Halifax: Akshay Tyagi debuts a chilly (in a good way) collection

For Thaw, Halifax conceptual fashion designer Akshay Tyagi’s (akshaytyagi.com) debut solo collection, the inspiration was simple: cracked ice along the winter-licked shores of Nova Scotia’s St Margaret’s Bay. As swiftly as the icy scene gave seed to the idea of a collection, the designer was instantly envisioning bits of his future designs—the pleats of translucent fabrics and the folds of layered cloth, like frozen water wrapping around a rock.

But how he would share this quickly cultivated idea to the public wouldn’t be as simple.

“This couldn’t just be your typical runway show,” says Tyagi.

Not wanting the presentation to stand secondary to the work, the 23-year-old designer approached Claire Leger, the choreographer for Halifax’s Camerata Xara Young Women’s Choir, to propose a performance collaboration. What grew was the multi-sensual experience that filled the Bus Stop Theatre on October 24, taking the audience through an audio and visual journey from the cold of winter to the inevitable arrival of spring. Tyagi’s collection clothed 16 of the choir’s singers in dresses, tops and skirts (with a few pops of his dare-I-say-signature transparent plastic outerwear and accessories) in greys, blues and whites. The remaining six wore simple black dresses Tyagi had designed for a previous performance.

Housing the eeriest and most absorbing collection of voices I have ever heard, Tyagi’s designs took on new life. They became characters in Camerata Xara’s musical narrative, providing the audience with a tangible entry point into an otherworldly experience of song and movement. As the women walked, twirled and reached their way through the dark theatre, the clothing responded, becoming extensions of each gesture. And the auditory landscape, laced with “th” sounds, wave-like “shhs” and the staccato pops of the spring thaw, was heavy in the designer’s coastal inspiration. The elements of this chilling yet beautiful experience were stitched together so cohesively, that it was almost—but not quite—possible to overlook a few unfinished hems and dangling threads.

“It’s about the whole experience, not about the perfect quarter-inch hem,” says Tyagi. “As a collection, as a presentation, it worked.”

Admitting that he doesn’t see himself as a ready-to-wear clothing designer, Tyagi identifies with the world of conceptual fashion, looking up to such designers as Hussein Chalayan and Issey Miyake. His interest in fashion started a little more conventionally, with then teenaged Tyagi making mini collections for his high school fashion shows in South India. It was his International Beccalaureate Art program’s thesis paper that led him to a side of the industry that willingly blurs the lines between fashion and art. His research then brought him to Halifax’s NSCAD University, where he later graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in textiles and fashion.

His graduate collection, showcased at both the Anna Leonowens Gallery (1891 Granville St., 902-494-8223) and last fall’s Atlantic Fashion Week, was a series of sculptural pieces in vinyls and plastics that completely changed how Tyagi viewed clothing. The summer’s Off the Cuff, a fashion competition and runway show hosted by Argyle Fine Art gallery, forced Tyagi back to the studio and his sketchbook, finally bringing the frosty stimulus to fruition. Although Tyagi was of the competition’s three finalists, he felt the pieces weren’t unveiled in the environment they required.

“If this was the wrong setting for my work, I’ll show you the right setting,” he says.

If the right setting requires a room pregnant with nearly two dozen voices united in song and movement, a welcomed alternative to the conveyer-belt motion of the traditional runway, I’m all in—for whatever he comes up with next. And according to Tyagi, truly a perfectionist at heart, the next collection will find time to focus on the technical, giving his creative pieces the polish they deserve.

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