London-based designer Kara Messina might have a background working in high fashion, but her heart lies in kick-ass, grime-inspired, re-imagined-90s street-wear. Using her experience as a pattern-cutter for exclusive designers and labels including John Richmond, Basso & Brooke and Aquascutum among others, Messina’s menswear line, Y’Oh (launched for spring/summer 2011) takes its cues from quality high-end design and merges it with functional, though striking, streetwear that the East London guys she’s surrounded by would actually wear. Messina’s interest in cultures from all over the globe is incorporated into her menswear, which “provide a service” rather than function simply on an aesthetic level, and make a statement with bold, African prints – her way of “paying homage to London as a multi-cultural city.” Kara Messina tells us a little about her new label Y’Oh, and reveals what makes a man sexy, unsexy and sexless with Sex & Fashion.
Indigo Clarke: The African prints that make up your current collection are amazing – why did you choose these fabrics?
Kara Messina: It started with my love of the check shirt. It’s so diverse in that it has been adopted by skaters, hip hop community and even into mainstream culture. There’s so many versions of it I didn’t see any point in rehashing another version so I came up with the idea to use African wax printed fabric. I guess I was also influenced by seeing people going to church on Sunday dressed in head to toe African print in East London, they look so respectable. So in a way it is paying homage to London as a multi-cultural city too. I believe once we have become accustomed to it, it has the potential to function in the same way that leopard print and camouflage does.
Indigo Clarke: How would you describe your menswear?
Kara Messina: I approach fashion in two ways: First of all, from a social perspective. I am most observant of how individuals and communities behave, their interests and judgment of themselves, which are manifest in the way they consume and dress. Following that, being a professional pattern cutter, I view it on a more practical level – the way the garment functions. As a designer I see my work as providing a service, especially being a young female designing menswear. I am very careful to be thorough in my research. My job is to find out what is missing and provide it. I am at an age where I don’t strive to be unique – or, to be more specific, to go out of my way to be different. I find that comes effortlessly when you let go of trying to make a name for yourself and you approach your job thinking, What can I bring to this? My style has been born out of working in high fashion for a number of years and quitting it to move to streetwear. The result of which is impeccably cut garments that reach a consumer I connect with. Aesthetically, I enjoy classics; that said, Y’OH will include some colourful pieces (I shocked myself). I am very much into Afrocentrism.
Indigo Clarke: Do you see menswear as being sexy?
Kara Messina: Haha… I’ve never really thought of my job as making men sexy. I think a man’s mannerisms are far sexier than anything he could wear. I think jewellery and aftershave are most definitely sexy.
Indigo Clarke: What is unsexy?
Kara Messina: I can tell you what is sex-less. If a man wears the wrong shoes. From my own experience the shoes say more about the man than clothes. So invest well!
Indigo Clarke: Why were you inspired to launch Y’Oh?
Kara Messina: I never set out to make my own collection. I was approached to do some work for a store here in London. I was given free rein over direction, and the ideas that transpired just took shape into a collection of my own called Y’Oh.
For years I have been researching this concept of youth transition. There isn’t an obvious difference in boys’ clothes and men’s clothes, so how does one feel like he is dressing accordingly as an adult without having to wear a suit? Take a skater, for example: Can he still wear the same clothes at 30 that he wore in his late teens? My favoured consumer is a 30-plus man, over the course of time whilst creating the collection I’ve found it is this age group that responds best to my designs. They are more secure and assertive with their personal style; therefore, they are more willing to take risks. Having said that, I have a great amount of respect for the kids in the early ’90s who are famous for saving up their pocket money to buy Ralph Lauren shirts. I would be flattered if that happened. Aesthetically I have approached it looking at garments that I think are iconic. I asked myself why the checked shirt is such a great staple piece, and that’s where the visuals for the collection set in motion. There’s actually no checked fabric in the collection – all that remains is the subtext. Objectively the proportions I have used are not similar to anything in mainstream culture.
Indigo Clarke: Do you think you’ll make a women’s line?
Kara Messina: It’s funny I have had a lot of interest in Y’OH from women… I have lots of ideas and I do think there is a gap in the market for a certain type of womenswear but I would never design Y’OH for women. Solely because it would change the dynamic of the brand so it would have to be a completely new separate brand.
Indigo Clarke: Where are you stocked?
Kara Messina: For the first few seasons we are online selling through our own online store which will launch mid-September. People need to be ready to get buying quick because it’s looking like it might sell out fast. The stock is super limited, we’re not trying to be exclusive or anything, it’s because the fabric is super difficult to source and time consuming to cut. The factory where it was produced in London was amazing considering the length off time it took to make a shirt from start to finish. The quality is proper high.
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