Introducing the South London-based designer from the suburbs of Montreal who is fascinated with subculture
It is impossible to separate Alexandre Arsenault from his designs. Aside from acting as his own fit model, the French-Canadian designer is the personification of his eponymous label: he’s tall and slender, skinny jean-clad and covered in tattoos – the relics of his formative years spent working in a skate shop and immersed in the alt-scene of Montreal.
“I’m influenced a lot by my past, coming from the suburbs and the alternative music scene that I was into, which I now realise is very different to other people in fashion,” laughs the 28-year-old Central Saint Martins graduate. “My designs always relate to something very immediate, personal and emotive, rather than a random painting. That doesn’t make sense to me, especially in this postmodern era where everything goes back to the self so much.”
Alexandre Arsenault S/S18
Arsenault graduated from the CSM MA Menswear course in 2016 alongside fellow emerging designers Kiko Kostadinov, Harry Evans, Richard Quinn and John Skelton, and founded his eponymous brand earlier this year. Continuously influenced by the post-punk and hardcore music he listens to, a pair of bleached jeans from Arsenault’s graduate collection were shot on Harry Styles by Ryan McGinley and styled by Alister Mackie throughout his AnOther Man cover story.
The designer’s brand of masculinity runs in a similar vein to that of Hedi Slimane, designing clothes for a man who is “effeminate yet sexual”, harking back to the likes of Syd Barrett, David Bowie and 80s hair metal bands. “For me it goes back to those boys in post-hardcore bands who presented an alternative masculinity,” he says. “Where being a ‘man’ isn’t so much about how much of a hunter-gatherer you are, but about having emotions and being able to show a certain fragility.”
Arsenault lives and works in his Bermondsey-based studio a stone’s throw from Millwall football ground, which he shares with his girlfriend and womenswear designer Charlotte Knowles. At first glance his designs have a pre-loved look to them, but upon closer inspection you can see the craftsmanship that’s gone into them, from hand tailoring to textile design – skills which he honed while studying his CÉGEP in Canada prior to CSM. The bleaching and frayed edges are carefully controlled, the tailoring is precise and the pieces are finished with well-thought out details, such as a concealed tobacco pocket hidden inside the tailoring, and horizontal seams of grey ribbon sewn instead of a label.
“Growing up in the suburbs I was far away from any kind of clothes shop which sold high-fashion. The only access I had to it was through the internet. I found sites like StyleZeitgeist and Superfuture where they are so obsessed with the archives of brands like Raf Simons, Helmut Lang and Rick Owens and all the little details in their clothes,” Arsenault says. “That’s how I learnt about fashion and that’s always what I think about when I design. I make clothes for people who are obsessed with archives, understand clothes and want to wear pieces that say something to them.”
“I’m intrigued by the fact that there are no longer any persisting subcultures and that all we take from past subcultures are just signs and symbols,” he continues. “When we dress now we don’t wear clothes for what they actually are, we use them for what we want to say rather than its original sense, blending their meaning. Clothes don’t really have time to live unaffected in the underground now, they come out of the system already tired, processed and dead and that became the basis for the whole collection.” It’s a thoroughly post-punk approach to fashion, which plays ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ with different references.
With London Fashion Week Men’s in January in Arsenault’s sights, the images slowly gravitating towards his moodboard suggest the designer will continue to play with codes of masculinity. “Over the next few seasons I aspire to connect my work with more like-minded people,” he says of his upcoming plans. “Whether that be customers wearing my clothes or working with creatives, collaboration is integral to what I do and the reason I’m designing.”
Hair Sophie Anderson; Skin Vassilis Theotokis; Model James W at Tomorrow Is Another Day; Special thanks to GAS Works Studio.