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UD Selects: Why we’re fans of… Nasir Mazhar & Fantastic Toiles

Nasir Mazhar is a designer, maker and socialist, hailing from east London. Born to Turkish Cypriot parents and raised in Leytonstone, Nasir’s career has been marked by his unique blend of multicultural energy and the contemporary London aesthetic.

Starting out as a hairstylist, he quickly evolved into a designer known for his hats and headwear, which have been worn by the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Lauryn Hill. In 2012, he launched his eponymous brand, which over the next five years became a staple in the wardrobes of thousands around the world. He has been nominated for the prestigious LVMH Prize and his brand was stocked at some of the most respected retailers in the world, including Slam Jam, Vfiles and Selfridges.

In 2019, Nasir left all his success and acclaim in the fashion industry to start his magical boutique, Fantastic Toiles. For Nasir “Fantastic Toiles is about style, not fashion”, and he firmly believes that; “fashion is about people who think to look good you have to wear labels and here (Fantastic Toiles) is the complete opposite of that.”

Many of the people that work at Fantastic Toiles are Nasir’s talented students, colleagues or friends that have mostly been overlooked by the wider fashion industry. Nasir’s mission is to celebrate and promote diversity in fashion, and he is dedicated to fostering a culture of experimentation and self-expression, while combating the culture of clicks and likes that dominates social media and the fashion industry.

Last week, Alex Frydas caught up with Nasir following the boutique’s first drop of the year in Lewisham. They spoke about his journey in the fashion industry, collaborations, and how his political views have affected his work…

UD: You’ve worked with many other multidisciplinary artists such as Skepta and Nick Knight, how do you think they’ve influenced your work?

NM: It’s hard to say how – and if – they influence my work directly. Anyone I work with would be because I find them inspiring and interesting. So there would already be an interest and fascination with them. I think subconsciously there are elements within their work, or how they work, or how they do what they do, that somehow creeps into thoughts, influences and inspires but (it’s) very hard to pinpoint.

Big Smoke – @Skepta

UD: Can you tell me about your experience with Fantastic Toiles, working with younger and, in some cases, less well known people, and how you choose who to work with?

NM: I choose designers based on many different factors: Have they got a unique style? Do they need help? Is what they are saying through their work something that is needed to be heard?What does the shop alone need to make it exciting, diverse in styles and a fascinating place to shop and style yourself?

These are a  few things I consider when asking designers to join us. Whether you’re young or old, or new or unknown, is irrelevant to me. I remember when I first started and how little I knew about industry. There was so much formality and order in the process from design to show to sales and then finally in store. I found a lot of this debilitating and often doesn’t allow freedom for spontaneity or random expressions and I think this is so important to have this freedom especially with younger designers just starting because I feel this is when our thoughts are purest, before the industry crushes you.

UD: How much do you think your socialist views impacted your decision to leave the normal fashion route and start Fantastic Toiles?

NM: I don’t think I even thought politically when I decided to leave the normal fashion route. Or that I didn’t connect my thoughts or actions to politics. I didn’t associate with politics maybe because I didn’t understand it yet but now I see what I do and have done is very political. Socialism is the only way forward. The only way to have equality.

“Socialism is the only way forward. The only way to have equality.”

Nasir Mazhar

UD: Do you think that companies like LVMH and Kering and people like Bernard Arnault have had a negative effect on fashion and the fashion industry ?

NM: Yes, mostly, but sometimes no. They have homogenised fashion in a digestible way to the masses based on making more sales. Not in pushing style in new directions. It’s about making money for them, it’s not about a creative evolution or progression in style. But, like I said, sometimes they do push a wild card, they also need that exciting ‘new’ otherwise it would be very apparent what is happening.

They have a choke hold on magazines because if they didn’t advertise in mags, there would be no mags, and the effect of this is that magazines have turned into advertising brochures that promote predominately brands owned by these massive companies… It’s gross and hardly anyone talks about it because so many people only exist through being paid puppets for these companies.

UD: Do you think there are any downsides to the democratisation of fashion, especially through social media?

NM: That’s a really good question I think. I would say yeah, there’s definitely downsides, because where it’s opened it up to the masses, before fashion used to be much more niche, like if you were into fashion you’d have to search for it and look for it – not all the youth were into it. Whereas now, everybody is into it, so it has… democratised it you could say but, at the same time, what happens is that people just look for clicks and likes and just because… the masses aren’t always right you know. Just because the masses are into something doesn’t necessarily mean that something’s good but brands and magazines and institutions, they look at attention; who gets the most attention, who gets the most likes, so then it’s based on that, when actually, that’s not necessarily a good thing. So it’s good that more people are into it, and more people see it, but it’s not so good how that becomes the power, that becomes the key thing for organisations, for sponsors – especially for things like sponsors. They just look for who’s got the most likes – I think they’re not necessarily always interested in who’s got the most talent or who’s the most interesting. And with the rise of influencers that’s what’s happened, so now influencers have this huge power but they might just be popular for so many reasons other than their taste, or rather than their knowledge of art or cultures or these things, it’s kind of irrelevant. So yeah there’s definitely a downside.

UD: What advice do you have for young, aspiring designers, especially ones that haven’t had a formal background or education in the industry?

NM: The only way you get better at what you do is by practice. Facts. Don’t ever stop making. Sew the same thing over and over till you perfect it. Ideas are more important than if you sewed the pocket correctly, especially when just starting out. Try new ideas constantly and don’t be afraid. you can perfect them if needed later. Watch YouTube tutorials. I still learn like this. Do short courses or evening classes, that’s how I started and began to learn. If you can’t do something, find someone who can. you don’t have to be able to do everything. Finding people around who can help and do the things you can’t is part of being an artist. It’s impossible to know everything and there shouldn’t be shame in this. Whatever you do, you have to believe in it. And if you don’t, then it’s probably not a good idea to begin with. Self-editing is a very valuable skill often overlooked.

Words & photos: Alex Frydas. Alex Frydas, 14, is a north Londoner with an unwavering love for grime music and British fashion. From raves to haute couture, Alex immerses himself in all things related to the UK music and fashion scenes. Read his blog HERE and follow Alex on Instagram.

Follow Fantastic Toiles or drop into the shop at 141 Lewisham Way SE14 6QP. Find Nasir Mazhar on Instagram or check the latest headwear here.

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