Fair-trade designer goes behind the lens

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
None of the subjects of Body of Work is a professional model. ALAN JAMES FLUX

Fair-trade designer goes behind the lens

Long-time fashion consultant Alan Flux debuts ‘portraiture with a fashion bias’ at Java

Alan Flux describes himself as shy, but he dresses in bold floral print. The softly spoken Englishman cuts a slim figure behind the counter at the A.N.D. shop on Street 240, the front for his Phnom Penh-based fair-trade partnership. As a designer and fashion consultant, Flux has worn many hats: on film sets, in interior design and in the fair-trade sector in Mongolia, Bangladesh and Cambodia.

He will don another hat on Thursday, when his debut solo exhibition of photographs opens at Java Cafe and Gallery. The exhibition features about 25 images, including design sketches in ink and coloured pencil.

Flux began working in photography commercially. The A.N.D. label simply didn’t have the budget to outsource its own magazine advertisements, and so he started shooting. He was soon asked to do a bit of editorial work.

But the designer began to amass a collection of images that weren’t meant for glossy pages. In fact, they had no real destination.

“It’s happened that way, sort of out of nothing really,” he said this week in his characteristic off-hand manner.

But Flux is passionate about his art, which he describes as “portraiture with a fashion bias”, as well as his method: the thread that links each of his images is that none of the people he photographs are professional models.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
None of the subjects of Body of Work is a professional model. ALAN JAMES FLUX

Instead, they are people he encounters around Phnom Penh: passersby, street sellers, the barista at his neighbourhood cafe, to name just a few. He selects his subjects based on personal preference – “I think they might make a good model” – and then sets to capture their look.

For once, the clothes aren’t the focus – in fact, they often don’t even immediately stand out. “The people are the first thing. I can always find something to put on them,” Flux said. And he does – a vintage piece, something they already owned, A.N.D. couture or an accessory from the 240 shop.

Most of the garments feature bright colours, elaborate patterns and a matching textile backdrop. Some contain motifs: religious, natural. But with Flux’s focus on the model, those things begin to fall away. It's a sharp contrast with mainstream fashion photography.

“It’s apparent that the photographs are not about the clothes themselves.

They’re about the individuals,” Dana Langlois, curator and director of JavaArts, said this week. “The clothes just become part of the portrait.”

She was most interested in demonstrating how Flux moves between the fields of fashion design and portraiture in his work, a transition illustrated in part through his sketches on display.

Langlois added that it was the first time she had exhibited work from the commercial-design sector, and that she is a bit of an outsider from the scene.

That scene, Flux explained, is small but vibrant, with a mixture of high couture and “nice casual things” like those in the shop. Its biggest event, the bi-annual Phnom Penh Designers’ Week, will take place in April with a full focus on menswear.

A.N.D.’s newest collection, “Heroes and Antiheroes" (Flux was scant on the details) will be on the catwalk, alongside the work of a growing number of local designers.

But Flux said that to understand any fashion scene, one should first define “fashion". On that question, he had a sharp line already prepared.

“It’s wise not to, isn’t it really?”

Body of Work opens at Java Cafe and Gallery, #56 Sihanouk Boulevard, on Thursday at 6:30pm. The exhibition will run through April 30.

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