Model, designer and photographer? Afshin Feiz does it all
Ever wondered what the life is of a model, designer or a photographer? Afshin Feiz has seen all sides. He started out as a model, then became a fashion designer in Paris, achieving significant success by having his brand (Afshin Feiz) be featured at London Fashion Week as well as New York Fashion Week. His clothes have been worn by A-listers such as Katie Holmes and Paris Hilton and today he works as a portrait photographer based in London. When I had the pleasure of sitting down with him this week, he was on his his way to Kenya to shoot for the Global Angels Foundation, a charity run by Molly Bedingfield (mother of pop stars Natasha and Daniel Bedingfield). To hear about his experiences in the industry and the shake-up that is needed, here are 10 questions with Afshin.
How did you first get into fashion?
When I was 17 I had to make the decision of what I wanted to study. I was interested in studying fashion, but my father wanted me to pursue a "real job", such as a lawyer or a doctor, so I chose the closest artistic degree that he would be okay with, which ended up being Economics. But in the end I could not rid myself of my artistic ways, since I ended up graduating university with a degree in French Literature!
So my first real exposure to the creative industry was during the summer that I spent in London during my studies. I would visit the club Kinky Gerlinky a lot, which back then was the hottest club in town. Everyone who was anyone went out there. That is also where I rubbed shoulders with celebrities like Boy George, Mark Moore from S'Express and numerous supermodels. And so it was during my time in London that I realised how much I wanted to be in the creative industry. I then ended up studying at Studio Berçot in Paris. My original plan was to stay in Paris for only 5 years, but that figure turned out to become 22 years.
What fashion companies have you worked for?
The head of our school was well-connected in the fashion scene, so I got the opportunity to work for some big names. My first internship was at Thierry Mugler. Then after I graduated university, I worked at John Galliano for a bit. Then through my friend Marc Lopez, an established hairdresser, I had lunch with Carine Roitfeld and Mario Testino. They wanted to get me into contact with Tom Ford for a job, but when I got in touch with him I was already offered a job at Nina Ricci, where I ended up working for 3 years as First Assistant Designer.
When did you start your own label and why did you end it?
In 2004 I was dating a guy who was working in finance. I wanted to start my own fashion brand and thought our relationship would be perfect for my plan: I could do the design aspect of the brand and my boyfriend would handle the business/finance side. So the two of us decided to become co-founders. The name of the brand was Afshin Feiz. Relatively quickly the brand became a success and before we knew it we were selling all over the world, such as in the U.S, Dubai and Russia. But then in 2010, me and my business partner split up, which meant that running a business together became tough. It was a bit of a 'Catch 22' situation, as it was a mistake to have gone into business with my boyfriend in the first place. But at the same time, I can not imagine having started the brand without his input. I did put on one more season after we broke up at Haute Couture Fashion Week in Paris, but I quickly realised I could not handle running the business on my own; it was too much work and took too much money. So after 7 years of running my own brand I put an end to it.
You also started a line in China, how did you get involved with that?
During a trade show in Paris a lady approached me and told me my work was exactly the kind of clothes that would fit the profile of Chinese consumers. At the time there weren't that many international designers in China, so there was a lot of money to be made there. I thus created a whole new brand just for the Chinese market, under the name REVES DE FLEURS. The brand sounded French, but was catered to the tastes of the Chinese woman. It was of course very time-consuming and hectic because as I was working on REVES DE FLEURS I was also focusing on my own brand. And this took its toll, working 17 hours a day for 7 years. I ended REVES DE FLEURS a year after I ended Afshin Feiz.
How did you start getting into photography?
After I stopped both my Chinese brand and my own label, I wanted to do something completely different to expand my creative horizons. I had always said I would have been a photographer if I had not been a designer, and so when one of my photographer friends in New York gifted me his camera, I took this as a sign that I should pursue photography. I then went to photography school to became a portrait photographer. I am now working on an exhibition of the gentrification of Soho; the borough is gentrifying and there are so many odd and interesting features left that I wanted to capture. I am also very interested in doing fashion photography. My opinion is that a lot of fashion photographers out there are not good at all, but that simply good models and makeup make it too easy for them. Given that I have been on both sides of the camera, being a designer and model, I feel this gives me an edge.
What is one of the critical issues of the fashion industry?
Fashion involves a lot of drugs. It has always been a problem and still is. Look at what happened to John Galliano or Marc Jacobs, who have publicised drug problems. Of course there are a lot of people in fashion who do not become dependant on drugs, but rather use drugs recreationally. However, the problem remains that the hours that are expected of you in fashion are extreme, making the inclination towards drugs strong.
You've been in fashion for many years, how has it been dealing with drugs for you personally?
I have been clean and sober for the past four years. It helps that I surround myself with other people that are also clean. One of the big reasons why I left fashion design was because I was putting so much pressure on myself to be successful. I told myself that if I reached a certain level of success, I would be happy. But then when I finally reached that level, I would compare myself to someone else, even more successful: it was thus a never ending cycle. And so I had to take a step back and look at myself. I needed to realise money and fame does not dictate my self-worth anymore. Of course I won't say no to money, but my happiness does not depend on it. I used to just feel like I was just existing and not living, but now I live in the present and I live every moment. I don't have expectations to be happy in the future, because I am happy now.
If you could change one thing in fashion, what would it be?
I think a lot of people are very talented in fashion but don't get the recognition they deserve. And then there are the people who are less talented, but know the right people, and take these opportunities away.
In the end, fashion is all nepotism. Every job I got was through contacts. Every place I worked at, was through contacts. I have been sent to people by head hunters, but then they would just hire someone in-house. So to be good in fashion, you have to play the game and go to the right parties. Some people are cut out for this, but many are not.
Where do you get inspiration for your work?
When I was a fashion designer, a lot of my inspiration came from the poet Rumi. I would incorporate butterflies in my collections, like the butterflies he writes about in his poems. One of my collections was about a coccoon and the rebirth. Butterflies are also heavily featured in my photography.
Which artists are you inspired by?
My favorite fashion photographers are Steven Meisel and Tim Walker. But I also like to follow a lot of unknown photographers on Instagram to get inspiration for my paintings and drawings.