Fashion designers are the new painters, X’avier Alexander says. But it’s not the ‘80s anymore, where people flocked to see Warhol or Basquiat at an art gallery; it’s the moment for wearable art, he explains.
Alexander is a VCUarts fashion design student who won the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s 2023 CFDA Design Scholar award. He’s one of a dozen recipients to be awarded out of 340 students that applied. Alexander won $50,000 through CFDA, thanks to a donation made by clothing company Eddie Bauer. He is appreciative and sees it as a stepping stone.
His thesis “Who You Be” involves the theme of Black identity and what it means today. Under this large umbrella, there are collections with subtopics such as consumerism, or how a false sense of empowerment can come through the consumption of luxury goods. Another collection touches on challenging environments his own community faces, such as food deserts and a lack of resources that can lead to hardships and even crime. The artist is also trying to build a better future and show what that would look like.
“It’s taking the good, bad and the ugly about our culture and conceptualizing it into collections that speak on these real life things that go on within our community,” Alexander says.
The artist has a larger vision in mind. He wants a multi-sensory experience involving what you’re seeing, hearing, smelling and how the space feels, Alexander says, adding that he thinks he would need more than $50,000 to create his vision exactly.
“I’m just super big on that; how can you experience fashion in a different space or in a different way, and having it be longer than like a 10 to 15-minute show where models are just walking,” Alexander explains. “I want you to come here jaw dropped.”
There are different ways to tell stories through clothing, he notes. One is the story that each fabric tells.
“I’m starting out where it goes back to times of slavery, up until this whole idea of futurism. So because of that, I’m using a cotton base for this, to still play on conception,” Alexander says. “And because things are kind of architectural and stuff, I had to find things that can have this volume, things that are kind of heavyweight in fabric.”
An important part of his process is research. He pulls elements from his research and incorporates them into his designs, at times accompanied by a print story. “In hindsight, really, I’m a painter that’s turned fashion designer,” says Alexander, who views his work as “wearable art.”
Regarding the current fashion world, he appreciates the experimental aspect that young designers are introducing, noting that with artists collaborating with designers, there has been more focus on interactive art and entertainment purposes, rather than art that sits in a static gallery, he says.
“Fashion, I think, is in a weird place right now, when it comes to just like, the younger designers, because you need so much money to just make it happen and to bring your vision to life,” he says. “Honestly, a lot of the bigger brands are stealing from the younger designers in the first place.” He adds that designers are trying to be more sustainable within their work, “because our industry is polluting the entire world,” he adds.
Alexander graduates in December. Originally from Washington D.C., he believes that everything he has accomplished comes from manifestation. He knew he wanted to study at VCUarts, ranked among one of the best art schools in the country, so he would go through campus manifesting to the universe his acceptance. After doing the work and honing his portfolio, Alexander got his acceptance letter.
After graduation, he hopes to move to overseas and get his master’s degree at Central Saint Martins, a public art school in London. Alexander says this advanced degree would grant him a level of freedom and exploration outside of Richmond, in places that are fashion hubs — such as London, Italy or New York.
The writer Gabriela de Camargo Gonçalves was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil. She is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University graduating in December and a current intern at Style Weekly, while also leading VCU’s independent student newspaper The Commonwealth Times.