The World of Azura Lovisa: unified and guided by storytelling
How the designer explores otherness and gives precedence to histories that counter dominant narratives.

For me, the most poignant of works have often been the most personal. Given the universality of the human experience, it’s in discovering one’s perspective, or even recognizing traces of ourselves in another’s creations, that I feel often resonates with us the most. In considering the industry of fashion, there is no doubt that what we wear often tells the story of who we are — or who we want to become. In lying somewhere between the body and it’s self – or social – expression, it may even transcend all other forms, in being the most immediate. 

I find these attributes are central to the work of Azura Lovisa. As a Designer (and Brand Owner of the fashion label of the same name) she uses her own history and personal identity to redefine contemporary fashion from a critical postcolonial perspective. A melange of her background in Fine Arts and a multicultural upbringing are what inform her design work and research (which span across archives, folklore, postcolonial theory, and the esoteric). In conversing with the artist, I was eager to delve deeper into her personal expression, and unveil how her creations are particular to the experience of a Swedish-Malaysian woman growing up in Sweden, Miami, and London. Read on to find how her aesthetic, along with a distinct cultural expression, lie at the heart of Azura’s ingenuity. 

What were your initial motivations for starting the brand?

I wanted to start my own label because I’ve found that fashion is a medium where I can explore concepts in a dynamic way that opens up the narrative beyond what I have to say as an artist. Through the participation of others, it becomes a conversation, and exchange between the creator and those who wear the creations. Meanings are transformed and unpredictable variables intervene as the garment is integrated into the lives of others. Fashion allows us to engage with lived realities in a physical, material way that begins with the individual and then ripples outwards. I approach fashion as an extension of anthropology, ethnography, sociology and that’s what makes it so compelling to me. 

My graduate collection was created as I was writing my dissertation, which discussed Malaysia’s postcolonial identity, the effect of Orientalism on culture and aesthetics, and hybridity as an essential characteristic of postcoloniality. That research altered my perspective on everything and helped me navigate my Malaysian heritage, which I had always felt quite alienated from as a mixed-race person; I wanted to explore hybridity as the driving force in my work, simultaneously the lens and the condition being examined. Starting my own label seemed like the only way I could fully commit to that approach to design. 

One of the first things that drew me to your Instagram page was the archival curation of images, which included garments and photos from 1950/60’s Malaysia. I later found that your designs also draw inspiration from your own family archives. In light of this, I’m interested to learn of what ways you seek to stimulate alternative approaches to heritage through your label?

I hope to help stimulate progress by looking to non-Western aesthetic heritage as the starting point for a re-evaluation of what fashion history and thus fashion futures can be. In shifting the focus to marginalized cultures in a way that acknowledges the effects of colonialism and globalization, we can explore otherness without fetishizing it, and investigate the full depth and complexity of source material rather than reducing it to ephemeral exotic inspiration. Intention is integral to transforming fashion into something truly international and inclusive; we have to be more aware of history as a Western construct that is not entirely objective, and acknowledge that it has been written in a way that often leaves the marginalized out of the narrative and demonstrates immense imbalances of power. 

That’s why in my own work, by looking to my own family archives and paying attention to oral histories and lived memory, I give precedence to histories that counter dominant narratives. In my experience, we are rarely exposed to non-Western aesthetic histories in our fashion education, nor in the fashion houses, in a way that is nuanced and uncorrupted by Eurocentric values, yet cultural appropriation is rampant. These Western imitations of foreign styles are always superficial and one-dimensional; it reflects how little value is assigned to seriously examining the aesthetics of non-Western cultures, while the classical European canon remains an inexhaustible source of inspiration.

While western fashion is ubiquitous, with jeans, t-shirts, and suits functioning as the uniform of the world, as in neutral or orderless, the rest of the world’s traditional dress is considered alien, antiquated, and incompatible with the contemporary everyday.

We should form new critiques of systems of cultural production, recognizing fashion as a vital engine driving culture. As designers we can use our platforms to displace and decenter Eurocentric aesthetics, and instead promote alterity and hybridity in the ways we see and create.

