Interview with Designer Alycia Hirani of Emiah Couture
“…once I began making things that I truly enjoyed, other people also seemed to enjoy and appreciate my work more, which had been a great lesson to learn.”
Tell us your story, where did it all start for you? What sparked your interest in fashion design? I have always loved art and creating things – even as a child I wasn’t far from some paints or colouring pencils. In whatever creative medium, I was always making something, and once I started sewing in high school I just never stopped. My love for corsetry, however, blossomed whilst I was studying my degree in Design for Performance; I adored using corsetry as a form of artistic expression, particularly since it allowed me to combine my early love for sewing and art into one medium. This is why I decided to create my brand ‘Emiah’ as it allows me to create beautiful heirloom pieces for people to look and feel gorgeous. It gives me an outlet to express myself through beautiful textures and meticulously handcrafted embellishments.
What do you enjoy the most about being a fashion designer? How would you describe yourself as a designer? Being able to imagine designs in my head and translating them into something tangible for others to wear and enjoy is amazing. I adore creating opulent pieces full of highly detailed texture and – whilst the work can often very time consuming and repetitive – it is so incredibly satisfying to see my designs fully manifested into beautiful wearable pieces.
What has been the most exciting time in your career thus far? One of my biggest aspirations has always been to have one of my garments displayed in a museum exhibition. This ambition is actually due to come into fruition later this year, as one of my corsets – The Weeping Hydra, featuring thousands of black pearls – has been selected to be part of an upcoming Modern corsetry exhibition in ‘The Underpinnings Museum”. This is an incredibly exciting prospect for me, particularly as it is not something I expected to happen so soon! To know that one of my creations will be recorded and showcased in an exhibition for others to see is such a big achievement for me on both a personal and professional level.
From your point of view, what is most challenging about a career in fashion design? I think it can often be quite challenging to find your niche – that is, find what makes you stand out as a unique designer or artist. It can be so easy to get caught up in trends – or looking at what other people are doing and begin to compare it with your own work – that you can often lose sight of what makes you truly special as an artist. This is something I definitely struggled with at the start – however, once I began making things that I truly enjoyed, other people also seemed to enjoy and appreciate my work more, which had been a great lesson to learn.
Two things you love about fashion, one thing you hate. Firstly, I love how you can show off different personalities and moods through clothing – and how fashion can even improve your mood! I love that feeling you get when you see someone look and feel good in something you’ve made; it is incredibly heartwarming. Secondly, I love how it can connect people around the world. I have met some wonderful people from all walks of life who – without this industry – I may not have met otherwise. It is truly wonderful to be connected to varying types of people through our mutual love of fashion and creating things.
One thing that consistently annoys me is the outward perception towards fashion, in the sense that it is apparently frivolous, easy or – oftentimes – futile. I, and many others, work hard to create what we do – and seeing some people undermine or diminish this effort can be quite hard. I think the connection between us and our clothes has gotten a bit lost with the rise of mass marketing, so one of my goals has been to effectively bridge this gap and get people to value the pieces they have instead of feeding into the throw away culture and lack of value in clothing.
Is there a certain feeling you are looking to invoke in those whom wear your fashion designs? As a designer, my aim is to create beautiful opulent and romantic garments with touches of beautifully intricate work to make you stop and go – “wow, how did you do that!”. For clients, my aim is to help them to feel effortless beautiful – tapping into what makes them special and unique. For this reason, I try to incorporate as many personal touches as possible in my designs, so that my clients feel a connection to my creations.
What are you fascinated by at the moment and how does it feed into your work? At the moment, I am deeply fascinated by embroidery and embellishments. I have always had a love for rich textures in my work, and learning new techniques always helps to feed my creativity. For example, I am learning how to create gold work – which is so beautifully crafted – and will certainly add more of a luxurious feel to my garments. I am also enamored with creating hanging embroidery samplers that match some of my creations, particularity as they are a great way for people to own a piece of my work without having to buy a whole garment.
How do you approach a new collection? Where do your ideas evolve from? My inspirations and ideas come from a variety of different sources; it could start with a beautiful piece of fabric, a photo of a lovely organic structure, or even from a new technique that I want to try and use in my creations. I work quite organically, so I normally try and blend all of these things together to create something new and interesting.
What is the timeline from having an idea to actually creating the product? Shortly describe your design process from mood boards to picking out fabrics to production. Do you have any fashion rules when putting an outfit together? The timeline would depend on when the pieces would be needed for and how labor intensive the design would be – more embellishments equal more hours/days of highly detailed work, for example.
My design process starts with an idea. I would then collect inspirations to inform my sketches and gather fabric swatches, so I can play around with mix different colours and textures. Once I have nailed down a design, I can then collect measurements (if needed) and start the patterning process. This leads to mock ups – that is, rough versions of the garment so I can access the fit and roughly see how the final will look – which would then lead to one or two fittings, depending on what changes are needed. I can then start the making and embellishing which is the best part!
Personally, I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules in fashion – that’s what I love about it; its open for people to experiment and try something new and unique.
