Aspiring fashion designer Kali Nejad is a Berlin native living in London to pursue his dream of becoming a designer in the world of high fashion. He shares with Sensa Nostra his struggles, qualms and questions about trying to make it in the cutthroat world of design, while living on a model-slim, shoe-string budget.
I attended fashion and design school at Lette-Verein Modeschule in Berlin, where I grew up. Before I began, I had no idea what I was in for work wise. I had always loved designing clothes and did so in my spare time, but school was so much more. Immediately, I realised that the fun and carefree part of designing would be taken away. At first, I questioned if I really wanted to continue. I missed the creative freedom that I had when I was simply designing on my own, when I wanted to, without anyone’s judgement and without parameters or rules.
I kept on with my studies because I knew it was the best way to achieve my dream, or at least get my foot in the door. I also wanted to learn, though the environment was not my preference—at fashion and design school, everything is teamwork. There were sometimes five or ten people on the same team, working on the same collection. Usually a collection is only three outfits and it takes about two months to be fully completed. The process was more complex than it seemed. It began with the initial concept and illustration; then you’d have to cut and create the clothes. When a collection was due it was an around-the-clock task for at least the week before. Sometimes our team would work for twenty-four hours straight trying to get a collection finished for a presentation. By the day of the presentation, we would all be like zombies: completely exhausted, drained and and hardly able to concentrate on anything other than when our heads would be allowed to hit the pillow and sleep.
When I finally finished all of my classes and graduated, I thought things would be much simpler. I knew DOB, which is fashion for women, and I thought that my studies and knowledge would be enough to secure at least an internship where I could either begin creating and designing my own things, or at least assist another designer. I failed my first interview right away. I thought I was prepared with enough samples, but I wasn’t even close. After that interview, I began to overcompensate and would bring as many samples as I possibly could. One assistant even referred to my bag as the Mary Poppins bag, due to how much I brought.
I tried for a few more internships and jobs in Berlin, but I wasn’t able to find anything, so I decided to move to London and try for a position with Gareth Pugh, a designer I really liked. I wanted to apply for a cutting and construction position there, but when I got to the interview with about sixty personal illustrations, they informed me that those positions were outsourced and so not available. I was really let down and shocked by that and even though I was offered another position, I declined, as it wasn’t what I was looking for. I thought that there would be so much more of an artistic side to fashion design, especially once I finished school. I had accepted that studying anything can take the passion out of it, but I expected to find some of it in the actual fashion world. I was wrong. In London, I finally realised that fashion is not seen as an art anymore, but a business. This saddens me, but it’s the way it is.
I finally took an unpaid position with Studio Dagda. Even though I am not earning any money, it’s a job that at least allows me to be creative and express myself. There, I am completely involved with the creation process and can do all of the cuts and many designs by myself. Though it’s a very small label, I feel that I get more out of my time and work there. Studio Dagda also allows me to create the type of clothes I like. My taste in style and design is really influenced by my upbringing in Berlin. I was very involved in the techno and club scene when I was younger, and even though I’m not anymore, I still have an appreciation for that lifestyle and the dress sense that accompanies it. The styles of clubs like the Berghain inspire me. When people go out to clubs they feel free to wear clothes that they wouldn’t dare to wear in everyday life. Men and women alike can wear loose, flowing and comfortable styles.
I have Persian parents and the older Persian styles are also a big inspiration for me. I want to change the stigmas in European fashion when it comes to men. I am so bored with men’s fashion of today and I see it as a challenge to change not only the looks themselves but men’s ideas of what is acceptable. A lot of men seem to think that if a look is not plain, simple and ‘manly’, then it looks gay or flamboyant. I like to make items without considering this line between what looks ‘gay’ or what doesn’t. Men should be able wear less structured, flowing styles, which may be considered more feminine, without having to feel like they’re perceived as looking or being gay. The freedom that designers have with women’s fashion is tenfold to what it is with men’s, at least if one wants their designs to sell or become popular.
I want to change this lack of freedom through my designs. I would like to see fashion and design reverting to being more of an art again. The industry has become so serious and high stakes that much of the freedom of expression formerly found in fashion has been replaced with standards and competition. Instead of passion driving the creative process, it’s the need for success, greed and money. Living in London, I am on a very, very tight budget. In Berlin, even as a student, my standard of living was much higher. I had a bigger flat that cost less than the one I live in now. I could afford to eat much better and more. These days I eat a lot of rice. Before I accepted the unpaid internship in London with Studio Dagda, I knew London was expensive, but I had no idea exactly how high prices were here. I’m getting by though and I find that being in London is much better for a designer than Berlin. I have a lot of tough times right now, but in the end, if I can manage to make at least a dent in the world of fashion, it will all be worth it.