I find this particularly fascinating as I feel the most poignant of work is often the most personal. Could you also tell us more about the conceptualization of Azura Lovisa as an extension of yourself?  (i.e your own cultural heritage and how you combine this inspiration with your creative direction/design)

I wanted to approach Southeast Asian heritage in full acknowledgement of my position as a mixed-race Eurasian living in the West. Rather than feeling I couldn’t represent my Malaysian heritage by nature of some inherent “impurity,” I decided to assert this as the differentiating perspective of my brand.  

Investigating Malaysian heritage, which is an amazing, chaotic convergence of multiple ethnicities, religions, and cultures, via my family archive allowed me to locate myself in the story, to orient myself within a complex and ever evolving cultural tapestry. And yet, everything I interpret is affected by my identity as a Swedish-born, Miami-raised individual. I think the Scandinavian design sense is always there; clean lines, balance, a sense of naturalism, and materials with integrity – these are very Swedish values. This hybridity really is a direct reflection of my experience as a person, and in that sense it is always evolving as I do. 

We belong to a generation that has been nurtured through displacement, globalization, but also notions of our own dual-identities that influence our creative work. What interests me about your label is the creation of this aesthetic style, which seeks to unite contemporary garments with elements of traditional Thai silk for instance. Why was this so essential to you? 

I think if we want to keep traditional crafts alive and avoid preserving them as some static thing, it’s important to honor the potential of those art forms to evolve and take on new lives. The notion of the “Orient”, the tropics as outside of modernity, stuck in time and resistant to progress, is a dangerous and false concept which took root in the colonial era and has proven almost impossible to shake loose. 

There is so much to communicate through traditional crafts; textiles, for one, carry so much history and information about the people who made it, and there are often strict rules that determine what certain cloths mean based on their weave pattern. There are mythologies and timelines woven into every length of fabric. But perhaps if we can extend the reach of these narratives into new contexts, these art forms can evolve in unexpected ways.

Today the physical product is less important than its currency as a visual idea, transmitted via the internet, Instagram etc. Fashion is less about clothes and more about projections – vivid fantasies for our short attention spans. We should harness that attention wisely. For me that means giving precedence to underrepresented aesthetic histories and forms.

Fashion directly involves much of the world’s developing countries in production, from artisanal weaving to sewing in factories. The cycle of inspiration, production, consumption, and the eventual return of reinterpreted Westernized forms to source communities via the trickle-down effect, spins a complex web of interconnected systems. We all should be more conscious of the origins of our clothes, more aware of the hands they pass through. Much like we understand the importance of demanding ethical working conditions for those who make our clothes, I think it’s important to support the crafts and heritage of world cultures by elevating diverse aesthetic modes and resisting fashion’s tendencies toward homogenous Eurocentric styles as it becomes ever more globalized.

Through fashion we trace the links between people, commerce, culture and identity, and if fashion continues to prioritize Western aesthetics, while reaching farther to reach emerging markets in Asia, the Middle East, etc, it is simply perpetuating the same old patterns of imperialist cultural control.

xtBTN2-7f522a_9e432a2c7d9248cea51a2a96d515da035

From a business perspective, how does your experience of starting your own label compare to your expectations before embracing this journey?

I’ve had to learn to consider the life of the garment once it leaves my studio – accepting that I am not in control of how the designs will be interpreted nor of whether the narrative I have built up around the work will have any value to the consumer. I’ve learned the importance of designing pieces to last, clothes that will have sentimental appeal and make people proud to own them. Above all, I have learned that the clothes are not about me or my ideas at all – the clothes are for others, and it’s about creating objects that will transform some small aspect of their lives, that will make them feel something when they wear them. I’ve had to let go a little bit and allow things to evolve more naturally, be more open to change and collaboration. In the end, fashion is a business, and it has challenged me to find a way of communicating my vision in a way that is adaptable to the real world without compromising key values.  

What advice would you offer to aspiring creatives who aim to establish their own brand?

Be very sure about what your message is, what your values are, and do not waver. Integrity matters; if you end up losing what makes your brand unique in order to chase sales and pander to what is popular in the moment, you’ll fall out of love with your work.

Slow growth, building a solid brand identity, knowing what your goals are, and not being discouraged by a lack of response or disappointing sales is crucial. It will not be easy and it will be very emotionally taxing to stand by your work even if you are not getting the support you need or not being met by the enthusiasm you hoped for. It is an uphill battle, so if you are going to pursue it, make sure you’re in it because you need to, because you can’t in good conscience leave what is inside you unsaid. 

