Sarah Schofield and Agatha Kowalewski, the Paris-based design duo behind ASSK, seem to be on just about everyone's radar at the moment. They showed their Fall/Winter 2014 collection during New York Fashion Week for the first time, thanks to VFILES, which started stocking their brand last year. Schofield and Kowalewski, who are actually native Australians, have since been given nods from Style.com, WWD, Schön, Vice, Wonderland and a handful (or two) of other publications. The young brand (its just two seasons old) has already started to welcome a bit of a cult following around the globe; they stock at VFILES in New York and on the platform's e-commerce site, at OFF the WALL in Hong Kong, and at Candy, Fake Tokyo in Japan - just to name a few. We caught up with Sarah (below, left) and Agatha (below, right) to talk about unisex clothing, how they try to avoid being copied, VFILES, and more ...
The Fashion Law -How old are you and where in Australia are you guys originally from?
Agatha Kowalewski - I am 30 and my family is Polish but I grew up in Adelaide before moving to Melbourne.
Sarah Schofield - I am 27. I grew up in the countryside close to Melbourne. I moved to Paris 5 years ago. After we met by chance 3 years ago, Agatha moved to Paris, too.
The Fashion Law -Tell me a bit about your fashion backgrounds and how they have shaped your brand.
Sarah - We both come from two completely different backgrounds. I took the traditional route, studying at RMIT University and then at the Institut Français de la Mode. With the dream to work in luxury design, I gained experience at Dior, Louis Vuitton and Versace.
Agatha - I grew up and tried a bit of everything, before moving to Paris and working as a stylist's assistant. It was really a combination of all our experiences and skills we have gained which formed ASSK.
Sarah - As the brand has grown, the reasoning behind what we are doing has become more important to us, to break down ideals of gender, to promote and support local industry and the people we work with, and to make a brand universe where everyone included and welcome.
The Fashion Law -I know that you are very inspired by subcultures. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Sarah - We have been really inspired by subcultures, but rather than localised subcultures formed by living a particular place (for example, the punk movement born in London), we are inspired by how in today's world, with the internet, you can find a community of people who are into whatever you are into. We are especially inspired by reality, and how real life and real people are stranger then anything you could dream of. It is comforting to think of a bunch of disparate outsiders coming together to form a community. Also our pieces are a social comment of the moment, we are more interested in now and the future rather then referencing moments from the past.
Agatha - When a lot of people responded to our S/S 2014 Juggalo inspired collection with "I don't get the clowns", we knew that we had achieved something!
The Fashion Law -You have been working with artist Oliver Van Der Lugt for sometime now. He seems to share your enthusiasm for culture codes.
Sarah - Yes. We have been collaborating with Oliver from the start. He is Dutch-born and now based in Melbourne, and has been a very close friend of Agatha for many years. He definitely shares an interest in many of the same ideals as ASSK, like pop culture and technology. Interestingly, our whole working relationship is held online, via email and skype.
The Fashion Law -I know it is probably too soon to say, but how do you see your careers changing after the VFILES show? What impact do you think showing at NYFW is having on your brand?
Sarah - Of course the VFILES show has already had a big impact on the brand. We gained a lot of press and more stockists. But the biggest thing which changed for us was to have such great feedback from friends and from strangers, and to know people support us and what we are doing. For us it is not the business side which is most important, rather people's love of the brand and what we do.
Agatha - The VFILES show has also set a dangerous precedent - now we feel we have to top it next season!
The Fashion Law -The word “unisex” has been used to describe your collections. Are you designing for both genders?
Agatha - The ASSK collection is designed to be worn by both genders, originally this was not even a conscious decision for us. I, especially, have not worn "women's" clothing since high school! It was just natural for us as ambiguous gender and sexuality is very much of the world we live in. It was not until people started insisting on knowing if the pieces were for men or women that we realised it was not the norm and we started really wanting to highlight it. In Paris gender roles are very rigid and part of the reason that we started the brand was to try and bring a new feeling to the city and break down some of the old institutional prejudices which still exist.
Sarah - The funny thing was that we made a printed t-shirt dress this season, which we thought girls might like. But on the lookbook shoot, our model Luka, (who is the ultimate young NY heartbreaker!), walked in and said "I want to wear this", it looked so good on him it that it was used in the show and has now become the best selling item with our menswear stores.
The Fashion Law -Do you ever worry about others copying your designs? Is this something that you have encountered?
Sarah - Copying in the fashion industry is so common we it won't let it worry us. After our experience in luxury design and styling, working with designer clothing that we could never dream to buy, it is important for us to keep the collection affordable for normal people. We hope that by producing high quality, but affordable pieces that people will be able to buy the real thing rather then buying an inferior copy.
The Fashion Law -What has surprised you the most about the fashion industry so far and what have you learned about the business of fashion?
Sarah - From our experiences working in the industry so far, we have probably learned most about how we DON'T want to do things! Working in difficult situations can teach you a lot, and now we know how we want to run the business and treat the people we work with well.
Agatha - The most important thing we have learned in starting the brand is to live in the now and to let life take it's own direction, even if it's not something which you ever expected or planned to do.
The Fashion Law -Do you think that you’ve made it?
Sarah - This season has given us a feeling that we have really achieved something, but we wouldn't say we have "made it"! I think that for us "making it" will be the point where the brand has a strong identity and when we are no longer working night and day and making everything in our 18 square metre (190 sq ft??) apartment!
The Fashion Law - What are you obsessed with right now?
Sarah - The idea of having a day off, unscripted reality TV and planning to go to LA for the summer to relax and be inspired for the next season!
Agatha - Crossfit!