2017 might be the peak of meme culture. No person — famous or not — is safe from virality; every single thing now has the potential to become a shareable moment. But in fashion, the rise of the internet, and how it translates into trends, has become even more polarizing. Now, brands themselves are challenging the industry's fear of change: Louis Vuitton is working with Supreme, and Balenciaga and Vetements are coopting company logos, turning them into chic-bait. As a result, artists on social media — women like Ava Nirui — are exploring how they can push the boundaries even further, not just through their work, but through their style.
Born in Sydney ("Australia is it's own bubble where fashion isn't really a thriving scene, or at least it wasn't when I was growing up," she says. "People didn't really take risks when it came down to style") and based in New York City, she's a writer, photographer, and object creator; a multi-hyphenate, the product of a digital generation. Most recently she was named Helmut Lang's social/digital editor, given the task of heading up its digital creative strategy for the brand's relaunch under Dazed editor-in-chief Isabella Burley. It's her personal work and style, though, and that's earned her recognition — and 181k Instagram followers.
"A few years back, a friend and I created a series of Barbies that were dressed in runway looks by gender-bending and boundary-pushing designers that we were drawn to, such as Jacquemus, Eckhaus Latta and Vetements," Nirui tells Refinery29 of the project that put her on the digital map. Bored with the traditional clothing that came with the doll, she and her collaborator Alex Lee looked at runway creations of designers they admired and decided to make their own. It was the precursor for what would later be described by The New York Times as "meta-cheeky reappropriation." "From there, I became interested in the idea of a 'faux collaboration' and the culture of repurposing. I was excited by the notion that you can update an item with iconography to give it sudden value, and that's when I started the bootleg project."
As a response to Vetements and its $700 hoodies, Nirui began creating her own riffs on the overpriced sweatshirt. She began fusing the Champion logo with designer names like Gucci, Moschino, and Balenciaga. (She even designed a custom green sweatshirt for Chance the Rapper). The response to the project, however, wasn't exactly positive, and she was accused of coopting luxury labels for profit.
"[The series] was widely misinterpreted, and really needed context for the correct message to be conveyed," she says, noting that the hoodies were meant to be a critique on the fashion industry, and how it perpetuates the idea that people will buy anything if it makes them seem cool. "It was purely a commentary on how sickly obsessed we are as a society with luxury and designer goods. The hoodies were a joke that went too far. I wasn't going to monetize off another brand's logo...that wasn't the point." Nirui sold the pieces in a 10-piece limited-edition run, but she insists the point of the project was for people inside the industry to step back and ask themselves: What is the appeal of these types of clothing, and why are we willing to spend close to $1K on something we could basically buy at our local Target? (For reference, the Vetements x Champion offering sold out almost immediately, so yes, the pieces were in high demand). "Conveying the message behind your work accurately is challenging," she notes. "People aren't always going to get it, but when they do that's super-rewarding."
While Nirui has commented on the excess of the industry, that doesn't mean she strays away from what's trending. She looks to designers like Matthew Adams Dolan, Simon Porte Jacquemus, Christopher Kane, J.W. Anderson, and Craig Green, among others, for inspiration, and considers how they tackle basic items, like a button-up or a pair of trousers, in a more creative and innovative way (see: unconventional hems, patterns, and cuts). "Clothes don't have to be worn the way they are intended," she says. "People need to be less afraid of wearing things 'incorrectly.' Clothes should be open to interpretation by the wearer." And one look at her Instagram — from a graphic tee paired with an oversized puffer coat and knee-high boots to an off-the-shoulder top worn under a structured shift dress — it's clear that her personal style is a reflection of that ethos.
In November 2016, Vogue described Nirui as having "an Instagram account that’s a logomaniac’s dream with a high-fashion, tongue-in-cheek twist." It turns out, however, that logos aren't actually her thing. "I don't really even wear that many logos," Nirui says, noting that logos explicitly tell the world who you are. She, however, prefers subtlety. "That was kind of an outside assumption from people who had seen my Instagram. I think my 'signature' piece that I wear most often is Air Force 1's — I wear them almost every day."
Beyond that, she insists she doesn't have a specific uniform, though it's clear she has a penchant for wide-legged pants and dad hats: "It's so corny to say my style is based on mood, but honestly, that's the truth," she adds. "Some days I just want to roll out of bed and throw on a hoodie and Levis, whereas other days where I'm feeling particularly inspired, I'll put in a little more effort."
Oftentimes people fear fashion, writing it off as exclusive, expensive, and complicated. But Nirui reminds the world that getting dressed each day doesn't need to be intimidating. Rather, her self-proclaimed "lazy" girl style is about pairing the wacky with the weird, the bright with the even brighter, and showing how one day, you can feel serious in a power suit, and the next you can feel sexy in a cut-out mini dress. She's dedicated to the fact that her look is a bit irreverent. Because when asked if there ever a moment where she was nervous about embracing her personal aesthetic, she simply replied: "Never. I always liked being different."