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Fashion Art Toronto 2014: Henry Navarro Designs

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Socially responsible clothing companies that support worthy social causes are a part of the growing design philosophy. Henry Navarro Designs is the fashion branch of my multidisciplinary artistic practice consisting of site-specific or conceptual collections using fashion design as public art. The brand hit the runway in Toronto on April 24 for Fashion Art Toronto. I caught up with the designer for an interview and here's what he had to say.

Getthebuzz716: Tell me a little about your brand. Where are you from?

Henry Navarro Designs: Henry Navarro Designs is the fashion branch of my multidisciplinary artistic practice consisting of site-specific or conceptual collections using fashion design as public art. As a brand, Henry Navarro Designs embody fashion-centered explorations of contemporary issues.

I was born in Cuba to a family of dressmakers and leather good craftsmen. After studying sculpture and art direction for film in Havana and working as a freelance costume and fashion designer, I moved to California, US. While living in the San Francisco Bay Area, my fine arts and fashion/costume design work integrated into a single practice. Although now I call Toronto home, my fashion-based public art projects show in Cuba, Spain, Italy, China, the Dominican Republic and the US.

Getthebuzz716: What does fashion week Fashion Art Toronto mean to you?

Henry Navarro Designs: With is blending of alternative fashion and fashion-based art, FAT is the perfect platform for the type of participative work I do. It does helps too that they have a loyal following amongst the alternative fashion community and that there is an audience for this type of fashion-meets-art events in Toronto. Master Card Fashion week seems like a boring sibling in comparison. In fact, by not concentrating on trends and marketability and focusing on the overall cultural environment instead, I think FAT provides a truer pulse of contemporary fashion.

Getthebuzz716: How would you define your Brand?

Henry Navarro Designs: As a brand, Henry Navarro Designs are conceptual looks that are still wearable for everyday life. Even though each of my collections responds to specific contemporary themes, such as racism, youth empowerment and gender dynamics, the result is fully functional apparel. With these conceptual collections, I am targeting people from different backgrounds, gender, and age groups who are literally not afraid of wearing their opinions.

Getthebuzz716: How long does it usually take you to construct a piece?

Henry Navarro Designs: It is difficult to tell. Normally I spend about a month in producing between 10 and 20 outfits from sketching to catwalk-ready. However, often times I am assisted by other designers, artists or project participants, who makes it difficult to get a realistic time stamp. A case in point is my current collection ‘Femme Universalis’ for which I am collaborating with Natasha Sakhuja, another Toronto-based fashion designer.

Getthebuzz716: Describe the general process you go through to design.

Henry Navarro Designs: My design process is very organic as I see myself as an art director who sometimes even directs himself. Although I do create sketches, they mostly serve as starting points, a way to visually explore concepts, ideas or themes. Then I let the concepts, fabrics and the actual anatomy of my models, including their body types and skin tones, to lead the development of the actual garments. Overall, my approach is to concentrate in the collection as a whole rather than in particular garments or items. For Example, once I start pattern making, I draft all the looks at once and the same goes for the sewing process. In addition, whenever possible I create conceptual briefs and then have other people execute them. Later on, I integrate those elements back to the whole.

Getthebuzz716: What's your favorite part about conceptualizing a design?

Henry Navarro Designs: I really enjoy the technical design stage. For me it is the critical part of the conceptualization process because you are making seemingly innocuous decisions about the placement of buttons, zippers, where in the garment you need to reinforce or add and extra seam allowance. Yet, those invisible components are the details that actually validate the garments as such, even for conceptual designs such as the ones Henry Navarro Designs is known for.

Getthebuzz716: What matters to you most as a designer?

Henry Navarro Designs: What matters me most as a fashion designer is the empowering capacity of clothing. I know there is a tendency to think of fashion as frivolous but we live in a clothed society. Garments help people to both communicate with each other and define their own individuality. I believe that owning one’s style is another way to be in charge of one’s personal narrative and clothes make that possible.

Getthebuzz716: What do you believe makes a quality design?

Henry Navarro Designs: For me good fashion design is a seamless marriage of theme, materials, craftsmanship, and presentation. When all the aforementioned elements work together its just perfection and one cannot pinpoint them as single aspects anymore.

Getthebuzz716: How would you define the style your line exemplifies?

Henry Navarro Designs: Stylistically, Henry Navarro Designs had been described as highlighting or featuring aspects of deconstruction and experimental fashion design. Personally, I just follow the concept at hand in whatever aesthetic direction is taking me. That is the freedom of been a conceptual line, I don’t have to fulfill any brand or trend expectations.

Getthebuzz716: What are some of your fashion goals?

Henry Navarro Designs: I would like to have a proper studio and develop more my art and creative direction for fashion practice. Also, It would be great if I could consult for some local brands or labels in the near future. In the meantime, I am coordinating two upcoming site-specific fashion projects in Havana and Manoa, Hawaii and writing a monograph about site-specific fashion for Intellect, a UK publisher.

Getthebuzz716: What other experience do you have in the fashion industry (stylist, retail, marketing, etc.)?

Henry Navarro Designs: I used to ran an accessories business alongside my freelance design and costume design practice back in Cuba. Also, since 2005 I had been a Fashion Design educator. I taught for the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandizing, the Academy of Arts University and the California College for the Arts in San Francisco, as well as at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. Currently I teach Fashion Communication courses at Ryerson University.

Getthebuzz716: What are your favorite patterns/materials [prints] to work with and why?

Henry Navarro Designs: I do not have any preferences in terms of fabrics. My modus operandi is to look at textiles and other materials as direct conceptual references (hard, soft, natural, artificial, warm, cold, etc.) It is the same way for the selection of other aspects of my garments such as hardware and fasteners.

Getthebuzz716: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

Henry Navarro Designs: There is my website for overall information about my multidisciplinary work (www.henrynavarroart.com).

They can find about the most recent collection exploring racial issues through the Facebook page for that project (www.facebook.com/GreyCincinnati).

They can also follow the current collection about femininity as a universal force through that projects’ Facebook page (www.facebook.com/femme.universalis) and they can attend the runway showcase of ‘Femme Universalis’ at Fashion Art Toronto 2014 on Thursday April 24 at 10 pm.

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