together and is amazing and it’s beautiful and you can have as many as you want, and you can produce as many as you want and it’s not a problem….but in real life it’s really horrible. It’s hard…but fun.
VC: If you could have a super power, what would it be and why?
AM: I think I would want to be like super fast. (laughs) So I could do the collection in like a day, that’d be good! You know like Superman – and then you see the rail go brrrrrr (filling up) it’d be amazing!
VC: What 5 things would you take out in space with you?
AM: Errrrrrm, a case of Red Bull. I’d take a dog; I really want a dog so if I’m going to space I’m definitely having a dog! I would take a book, something like Lord of the Rings that’ll take you ages to read. I’d also take music, somehow…
VC: Is there something about you that people wouldn’t expect?
AM: Yeah, people find me…weird obviously (laughs) like lots of people find me intense. I can be very emotional and people find it intense to speak with me. But when you meet the right person, someone who doesn’t mind it, then it’s amazing. Designers in general are probably the most insecure people you’ll ever meet…ever. And obviously people make up for it in different ways, some people put on a bitchy exterior, because they’re really insecure about themselves, some people do the opposite and are super nice, I try to be nice – I’m definitely insecure.
VC: What would you say your biggest fear in life is?
AM: Failing in life would be pretty catastrophic! I think that’s everyone’s. It’s what gets you up in the morning. I like to think some people have this drive, but I think I’m driven by the fear of not doing it. That’s what gets me up in the morning. What gets me out of bed is the fear of not getting out of bed.
VC: So Red Bull is supporting you and making it happen for you?
AM: I couldn’t have done it without them. It’s really cool ‘cos they don’t need me at all; I need them. So the fact that they’re doing this is really cool. It’s like genuine support, from a big huge company to support for the love of it you know? And that’s really rare.
VC: What is your biggest goal or dream?
AM: I don’t know, I think at this point I just wanna be…comfortable. That’s my biggest goal, like if I could do my label, have a nice studio, nice people working there, a dog, 3 motorcycles, a nice house, and a successful label paying for itself and paying me and paying for all my people that work there. With a good work, life balance…and if I could just sit and design all day in my little inspiration room that I’m gonna make when I have an amazing studio. To be able to do what I love but not…die over it. That would be my dream.
VC: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in life?
AM: I’m having reality checks everyday. Everyday is a lesson. Everyday there’s things where I’m like ‘of course I shouldn’t have done that’, or ‘of course I should have done this before’. Everyday I’m constantly reminded. I don’t know if there’s one huge one, but if there was one it was Royal College of Art. I came there and I was really naïve, and really confident in my work, I kind of knew that I was talented. But I came from a smaller college, outside London, it was a bit more slow paced, amazing place but it was my starting point and then going from there to an MA at RCA, in London, with a hand picked 12 people from all over the place that are absolutely mind blowingly talented, and focused, and used to the dynamics and the sort of bitchiness. At UCA we all use to help each other out, it wasn’t that competitive. So I came in to this really competitive world, and the first year was a huge lesson.
VC: What advice would you give to anybody pursuing the same journey as you?
AM: Get money, if you don’t have it. Be nice to everyone you meet; all the way through college, all the way through every stage of life, in the shop…It’s so important, you know you see all these people in college, that were really not nice people, clearly talented, but not nice people, and you see that mostly those people don’t get anywhere because they’re not nice and it will come back to you at some point. You have to work hard it’s not really an option. You just gotta make sure you learn from your mistakes. I’ve made loads of them; I’m still making them, everyday. And I’m learning everyday. And that’s the point; I don’t think you should be ashamed of your mistakes. There are things in all parts of my work that I don’t like, and I’ve thought ‘fuck I’d wish I’d not done that’ – or wish I’d done something else, cut that out of the collection, or wish I did more or started earlier, I wish I had more time, I wish I was more organised you know, all these things, you just gotta learn from making the mistake and doing it wrong.
VC: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
AM: The fact that you have to be nice to people. I remember there were so many people in college, who were horrible and they never end up doing anything. Why would you want to associate yourself with a horrible person? If you’re a nice person, people like you, people wanna help you. So yeah…be nice.
In the space of 46 minutes, Alex Mattsson has proved himself to be a man with burning bright vision and magnetic charisma. As his talent evolves with each collection, leaving everybody wondering in the sea of unpredictability (he would like to showcase his clothes in a science museum one day), one thing is for sure; Alex Mattsson is a bright light in the industry that will continue shining.
Alex Mattsson S/S13
17th June 2012
10.30AM – 2.30PM
56 Shorts Gardens
London WC2H 9AN
Photographs by Anne van den Boogert
Words by Jessica Ly
TagsAlex Mattsson, Anne van den Boogert, Ella Dror PR, Jessica Ly, Karl Lagerfeld, RCA, Red Bull, Selfridges Bright Young Things,