This piece originally appeared in print in So It Goes, Issue 5, Spring 2015.
Designer, craftsman, actor, style guru – to these descriptions Waris can now add ‘guide’, having led So It Goes through the Klimts and Schieles of New York’s Neue Galerie.
Frances Davison: You shot the story for So It Goes in the Neue Galerie in and amongst the Egon Schiele exhibition and some of Klimt’s most notable work. Given House of Waris’ broad and varied projects to date, how have you navigated the intersection between fashion and art?
Waris Ahluwalia: It may sound facetious but I’ve not bothered myself with trying to differentiate between the two. My focus has been on the making, on the creating, on the sharing. What a privilege it is to spend one’s day making things of beauty. It was Stendhal who said:“Beauty is nothing more than the promise of happiness.” It’s a simple promise, isn’t it?
FD: Do you find that there are classic principles of form and presentation in art that have their counterparts in style and modern dressing?
WA: My approach to style and dressing follows very simple principles and doesn’t involve an academic study. It’s about the materials and the makers. Similar to my work, I find the best craftsmen and learn about them and their work. Then I stick with them for years and years. They become more of a uniform. Esquivel, who make the shoes I wear, know that I’m only interested in dusty pink suede. My tailor has my sizes – he knows it’s cotton and linen for summer, and wool for the winters. The same silhouettes for the shoes, shirts, suits – over and over again. Simplicity.
FD: So are there any key tenets that guide you in creating and curating pieces for House of Waris? There seems to be an emphasis on craftsmanship as well as a certain eclecticism.
WA: Over the years, I’ve worked with stone cutters, goldsmiths, enamellers, carpenters, marble makers, weavers, loomers, cobblers, batikers, silk screeners, tailors, embroiderers, glass blowers – the list goes on. This devotion to craft is a chance to bring a thoughtful way of life into the modern age. A chance for beauty and humanity to survive in an otherwise cold and homogenous world.
To understand where we are going, we must know where we came from. Too often we forget our past. However, it’s not the past I’m longing for. In fact, I’m quite content living in this era. The word I associate more with is tradition – by definition it is a custom or belief that is passed on generation to generation. Almost a skillset. Tools for living. Inherent to tradition is the future. It is my belief that craftsmanship is not a thing of the past or a fleeting trend of today but a timeless practice that connects mankind with each other, with the earth and with the great unknown – that creative spark that lives within each of us.
FD: You’re obviously noted for your acting work in Wes Anderson films. What is it about his aesthetic and approach to his projects that particularly chimes with you?
WA: It’s quite an honour to be included in Wes’ creations. Like the enamellers or weavers I work with, he is a master of his craft. A storyteller of epic proportions. Precise in his movements, considered in his actions.
FD: Can you distil what it is about New York that sets it apart from other cities creatively?
WA:You have to walk the city to really understand it. Your feet have to touch the pavement. It can’t be understood from the back seat of a car with tinted windows. The most catalytic energy in New York is on the streets. It’s the people you pass. The faces you see. It’s the possibilities. It’s the hope. The fear. This city can chew you up and spit you out without a second thought. It’s callous. It’s beautiful. As the Chairman of the Board said, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere...”
Photographer: Samantha Casolari
Stylist: Liz McClean @ Brydges Mackinney
Fashion Assistant: Ethan Cowley
Special thanks: Rebecca Lewis at The Neue Galerie