Fashion in Motion: Interview with Osman Yousefzada
Interviewer: So Osman Yousefzada ...
Interviewer: Hello and thanks for joining us here at the V&A on a special day for us because this is our first live broadcast and your first catwalk show at the V&A. I know that you're especially fond of the V&A - I read somewhere that you live nearby and also that you come here regularly - so it's quintessentially London ...
Osman: I come here nearly every week. There's always things that I notice all the time. It's like a complete treasure trove. I know a lot of the pieces off by heart in the hall of fame - in the fashion room to some of the sculptures - it's a complete treasure trove, basically, that's been unfolding in the 15-odd years that I've been in London.
Interviewer: Fantastic. OK. This is rather a long journey for you - I read that your mother was a dressmaker and you learnt to cut when you were young.
Osman: It was a family business, basically, so we all had to muck in ... not child labour, but not far off it. All our spare time was actually ... we were occupied on that, so there wasn't much time out to see the sun and play, to some extent. But ... that's probably a bit of an exaggeration ... but I enjoyed it more than anything else. It was everything that I wanted to do. I used to go out and buy all the chiffons, match all the brocades, do all the errands, do some of the deliveries and stuff like that.
Interviewer: You're from an Afghan background, is that right?
Osman: My parents are from Aghanistan. My father is from Pakistan. My mother is from Aghanistan.
Interviewer: You grew up in Birmingham?
Osman: I was born in Birmingham and I grew up there.
Interviewer: Those were the kind of clothes you were making then?
Osman: Yes, they were ... my mother was actually doing very ornate work basically, so she'd actually service the Asian community. On top of that she was doing embroidered panels for a wedding shop in Birmingham. So it was quite detailed, quite focussed work, very craft oriented.
Interviewer: That's what you wanted to do, I'm guessing or that was where your interests lay, but that's not what your first career choice was. So how did you end up ... where did you go first?
Osman: I came to London to study at St Martin's so ... it's a craft that I've always had with me. Then I ended up doing something a little bit more academic.
Interviewer: So you went and studied at Cambridge? Is that right? What did you study?
Interviewer: So were you planning to be a fashion designer at that point?
Osman: I was always doing artistic stuff. I was always doing ... basically I was running a club in Cambridge ... I was always doing the odd art class and bits and pieces so it was like a continual journey ... Then I went back ... because I'd dropped out basically in 1992 from St Martin's and then I went back. I finished in 2005 and then the same year I launched Osman.
Interviewer: You launched your own label straight away? Had you found your voice as a fashion designer at that point?
Osman: I think that I was probably a bit older than the average ... so what interests me to some extent ... as a city boy watching old black and white Hollywood films ... a little bit of escapism. I always loved that element of drama ... There's still a very kitsch part of me because everything that my mother did do is craft oriented ... there's a part that I always have to rein back in, to stop me going a bit crazy and to stick to form and structure and stripping away everything and just making it very pure.
Interviewer: I know you've talked about your sources being hugely diverse ... actually a lot of the stuff that you find here ... a very diverse kind of ethnic ... everything from the sari to Samurai armour.
Osman: I basically focus on a piece of detailing ... whether it's a Masai necklace or stitchwork in Samurai armour or bits of panelling in Samurai armour or the way a drape is actually captured and I give it a voice in tailoring really ... I manipulate that drape or that stitch or that cut and make it very tailored, so it has an effortless feel to it.
Interviewer: I've heard that you spend a lot of time standing in front of a bathroom mirror in a bath towel to get the effect of drapes. Is that true or not?
Osman: I do. Probably once or twice a week.
Interviewer: How does that help? Is it looking at the way the fabric falls or what?
Osman: I really want to were a dress! I don't know ... yes, the way a fabric falls, the way you can manipulate something. It's never exactly the same because I work in light materials so the fold is much more exaggerated in a fluffy bath towel so when you put it in a jersey or you put it in a lighter silk or something like that, it actually takes a different form altogether, but it gives you a nice basis to actually work with.
Interviewer: I know that you got a lot of recognition for the little black dress range that you've done a few years ago. What have been the key moments for you in the past five years - because it's only five years since you started?
Osman: It's coming up to five. Key moments ... I don't know ... I'm always glass half empty ... it's never enough, I'm a perfectionist. It can always be better ... but amazing support in the industry from a lot of editors ... it's been fantastic actually ... and the buyers and the stores ...
Interviewer: This must be an exciting moment for you to be invited here to the V&A to do a Fashion in Motion. Obviously some amazing designers have had that honour.
Osman: It's an absolute honour, basically. Offering to be here in the Raphael Gallery, to bring your work to a wider audience ... also putting your body of work over the last four-odd years and picking out your best pieces and trying to make it have a signature and a statement running throughout all of that work, it's been quite an interesting exercise as well.
Interviewer: So what we've got today is a retrospective of the past four and a half years?
Osman: Four and a half years of work, yes.
Interviewer: Are there things that we should be looking out for in the collection as they come down the catwalk. What are your favourite pieces?
Osman: The wire cage around the bust, the baby doll dress, the cocoon dress, the jersey drape dresses ... they're all signature ... there's a white section, a black section, then it goes into colour and ends a little bit randomly ... you'll have to edit that part!
Interviewer: You said, interestingly, that your work is characteristically British. I'm interested in that idea ...
Osman: Not necessarily British ... I think it has a colonial feel to it, to some extent. It has an idea of fusion. When you normally get ethnicities ... ethnicities are always done in either in a boho way or ... like a chic traveller who wears an ethnic scarf with a denim jacket or ... it becomes quite literal, like a maharaja walking down or an African queen walking down the catwalk. So ... you've had fusion in food ... I just basically take ideas of ethnicity and I give it a western silhouette to some extent ... in a way, that's what makes it quite fresh.
Interviewer: You're not satisfied with the V&A ... this is an amazing place to have reached, but you were saying the glass is always half empty, although the Raphael Gallery very much full - what's your next ambition?
Osman: I'll be back in the Raphael Gallery again! My next ambition ...
Interviewer: Have you got anything in the V&A collection yet?
Osman: Not yet, no. Maybe. We will see. I don't think you should tempt fate.
Interviewer: Do you have a favourite item in the V&A which you constantly go back to?
Osman: There's a Rei dress ... Rei Kawakubo ... and then there's an amazing Balenciaga piece, quite sculptural, quite similar to what you've touched on today.
Interviewer: Terrific. Thank you so much - really enjoyed it.
Osman: Thank you very much. Thank you.