On Friday morning, the last day of Afterpay Australian Fashion Week (AAFW), the air was crisp. It was the sort of weather that demands a certain creativity to your layering as you catch freckles of sunlight. For the guests of Alix Higgins' sophomore collection, ‘Delectable Earth Shudder’, this meant baggy leather jackets over skin-tight nylon tanks, vibrant bikinis worn under sheer turtlenecks, and gradient-printed skirts paired with knee-high boots. The crowds at Carriageworks were seen wearing Higgins pieces all week, a testament to the chokehold the designer currently holds over the Sydney fashion scene.
Since his successful AAFW debut last year, a breathtakingly fresh runway of dystopia and romance, many have wondered what Higgins would dream up for his next collection. For the 29-year-old designer, this process begins from a place of emotion. A specific feeling that interacts with inspirations from cinema and music, which he fuses with poetic text through collages. These ideas eventually settle in the imagery of his prints and in the draping of his garments, like the answer to a burning question. “I don’t know where I would start otherwise,” he tells Refinery29 Australia.
This season, Higgins says he wanted to capture a “slow stroll through a magical forest”. A few months ago, he shared this concept with Joan Banoit, his close friend and bandmate who produced the hauntingly powerful runway soundtrack, ‘River Nessus’. Banoit himself opened the show, a very Higgins choice, as community and friendship are very much intertwined with his work.
This was also his second runway collaboration with stylist Charlotte Agnew and producer Zoe Davidson, though Higgins’ friendship with both creatives extends back years earlier. Other close friends that walked this season included Nina Treffkorn and Edward Woodley, co-owners of China Heights, the Surry Hills gallery that fosters a similar sense of community within the upcoming Sydney creative scene.
Higgins becomes sentimental when reflecting on his recent 29th birthday. “I looked around the room and was like ‘Wow, all of my friends are like artists, designers, stylists, musicians’”, he says. Having such an inspiring and like-minded circle sounds rare, yet to Higgins, it’s simple. “I’m just attracted to creative people and their way of thinking”, he shares. “And I think they’re attracted to me for the same reason.”
At this point, he started exploring the potential of up-cycling as a way to embrace imperfection this season. The process of reworking used materials will always lead to unique results in production, which Higgins sees as a necessary subversion of his previous practise of perfectionism. “Like that,” he points to my skirt, a Marine Serre piece, crafted from up-cycled sweaters. Quietly pleased, Higgins mentions his time working intimately with the French designer, often known as an “eco-futurist” for her successful integration of up-cycling in the high-end sector.
While Higgins is driven by a desire to make beautiful things for his friends, he is not immune to the weight of environmental anxieties and the nature of waste in his industry. “I’m very emotional. It’s always like that,” he blushes. “But this season in particular… it was tough”. Before starting this collection, Higgins’ received a pair of shorts with a hole in them — his first ever return. As they sat on his desk for months, he began to feel incredibly aware of the amount of “things” he was releasing into the world. He wondered, “How can I minimise my impact and also redirect my story into a more sustainable root?” In an industry dependant on consumerism, this question is difficult for any brand to answer.
Higgins is candid about his own limitations as a young designer, sharing that, “You just don’t have the sway. I can’t make the demands that Balenciaga can to the fabric mill”. In every production line, accidents that lead to flawed products are bound to arise. Yet Higgins saw this inevitability as an artistic opportunity.
But transforming waste into value is not an easy endeavour, particularly for Higgins, whose last collection was characterised by pristine nylon prints and garments. This season, he utilises the quintessential draping of his garment-making to breathe new life into old tees and polos. He describes a look worn by Gemma Cowling, a backwards blue polo paired with a fitted yellow midi skirt, as “the perfect marriage” between “an old shitty polo shirt” and his personal style. “That was the thing with those returned bike shorts as well,” he says. “It was like, how can I make prints and make garments that have that dirtiness? That [if] you get a little mark, it’s not going to be the end of that garment or that piece.”
In his exploration of extending and renewing the life of his garments, Higgins further hones in on his original mission as a designer — wearability. It was while working with Marine Serre that he developed an appreciation for commercialism, and he feels proud to see ordinary people find meaning and identity in his pieces.
This season, Higgins wanted his runway to reflect the way people really dress, to the point where he deliberately refused to steam his garments backstage. The potential of crinkles captured an authenticity that feels reminiscent of the beautifully frazzled and unkempt looks of Miu Miu’s AW23 show in Paris. To see this approach being brought to runways, a space previously held for perfection, feels exciting as a consumer.
“People just wanna throw something on,” Higgins says. “To tuck it in kind of badly, and like throw a scarf around your neck, have a little shopping bag and go.” As I watch the audience leave the show, oversized sunglasses and coats thrown over Higgins originals, it's clear that the designer is right on the money.