Collaborate with people whose vision you believe in! Don’t just aim to rise up vertically, but expand horizontally: work with your peers and support each other, build a strong network and realize your visions together. You can’t do it alone. 

Finally, what are your future aspirations for Azura Lovisa? 

Coming up this summer I’m releasing a capsule collection of ready-to-wear pieces featuring key looks from across past collections in beautiful new handwoven Indian silks. I’ll be launching that via a visual and audio collaboration with London’s Touching Bass, a musical movement, club night, and record label emphasizing soulful music and community. With the ethos “movement is freedom,” Touching Bass recognizes the potential of club nights to act as sanctuaries, and we hope to recreate something of that magic via a digital event. 

As for long term aspirations, I would love to slowly and steadily establish Azura Lovisa into what I hope will be a leading brand in slow fashion, while keeping the company lean and collections concise, and also to build a core community around the brand that engages with and expands the ideas I’m exploring.

As the brand grows, I’d like to involve even more Southeast Asian communities, craftspeople, and weavers to collaborate in the creation of my collections. I want to work with socially responsible creative initiatives that provide autonomy and support to the makers, in turn enabling them to care for their own community and environment. The (distant) dream would be to one day have our own farm in Malaysia practicing regenerative agriculture and native methods to grow plants used for local traditional textiles such as banana fibers, bamboo fiber, and ramie. But there’s so much infrastructure to establish and groundwork to do before that all can become a reality.

I also plan to extend into film, writing and publishing, art exhibitions, curation and programming, other areas of design, and social missions – all unified and guided by the brand’s ethos. I plan to publish a book annually to accompany the collections and offer more insight into the research as well as inviting contributors to expand on ideas with writing and artworks. I’m excited to collaborate with artists, writers, researchers, curators, and performers to expand the world of Azura Lovisa into new dimensions. I’d like to build a research database and educational platform where the brand’s inspirations and references can live on, and invite my audience to explore and contribute.

The World of Azura Lovisa: unified and guided by storytelling
How the designer explores otherness and gives precedence to histories that counter dominant narratives.

For me, the most poignant of works have often been the most personal. Given the universality of the human experience, it’s in discovering one’s perspective, or even recognizing traces of ourselves in another’s creations, that I feel often resonates with us the most. In considering the industry of fashion, there is no doubt that what we wear often tells the story of who we are — or who we want to become. In lying somewhere between the body and it’s self – or social – expression, it may even transcend all other forms, in being the most immediate. 

I find these attributes are central to the work of Azura Lovisa. As a Designer (and Brand Owner of the fashion label of the same name) she uses her own history and personal identity to redefine contemporary fashion from a critical postcolonial perspective. A melange of her background in Fine Arts and a multicultural upbringing are what inform her design work and research (which span across archives, folklore, postcolonial theory, and the esoteric). In conversing with the artist, I was eager to delve deeper into her personal expression, and unveil how her creations are particular to the experience of a Swedish-Malaysian woman growing up in Sweden, Miami, and London. Read on to find how her aesthetic, along with a distinct cultural expression, lie at the heart of Azura’s ingenuity. 

What were your initial motivations for starting the brand?

I wanted to start my own label because I’ve found that fashion is a medium where I can explore concepts in a dynamic way that opens up the narrative beyond what I have to say as an artist. Through the participation of others, it becomes a conversation, and exchange between the creator and those who wear the creations. Meanings are transformed and unpredictable variables intervene as the garment is integrated into the lives of others. Fashion allows us to engage with lived realities in a physical, material way that begins with the individual and then ripples outwards. I approach fashion as an extension of anthropology, ethnography, sociology and that’s what makes it so compelling to me. 

My graduate collection was created as I was writing my dissertation, which discussed Malaysia’s postcolonial identity, the effect of Orientalism on culture and aesthetics, and hybridity as an essential characteristic of postcoloniality. That research altered my perspective on everything and helped me navigate my Malaysian heritage, which I had always felt quite alienated from as a mixed-race person; I wanted to explore hybridity as the driving force in my work, simultaneously the lens and the condition being examined. Starting my own label seemed like the only way I could fully commit to that approach to design. 

