He is the one of two Belgians amongst the 10 finalists at the prestigious Hyères Festival. Before presenting his men’s collection to the jury – chaired this year by English fashion designer Jonathan Anderson – this young talent with a hybrid education, shared with us his vision of the profession and of an industry searching for identity.
You began your studies at La Cambre Mode(s). After some time at HELMo Mode in Liège, you opted for a Master’s degree at KASK & Conservatorium in Ghent. Tell us a bit about your journey.
I originally wanted to study political science, which strongly interests me, but after my acceptance to La Cambre Mode(s), I decided to take up the challenge. Looking back, I realise that I was probably not mature enough. I was oblivious to the difficulties. Or maybe too conscious of them. I never truly felt I had a place in this field. After two failed years, I signed up at HELMo Mode in Liège. This three-year, technically oriented baccalaureate gave me back my self-confidence. The less individualistic atmosphere reassured me. And the technical approach allowed me to develop a rigour that still serves me today.
What were your reasons for taking on a Master’s degree at KASK & Conservatorium?
I did an internship with Marina Yee, one of the Antwerp Six (probably the least publicised), who was also a professor at KASK. She convinced me to continue my education there. I had just completed a 5-month internship at Ximon Lee (a designer who graduated from Central Saint Martins in London, and winner of the H&M Design Award). This very enriching experience allowed me to touch on many facets of the profession: from technical sketches to contacts with production workshops, including research for inspiration. At the end of this internship, I was ready to embark on a new cycle of classes.
All these schools have helped forge your identity. How would you define yourself today?
This concept of identity scares me a bit. In Ghent, I managed to break free from the desire to ‘do too well’ – a result of the very technical approach of my baccalaureate. While I think I have taken the best from each school, I still have a lot of work to do to understand who I am. Like other designers of my generation, I question the relevance of creating new clothes and, by extension, of developing an eponymous brand.
Where did the desire to design under the alias 2.59 _tld, rather under your own name, come from?
2.59 _tld, this is the number of the room at SMAK where I developed my collection. The first and third letters are my initials. The other is for my mother’s last name: Laaouej. ‘I saw my mum watching the news’, the collection that led to my selection for the Hyères festival, tells her story as a Moroccan immigrant who arrived in Belgium at the age of 18. I remember seeing her reacting in visceral way to a TV report on the migrant crisis. I had never realised how much her immigrant status had affected her.
How have you translated this reflection stylistically?
I imagined a collection made up of oversized pieces that, despite their apparent heaviness, evoke the idea of travel. There are codes that I associate with migration: accumulation, as well as the things that we gain or lose, but which make us grow. These silhouettes reflect a certain form of vulnerability, but my purpose is neither bleak nor gloomy. The black coat is illuminated with white stitching, and the sloping shoulders suggest a new silhouette. It’s a collection in movement.
The Hyères festival is a springboard. What do you think of the career of Marine Serre, winner of the LVMH Prize for Young Designers in 2017 and finalist the same year at Hyères?
Just as I feel very close to Marina Yee, my mentor, a designer who creates collections based on upcycling and who, while remaining very discreet, is sold as far away as Japan, I find the work of Marine Serre – who I know from La Cambre – intriguing. Her ability to establish herself in the fashion industry while challenging it and freeing herself from its dictates is inspiring. I myself am totally opposed to the idea of frenetic production. If, one day, I had to create a project, I would like to do it at my own pace and avoiding at all costs gratuitous production. At this point, I keep asking myself: will fashion give me time to take the time?