As introduced last week, Mohsin Ali launched his eponymous line for AW11 at the Showroom Next Door. Having enthused over his sleek look book before my visit, my excitement grew further after I was afforded the opportunity to inspect his designs up close. For us, the real beauty of menswear is in the details and this collection has a cacophony of them. Having been inspired by twenty first century explorers, Ali has obsessed over the concept of integration and layering to create multi faceted items. From built in thumb pieces to quilted linings, this is a collection that celebrates the true beauty of menswear.
Since graduating from the LCF with a First Class honours degree in 1999, Mohsin Ali has carved a career that has seen him design and develop product for a variety of brands across the globe. He might have spent the last decade under the radar, learning his trade and refining his aesthetic but now is Ali's time to step in to the spotlight with a remarkably accomplished debut offering. For this exciting talent, design should be questioned and challenged at all times and only then can you produce and create something truly special. All appliance should be for a reason. Throughout his debut collection, Ali showcases a real love for both traditional and technical fabrics mixing both in his collections as well as his fascination with cut and silhouette. Here, we take a closer look at the collection and talk to the designer about launching his own label and following the rules of form, fabric and function.
SS: You graduated from LCF with a first class honours degree back in 1999. Having resisted the temptation to set up your own label up until now, what have you been up to?
Mohsin: It is so, so difficult to launch your own line at that age. Also, my background is a bit different from most. When I was seventeen I was buying Comme des Garcons for a shop in Leeds and I've been around labels since a young age, I understand really nice, beautiful product. After I graduated I decided that I wanted to consult and work on a freelance basis. I was soon involved in all aspects of the industry, from problem solving to designing to manufacturing. All were key elements to what I do now.
SS: What were your inspirations, your dreams and the driving catalyst behind launching your own label?
Mohsin Ali: This is just where I want to be. I love menswear. I understand it from a retail perspective as well as a design one and now just felt the right time. There is an interest and has been a real lift in menswear but there was a gap in the market for what I wanted to offer. I'm in an environment here where I want to put on a pair of Mr Hare sheepskin lined boots with my outwear trousers and a coat. This is sophisticated menswear.
SS: What was the starting point for the collection?
Mohsin Ali: The collection is actually based around the concept of twenty first century explorers. I was drawn to idea that your initial skin has to be the warmest and therefore the importance of layering and thermals. The collection is built around these ideas which is why some of the garments have built in thumb pieces, others have sheepskin liners, quilting and detachable liners. Additionally, I was intrigued by the idea that the less you carry the easier it is to travel. My interpretation of this was to apply less and integrate more. Everything is integral. Piece by piece, everything is cut in and we've done through the shirting, trousers and outerwear so everything is flat and streamlined.
SS: For us, menswear is all about the details and this collection has them in an abundance...
Mohsin Ali: Exactly. To the naked eye a product can be simple only when you analyse and look closely do you see the really beauty, the real greatness. This is what interests me most about design.
SS: The label lives by three main rules; form, fabric and function...
Mohsin Ali: Exactly, it is all about shape, detail and fabric. Sometimes People can question your work when it is a simple product because there is little appliance to distract. Your shape, detailing and finish all have to be right. There is nowhere to hide with this type of design. Everything has to be there for a reason.
SS: Throughout each piece you've experimented with shape and fabric. Could you talk us through the silhouette and your love of fabric.
Mohsin Ali: I've always loved the interplay between narrow and oversized garments. The shapes come from there really. I wanted to keep it simple and actually once you break it down the shapes are simple but I've experiment with fabric.
I do love great fabric. If I had my way, I would source them all from here but unfortunately it is not possible. A lot of the wools are from here and Italy, the more technical fabrics come from Italy and all of my jerseys come from a mill in Yorkshire.
SS: Local manufacture is an important facet of the label. How difficult was it to produce the collection here in the UK?
Mohsin Ali: The first challenge is that I want to continue English manufacturing, the industry is here and I want to use it for as long a possible. It was great working with the factories for this collection, some of the elements of the collection were fine and others were more difficult. Throughout the collection, I wanted to explore cut and a number of the pieces are technically difficult. We are in a manufacturing age in the UK where a number of the factories do not offer laser cutting facilities, here it is all done by hand. More costly but the results are fantastic.
SS: Who is the Mohsin Ali man? How would you like to see men buy the collection?
Mohsin Ali: Ideally, I would like men to buy it piece by piece to build a collection. I'm hoping that it becomes a product that is timeless that could be worn for years and years. I'd like to walk in to a store and see it alongside the likes of Raf and Jil Sander because those are the brands I love but I would like people to come in just for my designs. Ultimately, I want people to appreciate it. For stores to pick it up and for people to buy it and wear it.
SS: How has the reaction been to your collection?
Mohsin Ali: It has been great. So many people have remarked that it doesn't look like a first collection and it shouldn't do. I'm thirty five years old and I've worked in the industry for a number of years but still, I'm pleased with the finish of this collection.
SS: This is the eve of Menswear Day at LFW, moving forward a season two down the line, would you like to show as part of the day?
Mohsin Ali: At the moment, I'd rather create an amazing installation rather than a catwalk show. When you are younger, all you want to do is show on a catwalk but now, I've got amazing ideas for installations. There are artists who I would love to bring in and I've begun to think about how I would love to display the pieces.
SS: Finally, what would you like to achieve in 2011?
Mohsin Ali: I want to make it even more sophisticated next season. For SS12, I've been inspired by Zaha Hadid, both in terms of her architecture and her philosophy to design. I'm already excited.
The format of the Showroom Next Door allowed me to inspect, touch and marvel and each piece. Ali's approach might appear simple at first glance but it is multifaceted and detail rich. Below are just a few of the details that caught my eye...
"To the naked eye a product can be simple, only when you analyse and look closely do you see the really beauty"