Urbana's First Fridays is happening this week, and this time around there will be an interesting addition to the line up of special events. Joseph Khan, a 16 year old student at Urbana High School, will be debuting his first original fashion collection, компромат. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, the collection, part of his brand Intention, will be showcased at the Cohen Building, 136 E. Main Street in Urbana. at 7:30 p.m. This is kind of a unique event for our community — a fashion show featuring original work from such a young artist. I was fortunate to get to speak with Khan about how this interest in fashion came about.
Smile Politely: How old you were when you first became interested in fashion?
Joseph Khan: When I was like 13, 14 I started to like sneakers, or trainers. I developed an interest in the exclusivity and the market of sneakers. As I got older, I moved away from “sneaker hype” culture and started looking more into clothing. From there I looked at modern clothing, the history of designs that are popular now...stuff like that. Then I thought to myself “why can’t I try this.”
SP: Were there certain designers that inspired you in the beginning?
Khan: Yeah, specifically a designer called Raf Simmons. He’s done a very large variety of different collections, starting in the 90s. His clothing: some of it is very minimal, and some is extremely detailed, and you can tell each garment has a lot of thought put into it and everything has a meaning behind it.
SP: Then how did you begin? What were some of the first pieces you designed?
Khan: The first pieces I designed were just blanks [t-shirts], and I did prints on them, and the prints were just text. I feel like if you ask many people who are interested in [fashion] today they’ll say that’s how they started. Partially because it’s so easy. Then I thought okay, how can I make this more real, more an expression of my art. So I made a t-shirt. After that I experimented with customizing, where I would add certain things to different garments that had already been made, like Levi’s jeans. I’d take them apart and then sew on stripes or something like that. The first couple of pieces I made were, obviously, not very good. I look back on them and I think well, it was a good start. I don’t regret it.
SP: Then did you move on to create full pieces that were your own?
Khan: Yes, the collection I’m going to be showing is mainly pieces that I have designed and constructed myself with a sewing machine, with my own chosen fabrics.
SP: Were you self-taught on the sewing machine?
Khan: In a sense, yeah. I haven’t gone to lessons. My mum showed me a couple of styling points, and now I’ve moved on and picked up sewing techniques by just sewing the garments and seeing okay, how can I get what I want. It’s an industrial sewing machine, and there are thousands of things that it can do, that I will probably never know how to do.
SP: How has your family encouraged and nurtured this along the way?
Khan: Every now and then I’ll come downstairs and show them a piece that I’ve made, and they’ll be encouraging about it or want to try it on...but my mum has been incredibly encouraging. She has helped me every step along the way with telling me that everything will be alright and also giving me incredible opportunities.
SP: Are you creative in other outlets?
Khan: Yeah, I’ve played music since I was six.
SP: What instrument do you play?
Khan: I play the piano and now I’m learning a bit of drums. I also produce music on here [pats his laptop] for my friends and for myself. I've also loved drawing and sculpture and architecture from a young age.
SP: So what does your process look like for creating your designs?
Khan: I’ll start off being inspired by something — either some form of architecture or another piece from another designer, and from there I will draw on scratch paper an idea of what that piece will look like. From there, I will think about fabric, and think about color...though I’ll usually go with black. Then, once I have some time, I’ll go up into the sewing room with the fabric and I’ll think about the pattern in relation to other garments I’ve made. I make my own patterns, they're not bought off the internet. It’s more of a trial and error. I know this measurement looks good like this, or this measurement creates this kind of fit. I’ll then craft a pattern using the fabric, I’ll cut out pieces, stitch the pieces together how I want them, and then if I have to make alterations I’ll make alterations. I usually test out the garment on myself to see how it looks.
SP: What do people need to know about the show this weekend?
Khan: It will look more — and I’ve heard certain people describe the clothing this way — grunge. It’s street culture inspired and also has a mix of high fashion as well. There will be about 10 models. I had a casting call, then I asked a few people specifically if they wanted to model. Each model will walk out and showcase what they’re wearing. The clothing I think can be appreciated by all ages. Although it’s primarily for a younger audience — the models will be in their 20s or my age — but if you come I think you’ll enjoy yourself whether you like the clothing or not.
SP: Is this something you forsee doing as a career in the future?
Khan: At the moment it’s my primary hobby, and I’ll be honest with you, I’ve got no idea what I want to do. If I do have a first job, or if I go to university for this subject, it wouldn’t bother me, but the thing about it is, and this is with a lot of forms of art, it’s so uncertain. And so we’ll see how it goes.
Khan's runway show will take place with the support of Urbana First Fridays, GlamSquad at the University of Illinois, and Dan Maloney, owner of the Cohen Building. Admission is free.
Photos provided by Joseph Khan