Fashion? Rigid and overly serious? AVAVAV’s Beate Karlsson says it doesn’t have to be that way

The Swedish designer broke free of fashion convention in more ways than one during her recent AW23 show in Milan.

Entitled ‘Fake it til you break it’, Beate Karlsson’s AW23 AVAVAV show at Milan Fashion Week sent expectations flying. As models descended down the runway, their looks broke off or flew off of their bodies into various directions. It began with the odd broken heel or a bag falling off of its strap. But then came sleeves being pulled off of shirts, black hoodies stitched with ‘Hot, Rich, Famous’ ripped apart, dresses and trousers torn away, culminating in the whole backdrop of the show falling flat on its face. 

However, the AVAVAV presentation did quite the opposite. Now known for the unexpected, Karlsson’s spectacles during fashion week have become quite the staple. For her SS23 show, models tripped up over themselves down the runway, falling, quite literally, head over heels of the brand’s Moonster XXL boots. It quickly became one of the season’s most viral shows. For any Karlsson aficionado, it only took the first heel to break during the recent catwalk for the audience to know that the real AVAVAV show was about to begin. 

However, it’s never just been about virality or catching as many eyes as possible whilst Instagram feeds are inundated with Fashion Week content. There’s always a message, a comment on the industry in some respect. For AW23, it was all about interrogating, dissecting and deconstructing the seriousness of fashion. As Karlsson tells HUNGER, it started with the question: “What’s the most embarrassing thing that can happen to a fashion house?” And well, a heel breaking from one of the first looks sent down the runway is probably just that. 

We caught up with Karlsson to find out more about what it is about the fashion industry that makes her laugh, and why we should be laughing with her…

What was your initial starting point for the collection? Was it the shock factor, or a continuation of the previous collection? 

We were exploring this idea of fake richness and wealth and how the fashion industry is just about labels and what value does it carry? So this collection became a development of that theme. We also thought there’s something very funny about shame and how you can put that in the collection or in a runway show, and how you present something. So for our SS23 show, there was a sense of our models being ashamed because they fell over and they fucked up. Whereas now it’s more about us a fashion house screwing up because everything is falling apart. 

And so what was the overall comment on luxury, and what luxury means? 

To me, I think about what I’ve been biased to think is luxury, which is something that is expensive, comfortable and quite serious; you’re put together and you have your kit and it’s very neat and there are no rips, just perfect tailored suits or things like that. That’s just my preconception of it. But I think it’s interesting because today designers are developing that so much, and there’s a lot of upcycle brands that are producing super expensive coats, taking old rags and then they make coats out of it, and it’s super vintage. 

How did that tie into the collection and, for example, the clothes breaking/falling apart?

We were trying to find what’s the most embarrassing thing that can happen for a fashion house and what’s the thing that is the furthest away from something being luxury. And I think that something breaking is that. So we thought it was really interesting to see if we could present a collection where things are starting to break and it could still look luxurious and still be considered luxury.

We had two voices in our heads. Our finger shoes, for example, are sold at €1300 or something. They’re very difficult to make. I think a lot of brands would never show them in a bad light, such as if they were to break or anything. But we thought that was an interesting point to take our iconic products and pose the question, what if the heel broke?

Was there any worry in your head about how people might perceive the quality of your clothes after the show? 

We did state it clearly in our press release that this is only for the runway show, our clothing is made in some of the top Italian factories. But we also wanted to push it so hard that in the beginning there’s just a heel or a bag breaking – the small details. Then it becomes this artistic performance based on the concept that everything is breaking apart. And we also thought that it was important also for a sales representative, for example, to be comfortable with this concept. 

A lot of your work is self-deprecating to a certain extent. SS23 was about models feeling ashamed that they had fallen over, and now it’s the embarrassment of clothes breaking… 

To me, as a designer working at an up and coming designer label, it’s really nice to have this space where you can openly fail because there are so many difficulties. As a young brand there’s something nice about feeling like there’s a space to just show and be shameful and just tap into that. I think it’s an effective tool to ironically pick on the things in the industry that are so serious. I saw this short reel from, I think it was the Valentino show, where someone was walking and then they fell, and she was so embarrassed and so angry that she fell. I think there’s something so serious about fashion, but it’s funny and really easy to not be serious. I think a lot of people find comfort in that it doesn’t have to be the super luxury house that’s incredibly serious and only has their one way of showing things.

WriterRy Gavin
Image CreditFederico Pompei