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Infinity and Beyond: The Stellar Rise of Vejas

AnOther previews the talented, Toronto-based designer's upcoming A/W16 collection, ahead of its Parisian debut next week

TextNatalie RiggPhotographic EditorHolly HayPhotographyJustin Aranha

On the satisfyingly discordant homepage of Vejas Kruszewski, sits a small scrolling quotation that reads as follows:

...I have never been remotely interested in looking like or being in any way a real girl. I don’t like the real girl thing. I believe in idealization for publications. People want to see aspirational images, read about aspirational lives. I don’t care about acceptance. I don’t want to project anything real. I want people to look at my beauty section and want to look like me, to buy the things I like. I want them to want to smell like me even though they can’t smell me through the computer. That’s the point. It’s beauty, babe!..” 

This is not, he insists, some kind of enigmatic manifesto, nor a sweeping statement of intent. “No, no, I just came across it on the internet and thought it was hilarious. This girl [controversial American writer Cat Marnell] just came out with this amazingly profound quote, and I loved it,” smirks the Canadian-born designer, adding “I’m all about aspirational thinking and perpetual improvement, so it’s kind of fitting actually”. 

At just 19 years of age, having established his namesake brand as a thrilling and progressive apex on New York Fashion Week’s hyper-commercialised schedule in just two short seasons, Kruszewski’s lofty aspirations appear to run in tandem with his potential. When we speak over a crackly phone line, the self-taught designer is in the midst of crafting his Autumn/Winter 2016 collection at his studio in Chinatown, Toronto. He sounds both frantic and upbeat at the prospect of wheeling out his newest offering. “This is the first time that we’ve ever actually produced some of the pieces in a factory professionally, and it’s all a little behind schedule,” he explains. “I’m happy with how the first drafts turned out, but it’s difficult to get just one thing absolutely perfect, which it should all be.”

So enthusiastic was the response to his last collection – comprised of worn leather jackets bound by curvaceous seams, floor-length jeans with peep-hole rivets and utility trousers cut to graze the navel – that he was swiftly approached from the buyers at cult department stores such as Liberty, Barney's New York and Japan’s famed Isetan boutique. “Yeah, it was great, but they all told me that I needed to broaden my product range, so this season I basically wanted to double the number of styles,” he reveals. “But, having said that, I would never put anything out there that I’m not 100% happy with, so if I have to trim out ten looks, I’d do it.”

“I’m all about aspirational thinking and perpetual improvement” – Vejas Kruszewski 

While commercial viability is an integral factor in the growth of a fledgling label such as Vejas, it certainly doesn’t sway Kruszewski’s creative focus or the painstaking intricacies that his genderless, signature creations require. “The challenge of turning a 2D drawing into a garment that fits the male and female body accurately is highly satisfying, especially since I don’t really know what I’m doing,” he laughs. “But, I always want the clothes to make a powerful visual statement, I guess people might be drawn to them because it’s all quite open-ended.”

'Open' is an important word in the Vejas lexicon. 'Open' best describes the inclusive nature that the label continues to convey with its smart-thinking, unisex garb and diplomatic casting of models, including transgender icon Hari Nef. “It’s funny, because I never issued a statement about gender. I don’t think of modern clothing as form-fitting necessarily, so you can say it’s genderless. This makes sense from a sales perspective too, because it allows the customer more choice. Whenever I go shopping, I usually buy from the women’s section. We shouldn’t be scared to stray in either direction,” he notes.

Could it simply be a coincidence then, that mixed-gender runway shows are becoming the new norm for global powerhouse brands such as Burberry, Saint Laurent and Gucci? “I mean, just in a wider sense, perhaps,” he says. “It’s interesting that such an established label such as Burberry, which isn’t the most creatively outgoing label, is responding to these ideals, whether they’re filtering down or bubbling up.”

"I never issued a statement about gender. I don’t think of modern clothing as form-fitting necessarily, so you can say it’s genderless. When I go shopping, I usually buy from the women's section. We shouldn't be scared to stray in either direction" – Vejas Kruszewski

Right now, under the spotlight and merciless scrutiny of the fashion industry, the stakes are high for Vejas, but this doesn’t seem to faze him. Instead, he talks passionately about his upcoming collection, due to be showcased in Paris next week – an opportunity that presented itself like a bolt out the blue after the label was shortlisted for the prestigious 2016 LVMH Young Designer Prize, thus attracting a wider, but arguably more discerning audience than ever before. “It's a huge vote of confidence, and I welcome the opportunity to show our work on a broader platform,” he says. “More than anything I'm super excited! I've continued to explore the idea of reworking iconoclastic pieces this season. The dichotomy of something both familiar and unfamiliar is really interesting to me.” 

The set, designed by his friend and long-term collaborator Jessica Kwok, promises to stage a fittingly evocative backdrop. “I’ve been obsessed with lighting recently, and the work of [American artist] Isamu Noguchi, so you’ll see some pieces that emit softly diffused light, like, glowing orbs on the floor.” As for the clothes, he reveals an obsession with “spacesuits, the whole thing has a spacesuit-y feel, I’ve been thinking silhouettes that taper at the waist, and balloon at the shoulders and sleeves”.

Fabrications also promise to show an evolution of the label's stalwarts. “I’ve been working with some new suppliers in Italy, and we’ve found this incredible linen that stretches in every which-way, that’s great for the sweaters. Then there’s a little mohair, purple leather – the same colour as a bad bruise, and this grey denim that looks as though it was felted, but it’s simply this beautiful denim,” he adds, before surmising. “Honestly, I don’t see this as one season or the next, this is an on-going process, it’s just how I work. I want to keep improving whatever I’ve shown before. I keep moving, it never ends.”