One of the first things that drew me to your Instagram page was the archival curation of images, which included garments and photos from 1950/60’s Malaysia. I later found that your designs also draw inspiration from your own family archives. In light of this, I’m interested to learn of what ways you seek to stimulate alternative approaches to heritage through your label?

I hope to help stimulate progress by looking to non-Western aesthetic heritage as the starting point for a re-evaluation of what fashion history and thus fashion futures can be. In shifting the focus to marginalized cultures in a way that acknowledges the effects of colonialism and globalization, we can explore otherness without fetishizing it, and investigate the full depth and complexity of source material rather than reducing it to ephemeral exotic inspiration. Intention is integral to transforming fashion into something truly international and inclusive; we have to be more aware of history as a Western construct that is not entirely objective, and acknowledge that it has been written in a way that often leaves the marginalized out of the narrative and demonstrates immense imbalances of power. 

That’s why in my own work, by looking to my own family archives and paying attention to oral histories and lived memory, I give precedence to histories that counter dominant narratives. In my experience, we are rarely exposed to non-Western aesthetic histories in our fashion education, nor in the fashion houses, in a way that is nuanced and uncorrupted by Eurocentric values, yet cultural appropriation is rampant. These Western imitations of foreign styles are always superficial and one-dimensional; it reflects how little value is assigned to seriously examining the aesthetics of non-Western cultures, while the classical European canon remains an inexhaustible source of inspiration.

While western fashion is ubiquitous, with jeans, t-shirts, and suits functioning as the uniform of the world, as in neutral or orderless, the rest of the world’s traditional dress is considered alien, antiquated, and incompatible with the contemporary everyday.

We should form new critiques of systems of cultural production, recognizing fashion as a vital engine driving culture. As designers we can use our platforms to displace and decenter Eurocentric aesthetics, and instead promote alterity and hybridity in the ways we see and create.

I find this particularly fascinating as I feel the most poignant of work is often the most personal. Could you also tell us more about the conceptualization of Azura Lovisa as an extension of yourself?  (i.e your own cultural heritage and how you combine this inspiration with your creative direction/design)

I wanted to approach Southeast Asian heritage in full acknowledgement of my position as a mixed-race Eurasian living in the West. Rather than feeling I couldn’t represent my Malaysian heritage by nature of some inherent “impurity,” I decided to assert this as the differentiating perspective of my brand.  

Investigating Malaysian heritage, which is an amazing, chaotic convergence of multiple ethnicities, religions, and cultures, via my family archive allowed me to locate myself in the story, to orient myself within a complex and ever evolving cultural tapestry. And yet, everything I interpret is affected by my identity as a Swedish-born, Miami-raised individual. I think the Scandinavian design sense is always there; clean lines, balance, a sense of naturalism, and materials with integrity – these are very Swedish values. This hybridity really is a direct reflection of my experience as a person, and in that sense it is always evolving as I do. 

We belong to a generation that has been nurtured through displacement, globalization, but also notions of our own dual-identities that influence our creative work. What interests me about your label is the creation of this aesthetic style, which seeks to unite contemporary garments with elements of traditional Thai silk for instance. Why was this so essential to you? 

I think if we want to keep traditional crafts alive and avoid preserving them as some static thing, it’s important to honor the potential of those art forms to evolve and take on new lives. The notion of the “Orient”, the tropics as outside of modernity, stuck in time and resistant to progress, is a dangerous and false concept which took root in the colonial era and has proven almost impossible to shake loose. 

There is so much to communicate through traditional crafts; textiles, for one, carry so much history and information about the people who made it, and there are often strict rules that determine what certain cloths mean based on their weave pattern. There are mythologies and timelines woven into every length of fabric. But perhaps if we can extend the reach of these narratives into new contexts, these art forms can evolve in unexpected ways.

Today the physical product is less important than its currency as a visual idea, transmitted via the internet, Instagram etc. Fashion is less about clothes and more about projections – vivid fantasies for our short attention spans. We should harness that attention wisely. For me that means giving precedence to underrepresented aesthetic histories and forms.

