Alix Higgins has harnessed a strong sense of community and a love of words in his new collection for Australian Fashion Week, which flaunts his skill in textile design. By Lucianne Tonti.

Alix Higgins’s Australian Fashion Week collection

Alix Higgins opens the door of his apartment in Elizabeth Bay wearing a chocolate silk patchwork shirt and holding a tiny ginger kitten called Miu Miu. The 29-year-old designer, known for digital prints that evoke the early internet and what it then meant to be young and online, is preparing for his second show at Australian Fashion Week.

The title of this collection, Delectable Earth Shudder, “comes from a poem I wrote many, many moons ago”, he says. The poem was about the desire to feel something primal and extraordinary, something bigger than himself. “It’s this feeling of almost orgasm or an earthquake.”

Higgins’s love of words is even more evident as we take our seats. His dining table, which is made from dark, heavy wood, has stacks of books at both ends. Their spines read Joan Didion, Florence Welch, Ottessa Moshfegh and William Blake. He often works language that is both mournful and whimsical into his designs – printed across dresses, tops and skirts. One black miniskirt featuring pixelated shapes reads “Baby”. Largely indecipherable text runs upside down and back to front across the bust of a boob tube minidress – one line reads, “to romance a stone”. A navy-and-white-striped polo shirt has “Alix Higgins King” printed across the stomach.

“The words come from my emotions at the time. I write about what I’m feeling, which then informs the collection,” he says. “This says bloodhound, earth-shattering crush. It was about this forest and feeling kind of animalistic and wild.” His descriptions evoke the deep pangs of youth – strong but confused desires and disjointed thoughts.

Higgins studied fashion design and textiles at the University of Technology Sydney before moving to Paris to do his masters at the Institut Français de la Mode. Upon graduating he got an internship that quickly became a job doing digital prints for the French designer Marine Serre. He didn’t consider himself a textile designer initially, but by the time he was done with that role, having refined Serre’s iconic crescent moon print, he felt he had arrived. “I was like, okay, I’m definitely right for [textile design]. I am this person.”

When he returned to Sydney in 2019, he became an art director at Think Positive Prints in Alexandria. Two years later, he launched his label.

In internet-speak, Higgins’s prints are extremely meta. He layers words with gradients of colours and lines that evoke a computer screen malfunctioning. Almost all of the pieces in the collection are cut from stretchy fabrics in sporty shapes. The fabrics are imported from China, but nearly everything else is made in Australia. The vibe is preppy, except that in most cases the prints and construction make things, well, a bit weird. This quality of playfulness and irreverence helps Higgins to stand out in the Australian fashion industry. His technical training, creativity and talent conspire to produce truly original garments and pairings that have found a customer base – no small feat in the current retail landscape.

One distinctive example is the match of an oversized shirt and pleated miniskirt with pale blue, navy and white stripes that look like refracted light on a broken screen. The set is printed with randomly placed words, including “oblivion” in bright red. The skirt, which sits low on the hips, is tied on the left with an enormous black ribbon. A full-length, printed polyester version of the skirt is also available, in red interrupted by thin and thick gradients of black lines. Rows and rows of perfect box pleats run vertically from the waist to the floor. The matching shirt has an elbow-length sleeve and neat collar. Only a couple of words are legible among the morphing print: “floating forever”.

Part of Higgins’s journey with his work is towards sustainability. He has started playing with techniques to reduce waste, which makes sense since the collection was inspired by natural history, and the idea of “a kind of future animal”. On the runway the models hold bags made from old T-shirts and screen-printed with more poetry, including the line: “I thank god for my friends, for our earth a stage to dance on”. Some of the tops are made from upcycled, inside-out polo shirts. Others include suits that have been reimagined. Or fabric that was ruined by watermarks, which, rather than rejecting and insisting it be redyed, Higgins adapted into the design process.

For this collection he has also created screen prints of crocodile skin and vintage fur. He describes them as “recontextualised”. The fur is printed onto a soft cotton trench coat in black and white, and each strand is clearly defined, giving the coat a perceptibly hairy look. It falls well below the ankle and has wide sleeves, a soft collar and a line of buttons up the front. The classic style mimics the shape of a real fur coat, so it manages to mock the tradition of wearing fur while honouring it. Blending elements of social commentary and virtual design, this piece feels like the future. It’s a coat of contradictions, fittingly conceived by a young Millennial who grew up online but can just remember what the world was like before.

The crocodile skin is printed on a lilac tank top made from nylon. The slightly skewed squares of the pattern are a soft pink. Across the chest in black letters is “sharktooth2”. Higgins reluctantly explains that this was the name of his Tumblr platform from when he was teenager living and blogging on the coast, an hour south of Sydney. This early form of social media allowed him to find a community of other teenagers who were also obsessed with fashion. Some would become his friends and, later, his collaborators.

“I feel so old talking about Tumblr because it’s like an archaeological artefact now,” he says. “Unlike other social media, it was kind of your self-image and your diaristic writing and your fashion interests and your art interests and your music interests all blended into this one feed.”

A lot of the people he connected with online during this period have gone on to work in the fashion industry. “It’s weird,” he says. “There are modelling agents that I speak to sometimes and I’m like, ‘I remember your blog’.” He enlisted one of the friends he met through Tumblr, Chloe Corkran, to cast the models for the show during fashion week, which wrapped up on Friday. “Because I’ve known her for so long, I know every reference that she’s talking about. We barely have to communicate when we are trying to make a creative decision,” he says.

Higgins’s cast and crew are among the few in which body and gender diversity are always a given. His latest show included many of his friends, such as Joan Banoit, who created the music and plays with Higgins in an electro-pop band called Patamon. This collaboration with friends is partly due to the financial constraints of being an independent designer, but also because of the creativity of his inner circle, who double as his muses. “I just want to work with them,” he says.

It’s no small thing for a queer designer that community would encompass the major themes of his designs: the internet, the power of nature and the worlds we find within each other when we’re young.

“I think people that create are often very romantic,” he says. “And I am very romantic – I meet people and I fall in love with them.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 20, 2023 as "Earth-moving gear".

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