I have always had a penchant for fashion. Always using clothing to translate my mood. Entering my twenties saw me turn away from trends, and move into a more monochromatic realm where I favoured good quality, investment pieces over high-street garms. Fast-forward a few years, and this timelessness surrounding minimalism became key. Now I try to focus on being conscious when thinking about refreshing my edit. With everything happening to the world, some elements of the industry seem frivolous, insensitive almost. But personal style; dressing to convey how you want the world to see you, that will never falter.
Fashion’s obsession with sustainability – whether it started as a trend or not – is here to stay. Thank fuck for that. And the conversation has since turned its attention to vintage. I like to think of it as the elevated, storied older sister. Opting for beautifully constructed pieces of fashion history, or upcycling retro staples are another form of being mindful when it comes to your sartorial style choices.
Chantal Brocca went from writing to styling and activism-based events, when she initially started working with Fashion Revolution UAE, and since then has found a love for film photography. The Dubai-based creative is a testament to sustainable living and its relationship to fashion. Who better then, to discuss what conscious style really means…
What does personal style mean to you? I just love to dress up. Since I was a kid, I had a bit of a weird sense of style, probably nurtured by my insane mother who literally embodies the notion of not giving a fuck. For real. She rocks up absolutely anywhere and wears, says, does whatever she’s inclined to, with sub-zero care or even notion of the eyes of others. I never thought I’d work as a stylist though – I think that creeped up on me slowly while I was in Paris, and I discovered shopping in ad-hoc markets. The concept of those markets pretty much aligns with what I understand style to be – an unbiased reflection of your identity, values, and sense for life. I find personal style dictated by advertising, influencers or trends a bit of a joke to be honest, because that’s not style, that’s a dictatorship – pure dictated consumption – and you don’t even realise your true sense of style, and sometimes even your true desires, are asleep until you’re able to break free from that. Advertising is enemy number one. Personal style is anything that rises up against it.
When did you discover sustainable fashion? It was through my blog when I began to properly do my research into the fashion industry. I have a gut feeling for when things are off, and when I first entered that world it was just weird vibe after weird vibe. So much image, such inconsistency between reality and what everyone talked about or thought. It was maddening. I dove into fashion history, the semiotics of things, my first love, and then eventually through my first commissioned articles with Eluxe Magazine – the world’s first sustainable luxury mag – I got to seriously understand the inner workings of production. A total nightmare. Living in Paris helped too, as I made lots of friends that worked in the various big fashion houses, and the things I heard were absolutely appalling.
How did STUDIO ASANAWA come about? My Master thesis was on the lingerie market. I was attempting to apply my favourite cultural theory to it and at the time that helped me realise how stagnant the market was. Not anymore of course, so much has happened in that sphere in the past few years. At the time I was just interested in creating a brand that depicted women differently, more in tune with inner individual identity than a projected sexuality, and of course, that was ethical. I met with Najla, an old friend of mine, at the very beginning and the idea just clicked so we immediately rolled with it.
Your instagram is filled with intriguing images, most made up of vintage or ethically produced garments – where do you source them and how do you stay inspired with perhaps a more limited scope of clothing? In my family the women have a habit of holding onto garments, which means a vault of gorgeous vintage items to raid – and I raid it A LOT. When I do shop I wait till I travel and do my research on weekend vintage markets or thrift stores – I make it a point to do this everywhere I go. If it’s not markets, it’s small sustainable or second-hand sellers online. There is so much out there, it’s really just a question of taking the time to look.
About the inspiration, I’ve actually thought about that. I realised that it doesn’t – and perhaps shouldn’t – come from the quantity of stuff you have. The less you have the more ingenious you’ve got to be with it. It’s good styling practice.
What does it mean to make take a conscious approach to dressing? I it means really thinking about what you are buying, and what you are essentially voting for. It doesn’t mean saving the world – there’s too much shit, it’s too complex and ingrained, you can’t spread yourself so thin. Just be aware of the kinds of ideas you want to perpetuate, be conscious of the impact of your dollar.
How can people make a change towards this type of thinking?
I think it starts with realising we live in a society of smoke and mirrors. It motivates you to do your own research into whatever industry interests you the most and when you start, you can’t stop. Research is King. Being aware of your impact is definitely the first step, the next is to take back your purchasing power. That means not allowing your purchases to be fed to you by a global marketing machine, but instead to allow them to be led by your values, what’s most important to you. In the end, we can think all we want but who we are and what we truly stand for is ultimately dictated by our actions.
How are you staying connected and creative during these uncertain times? It’s definitely hard I’m not going to lie. What helps me though, is learning and a little bit of art therapy. Painting or drawing, just to give myself that feeling of accomplishment. When I feel my energy low I don’t force it, but I just switch to something low key that can fuel me later, like reading or watching interesting documentaries about things that fascinate me – absolutely anything as long as I feel that I’m learning. You never know what will spark an idea or the next project.
How do you think the fashion industry will be affected? How will it adapt? There’s so much, it’s honestly hard to say. One of the biggest impacts I can think of is this current flurry of digitisation. Everything is going online – from private showcases to buyers, runways, to product development through new softwares that help with things like virtual fit sessions, and even entire digitised supply chains. There’s a lot going on, and if there’s one tiny silver lining in fashion it’s that the crisis has forced the industry to innovate like mad. The only thing I’m hoping is that this intense period of change will force it to reassess its relationship with the actual producers of all these clothes. One of the worst things the industry does is persistently undermine global human rights – and unfortunately, their recent actions in Bangladesh doesn’t bode too well for a better and fairer treatment of workers.
Follow Chantal on INSTAGRAM.