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Grime, Trackies and Parties: Nasir Mazhar Is Everything British Fashion Should Be

We visited his studio ahead of tomorrow's SS15 womenswear collection.

by Dean Kissick
12 September 2014, 3:17pm

Nasir Mazhar in his studio (Photo by Will Coutts)

“My taste in music all came from my older brother. I remember bringing in jungle tapes when I started secondary school,” smiles Nasir Mazhar, the young designer from Leytonstone whose fashion world track record includes having Darq E Freaker DJ a London Fashion Week presentation while showcasing tracksuits to the assembled throng of international high-end buyers.

“I was well into jungle, happy hardcore, drum ‘n’ bass – those “World Dance” and “Helter Skelter” tape packs – and then R&B as well,” he continues. “At school, all the girls used to, like, hang out and sing along, and the boys… the boys would do whatever.”

Backstage at Nasir's AW14 women's collection (Photo by Piczo)

The first time I saw a Nasir Mazhar collection was three years ago, on the way up to the old Eurostar platform at Waterloo Station, which had been transformed into a catwalk for LFW. He was concentrating on his millinery at the time and had been assigned a small space by the exit for a presentation of his headwear, which he decided to turn into a massive sound-system.

Shystie and Lioness were MCing in and among a mob of street-cast boys and girls, who were slouched over speaker stacks and wearing all sorts of preposterous hats, from candy-coloured pom-pom headbands to menacing ski masks sculpted out of cut-up Air Jordans. It was noisy and exciting, and the sort of thing you’d never see in Paris, Milan or New York. Really, it showed a side of the fashion industry that I wasn’t aware existed.

Nasir’s now expanded beyond millinery and into full clothing collections. Even though his aesthetic – a uniform for the sportswear club kids of some alternate, visionary dimension – is very different to anything you’d see on the cover of Vogue, he still has plenty of backing from all the right people.

You can usually spot a Nasir collection from all the belly buttons and “Nasir Mazhar” monogrammed underwear on show. Some of the menswear looks like it was commissioned by Hype Williams for a homoerotic boy-band video; some of the womenswear looks like slutty basketball fetish-wear for strippers. It’s really like nothing else on the catwalk.

Nasir at his and Skepta's Metropolis party (Photo courtesy of i-D)

After showing his most recent menswear collection, 25-year-old Nasir threw an after-party at Hackney’s sparkly Metropolis Strip Club with Skepta, who worked with him on the show’s music and even walked the runway. This Saturday he’s showing his SS15 womenswear collection, and you should expect a lot of incredibly real girls marching down the catwalk, as well as an exclusive Faze Miyake soundtrack.

Although he’s now selling tracksuits for almost £2,000 to the likes of Rihanna – who has a pink terrycloth one – Nasir started life as a normal London kid, a Turkish-Cypriot lad from Leytonstone who played a lot of football and still supports Tottenham. He went to Tom Hood School, whose alumni includes Bobby Moore and Chronik, and never had aspirations to be a fashion designer while he was growing up.

Before his parents had to leave Cyprus because of the war, Nasir says his dad’s sister “used to make clothes, so they used to put on little fashion shows in the village that my mum would model in”. He’s hardly from a family of fashion royalty, but his mum worked as a seamstress for many years and his dad was once involved in the textiles industry. Now, he’s running his own clothing empire from a couple of adjoining rooms.

(Photo by Will Coutts)

The design studio is mixed in with a warren of other studios and artist-run spaces arranged around a couple of yards and alleyways in Stoke Newington. It’s a warm summer evening when I arrive, so everyone’s doors and windows are open. Nasir’s space feels strangely calm and organised, though everyone there assures me it’s usually not. There’s club music chiming quietly out of the speakers, Chinese decorations hanging from the ceiling and rolls of “Nasir Mazhar” branded ribbon on the floor. One wall’s papered in printouts of classic Air Jordans for inspiration, and there are cats wandering around all over the place.

“You know at 14 you have to do work experience?” Nasir says, when I ask him how and why his fashion career started. “I went to Vidal Sassoon – to Knightsbridge, to the salon – and when I went there then I was like, ‘Wow.’ It was crazy there. It was a different style to what I was used to, growing up in Leytonstone. They sponsored fashion week at the time, and there were really extravagant, really nuts people. I’d never been to Knightsbridge, I’d never mixed with those sorts...”