Fashion directly involves much of the world’s developing countries in production, from artisanal weaving to sewing in factories. The cycle of inspiration, production, consumption, and the eventual return of reinterpreted Westernized forms to source communities via the trickle-down effect, spins a complex web of interconnected systems. We all should be more conscious of the origins of our clothes, more aware of the hands they pass through. Much like we understand the importance of demanding ethical working conditions for those who make our clothes, I think it’s important to support the crafts and heritage of world cultures by elevating diverse aesthetic modes and resisting fashion’s tendencies toward homogenous Eurocentric styles as it becomes ever more globalized.

Through fashion we trace the links between people, commerce, culture and identity, and if fashion continues to prioritize Western aesthetics, while reaching farther to reach emerging markets in Asia, the Middle East, etc, it is simply perpetuating the same old patterns of imperialist cultural control.

xtBTN2-7f522a_9e432a2c7d9248cea51a2a96d515da035

From a business perspective, how does your experience of starting your own label compare to your expectations before embracing this journey?

I’ve had to learn to consider the life of the garment once it leaves my studio – accepting that I am not in control of how the designs will be interpreted nor of whether the narrative I have built up around the work will have any value to the consumer. I’ve learned the importance of designing pieces to last, clothes that will have sentimental appeal and make people proud to own them. Above all, I have learned that the clothes are not about me or my ideas at all – the clothes are for others, and it’s about creating objects that will transform some small aspect of their lives, that will make them feel something when they wear them. I’ve had to let go a little bit and allow things to evolve more naturally, be more open to change and collaboration. In the end, fashion is a business, and it has challenged me to find a way of communicating my vision in a way that is adaptable to the real world without compromising key values.  

What advice would you offer to aspiring creatives who aim to establish their own brand?

Be very sure about what your message is, what your values are, and do not waver. Integrity matters; if you end up losing what makes your brand unique in order to chase sales and pander to what is popular in the moment, you’ll fall out of love with your work.

Slow growth, building a solid brand identity, knowing what your goals are, and not being discouraged by a lack of response or disappointing sales is crucial. It will not be easy and it will be very emotionally taxing to stand by your work even if you are not getting the support you need or not being met by the enthusiasm you hoped for. It is an uphill battle, so if you are going to pursue it, make sure you’re in it because you need to, because you can’t in good conscience leave what is inside you unsaid. 

Collaborate with people whose vision you believe in! Don’t just aim to rise up vertically, but expand horizontally: work with your peers and support each other, build a strong network and realize your visions together. You can’t do it alone. 

Finally, what are your future aspirations for Azura Lovisa? 

Coming up this summer I’m releasing a capsule collection of ready-to-wear pieces featuring key looks from across past collections in beautiful new handwoven Indian silks. I’ll be launching that via a visual and audio collaboration with London’s Touching Bass, a musical movement, club night, and record label emphasizing soulful music and community. With the ethos “movement is freedom,” Touching Bass recognizes the potential of club nights to act as sanctuaries, and we hope to recreate something of that magic via a digital event. 

As for long term aspirations, I would love to slowly and steadily establish Azura Lovisa into what I hope will be a leading brand in slow fashion, while keeping the company lean and collections concise, and also to build a core community around the brand that engages with and expands the ideas I’m exploring.

As the brand grows, I’d like to involve even more Southeast Asian communities, craftspeople, and weavers to collaborate in the creation of my collections. I want to work with socially responsible creative initiatives that provide autonomy and support to the makers, in turn enabling them to care for their own community and environment. The (distant) dream would be to one day have our own farm in Malaysia practicing regenerative agriculture and native methods to grow plants used for local traditional textiles such as banana fibers, bamboo fiber, and ramie. But there’s so much infrastructure to establish and groundwork to do before that all can become a reality.

I also plan to extend into film, writing and publishing, art exhibitions, curation and programming, other areas of design, and social missions – all unified and guided by the brand’s ethos. I plan to publish a book annually to accompany the collections and offer more insight into the research as well as inviting contributors to expand on ideas with writing and artworks. I’m excited to collaborate with artists, writers, researchers, curators, and performers to expand the world of Azura Lovisa into new dimensions. I’d like to build a research database and educational platform where the brand’s inspirations and references can live on, and invite my audience to explore and contribute.

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