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The Aspirational Vision of Shan Huq

We preview the young designer's new A/W16 collection, debuting tonight at New York Fashion Week

TextSusanna LauPhotographySam RockPhotographic EditorHolly Hay

Right now, Shan Huq is flying back from Los Angeles to pick up the outerwear and dresses that form the mainstay of his collection – they were delayed while in production at the factory. He left yesterday at midday and will land, with clothes in hand, just in time to stage his second show in New York tonight. It takes some gumption to pull off this last minute pre-show heist, but it’s the sort of thing that sums up Huq’s singular determination, the sort of thing which made him start his own label in the first place.

“I was studying at a business university in Los Angeles for a year and I hated it,” says Huq, speaking at his apartment in Flatbush Brooklyn. “I’ve always wanted to do design and I was like, ‘Okay, that’s it. I’ll start a brand.’ That’s the only way I could see it.” And so the self-taught twenty-year-old, empowered by his longtime cultivated interest in fashion (at least comparatively, considering his age), left university and duly set up his eponymous label from LA, debuting his collection last season in St. Mark’s Church. An ode to the banality of being ‘average’, complete with a soundtrack that featured an Olive Garden advert and embroidered musings filtered through Middle America, Huq quickly found renown for his ability to see normality with fresh eyes... just don’t use the dreaded portmanteau 'normcore'. “I just wanted to make average clothes, like things that kind of just have no fashion purpose, just clothes to wear. But not in a normcore-y way, more like… clothes, that people who aren’t interested in fashion wear. I guess that’s the easiest way to explain it.”

After tiring of the slow pace of Los Angeles, Huq relocated to New York two months ago to get into the throng of a competitive industry that is currently in flux. As the CFDA wrings their hands over whether the mainstream fashion system as we know it is truly broken, designers like Huq are making things happen on their own, relying on one another for tips on show venues, stylist trades and street-cast models. A cosmos of alternative feeling has thus been formed as an evocative counterfoil to the shinier brands that dominate New York. “There’s been nothing going on in New York for so long that people are like, ‘Wow, have you seen what’s going on in New York now?!’”

Huq might only be working on his second season, but he has a specific idea of where he wants things to go after his imaginary journey into Middle America. “I wanted to do something more grown up," he says. "I think it’s a little bit more sexy. Like, the entire collection is sheer.” Cue the arrival of a rail of what Huq refers to as his ‘basics’: sheer mesh shirts, flocked floral shorts and velour polo tops augmented by opera-esque coats lined with duchesse satin that will have diamonds of faux fur running down them, and eventually will include dresses in velvet and silk that Huq will have hauled over from L.A. Glamour model and reality star Tila Tequila features as a print in a few of the pieces as well as on lighters that guests will receive at the show. “I was looking for a pin-up and there’s no one else I could think of,” laughs Huq.

Huq’s reference images ricochet from pictures of Blitz Kids and eighties misfits, to Judy Garland in her prime, to a young Sofia Coppola in The Godfather, to the Russian girl group Tatu... Thus, it would seem that this season’s character see-saws between the ideas of decadence and rebellion and the inevitable aftermath. “The collection started much grander; it was all going to be very rich. But then that started fading and getting a bit darker. I asked ‘What happens after something bad happens?’ It’s about prettiness surfacing over something bad, like flowers growing out of dirt.”

That visual image could well be representative of what Huq and his contemporaries are trying to do with their work, where beauty is often created out of necessity. In Huq’s case, there’s still an essential wearability to his clothes, even with their rich fabrics and fanciful accessories – the loose velvet stirrup socks will be worn ruched around the ankles, with ribbons trailing the floor. They’ll be paired with Chinese kung fu slippers, the sort old that Chinese ladies wear around the house.

The rail may still be half-empty but Huq's ambitions are huge. His design hero is Miuccia Prada and, like the savviest of designers today, he’s keen to create a ‘world’ – and it makes complete sense to Huq that he should reach for a universe at the pinnacle of fashion's esteem. “I want to make this a fully-fledged fashion brand; I want to do handbags, I want to do shoes, I like all of that," he says. "I’m doing Resort after this collection. What definitely got me interested is making stuff, and making a world, making imagery that goes with the world. I mean you can’t make a world in one season, but I’m hoping that after this season people will understand what I like, what I'm doing, and it just keeps adding on and adding on.”

You want to put it down to Huq’s youth, but something in his resourcefulness and the manner in which he can hop on a plane cross-country, get his samples and pull it all together in a show within 36 hours suggests that he’s deadly serious about Shan Huq: The Brand. “At the beginning, it was kind of like a game. I was just making clothes and I was going to do a show, and after that it just started being like ‘Okay, this is serious now.’ I’m young – but I don’t like saying there’s nothing to lose because I don’t want to lose this, this is what I want to do.”