Nasir and Skepta's Metropolis party (Photo courtesy of i-D)

After school, Nasir trained as a hairdresser at Vidal Sassoon, then started working in a salon, before designing hats and eventually clothing. His collections are a celebration of London style; or at least what London style was back when skinny jeans were only for emo kids and Pete Doherty fanboys.

“I look at everyone – what everyone’s wearing,” he says. “I always thought it was weird – like, no road man would ever, ever, ever, ever wear Converse trainers. And when I started to see them wearing that, I thought, ‘What is going on? Why aren't you wearing a pair of, like, Air Max 110s?’”

He’s laughing now. “I thought, ‘That’s not right. That’s not right!’ Style’s started to change, and everyone’s started to morph into the same.”

Backstage at Nasir's AW14 menswear collection (Photo by Piczo)

At this point we’re smoking a joint in the middle of a pitch-dark Springfield Park in Upper Clapton, and conversation starts to wander further into the mid-2000s, back to its talking Vicky Pollard dolls and ASBO hoodie bans. “All of a sudden you weren’t allowed to go into shopping centres because you wore a hoodie,” Nasir recalls.

“If you wore a tracksuit, that whole look was completely discarded and branded as chav culture, and everything that came along with that fucking word ‘chav’ was like cheap, trashy, slutty, slobby, common. There’s nothing good about being called a chav, so why would anyone want to look like that? That look was ripped to pieces, and it kind of worked – now you can’t tell who’s who any more.”

Working on the SS15 collection in Nasir's studio

Nasir wants to show how stylish tracksuits can be; not just those that he designs, but any that look tasty worn the right way. He’s designing clothes for his friends – the people who inspire his collections – rather than faraway millionaires, and his shows always feature friends, and friends of friends, in addition to the usual gaggle of models, all cast impeccably. Some of his interns have walked in his show, as has his sister.

Above all, these are clothes for late nights out in London, a world that first opened up for Nasir at a pub in Leytonstone with a 2AM license. “More Fire Crew played there… they used to have all sorts playing there, and that was the closest to a club we’d come at 16. That was garage – 100 percent garage – and nothing else. When that closed we used to go to Warehouse in Edmonton, off the A406. Literally, it’s a warehouse in the middle of this industrial estate. That was open until 6 I think, and that was 100 percent garage as well.”

Video from the Metropolis party by i-D

This summer, Nasir threw his own rave with Skepta – alongside other grime legends like D Double E, Footsie, Preditah and Jammer, younger artists like Novelist and Swindle, and US club DJs Kingdom and Venus X – right after his menswear show. They chartered three coaches to take everyone straight to the strip club, ordered a massive Caribbean takeaway from Peppers and Spice, and threw a fashion party like none I’ve ever been to. MCs swapped verses onstage, topless male models squeezed through the crowd, strippers gyrated upside-down with rolled-up notes stuffed into their Nasir Mazhar knickers (Nasir and Skepta cast the girls themselves on a more ordinary night out at Metropolis) and even the stripper car wash on the mezzanine was emblazoned with the Nasir logo.

Now he’s talking about the next party and how he hopes to turn it into a regular night. “You need a sick line-up of DJs and MCs – proper hype MCs. All the staff would be styled up and everyone would be decked out – the door staff, the cloakroom staff, the bar staff, the dancers; I’d definitely have podium dancers to get everyone going,” he says. “That’s all you need for a party. That, and a really good vibe, because it’s about togetherness when you go clubbing, innit. Maybe going out has lost that a bit. People aren’t so into one scene any more.”

Nasir and Skepta's Metropolis party (Photo courtesy of i-D)

With that I say goodbye to Nasir, but a couple of days later I spot him at Rinse FM’s 20th birthday party at Fabric, running through the crowd to catch Princess Nokia perform. She’s bouncing around the stage in a shiny Nasir Mazhar crop-top and matching pink trackie bottoms. It’s a thrilling mix of music and fashion, and sexy, too.

Really, Nasir’s a designer who’s not only making clothes but also building a whole culture and nightlife around them for himself, his friends and anyone who wants in. Everything stems from a real passion for what it’s like to live in Britain today – what it was like to grow up in Leytonstone and what we can make of our vibrant youth culture if we put the time in.

“All that world – all those things I was into – you never thought of those things as fashion or art, or whatever,” he explains. “That those clothes are fashionable, that the way you dance to dancehall music is art… that would never be said. And actually, do you know what it is? It is stylish, it is modern, it is new. It’s all those things that fashion claims to be.”

@deankissick

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