What captures your attention when looking for the materials you use in your designs? What are your favorite materials and embellishments to work with? I am a very tactile person, so I typically use materials that look and feel luxurious as it is these little details that can often elevate a piece and, more importantly, make the client feel so much more incredible when they wear it.
As for fabrics, I absolutely love lace! Being perfectly honest, I am obsessed with lace – and can be quite picky! And pearls… can’t forget those, as they have become a signature of my work. Overall, I love excessive and painstakingly detailed work that looks and feels sumptuous to the touch.
What is your favorite moment in your design process? When I first see a finished garment on an actual person. Seeing how an idea that was trapped in my head can be translated into a 3D form is wonderful – and seeing the client’s reaction is an absolutely amazing feeling. I have been known to happy dance at this stage, as I love it so much!
What fashion era would you say influenced you the most? I think my style is quite mixed; I love the silhouette of the 50’s, with its slim waists and flared skirts, whilst incorporating the rich details and lavish styles from the 20’s. I also love historical designs and techniques from the Edwardian and Victorian periods – I think it is essential to practice these old techniques to help keep them alive.
What is your masterpiece? What is your all-time favorite piece from your collection and why? That would have to be my ‘Pearled Beast’ and ‘Weeping Hydra’ corsets. These corsets are an absolute labor of love of mine– mostly because of the sheer amount of time I spent on it! For these designs I covered a corset body and over bust corset in an extraordinary amount of embellishment. Featuring approximately 7,000 hand-sewn freshwater and glass pearls – and taking over 200 hours each to complete – these extravagant pieces are my true showstoppers.
Do you remember what was the very first article of clothing you ever designed? I remember one piece I made whilst in High School – I think it was the first whole outfit I ever made; it was a teal and black playsuit that had an asymmetric draped feature at the front (one shoulder designs where very ‘in’ at the time). I also made a matching teal skirt to go over the top, as I loved making garments that have multiple options, with an embroidered peacock feathers waistband (I was going through a bit of a faze!). Looking back, I’m still quite proud of it and realize that that must have been the start of my love/obsession with embroidery and draping.
Are there any designers that are a fashion inspiration to you? I would (unsurprisingly) have to name Alexander McQueen as one of my biggest inspirations; the way he made things that were not seen as inherently beautiful, beautiful was amazing – creating both strange and stunningly interesting garments. After seeing his exhibition in London, my love for his work grew even more. I also really love Marchesa, Elie Saab, Pablo Sebastian and so many more…I just love their styles! Their use of soft, romantic textures mixed with crazy intense embroidery and beadings have always been truly inspirational.
If you could choose any figure to be the face of your upcoming collections who would it be and why? I think I would choose Velvet Jones – a burlesque performer and model I have followed for quite some time. She is absolutely beautiful! I love her look – she has an almost doll like quality, and her curves would fit perfectly in my new collection!
What advice would you have to emerging fashion designers? ‘Finished is better than perfect’ – I myself am a recovering perfectionist and it is so easy to let those obsessive tendencies prevent you from growing. I have learnt it is better to finish the garment – and accept any ‘mistakes’ – than not finishing it at all, simply because it may not meet your expectations. Oftentimes, the mistakes or imperfections I make in my own work turn out to be its most unique features!
In your opinion, what new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on fashion design? I think interactive tech is really booming at the moment. From illuminating fabric that light up in the dark, to colour changing fibers that react like mood rings to your emotions, these types of materials are really expanding! Which is very exciting for me as I am currently playing around with some of these techniques at the moment (so keep an eye out for that!).
Where can our readers find out more about, or follow, your work? My website would be best place for information on how to order your own bespoke piece; for more visuals, or to see the behind-the-scenes development process, my Instagram or Facebook would be the best bet. I am also available via email – firstname.lastname@example.org – if anyone would also like to contact me directly. Website www.emiah.co.uk. Instagram: @EmiahCouture. Facebook page: Emiah (@EmiahCouture)
What legacy would you like to leave behind? I would love to have my pieces in museums and books as an example of artisan work at this time. I love tapping into older techniques that are highly detailed – which, sadly, can often be over looked for more efficient or easier techniques. I would also love to be known as a brand that truly incorporated love, personality and highly detailed extravagance in all of their pieces.
How has being a fashion designer changed your life? I love that it gives me the opportunity to express my creativity and meet other likeminded individuals that also love creating something unique and wonderful. Clothes have the power to really change our mood, and being a part of that for others is wonderful.
What superpower do you wish you had and why? I would love the power to manipulate time. I always find that there are never enough hours in the day, so being able to pause time – and truly appreciate everything around me (and, perhaps more necessary, get more stuff done!) would be very useful for me.
What is your vision of your perfect working day? I don’t think I can define a perfect working day, as I love variety! That’s what I find makes being a bespoke designer so exciting as I can be cutting out a huge tulle skirt one day – spending hours upon hours creating intricate embroideries – to spending time on my computer digitizing new patterns… so I guess a perfect day would encompass all of that!
Please tell us one thing about yourself people might find surprising. The first thing that many people find surprising when they first meet me is how short I am! At 4ft7”, working with very tall models- often with large trains – for shoots, shows or dresses can be a challenge…but I won’t let that stop me!