"I can change my personality and style, but I like to be myself". Kallvis Chen began as a computer science major, but quickly became bored of its lack of excitement. He also modeled, but similarly, he grew tried of its passive role in fashion. While he accepted being told how to stand, how to look, and how to dress, he wanted his own say. Kallvis doesn't let societal roles or expectations stand in his way of being himself. In fact, he doesn't even let his full name stand as a label. As a designer, Kallvis goes by 'Kallvis Gents' where Gents is an anagram for his mother's maiden name (Tseng). Because of his strong relationship with his mother, Kallis felt as though this change represented a better sense of who he is. After an engaging conversation with him on his views on fashion, society, and politics, one thing was clear- in the end, it's all about being himself.
Kallvis describes his upcoming collection as "very different" where he plays on his interpretation of current fashion trends, pushing them to the next level. His collection is meant to bring power to women and versatility to men. He wants to challenge typical street wear and bring forth a collection that one would not typically see in stores. It was difficult for him to pinpoint exactly what inspired this collection; but instead, described it more as "a feeling" based on street wear and behaviours around him that somehow connected together. Instead of describing how his designs represent his personality, Kallvis expressed that his designs are him. He painted the picture that at [FAT] on the runway, his showcase could be seen as 5 Kallvis's in menswear, and 5 Kallvis's dressed in drag (for his women's wear designs).
"Everyone wants to look pretty, everyone wants to look good...everyone wants to apply their creativity". Kallvis says that typical criticisms of fashion such as commercialism and its emphasis on aesthetics are acceptable to a certain point. He believes that people are more or less superficial and like the idea of money and beauty, but that it's natural. "Everything about design is based on human nature". It becomes problematic when fashion becomes solely about selling where the art and expressionism in fashion is undermined. He believes that the worst thing would be having no personality in design.
Among his other critiques is his strong view on ethnic representations in fashion. He observes that there are rarely any ethnic models and views the predominant use of Caucasian models as a form of racism. He wants to push for a greater diversity in models. When looking for people to model his [FAT] collection, he found it difficult to find people of ethnic minorities. He sees minorities as underrepresented and suppressed in the fashion industry. He says that he believes this because he feels like he experiences this suppression. He talks about how he feels as though people attach stereotypical associations about him based on his ethnicity. He says that these judgments are based on subconscious teachings regarding ethnicity. Though "you can't help how people think of you", he raises the point that one of the problems is that people want to avoid conflict when talking about race. He points out that in Canada, especially in Toronto, people accept it as being multicultural; instead, issues surrounding race are never brought to attention. However, he believes that "it only takes a few crazy people to change the world" where he might just be one of those crazy people.
Finally, I asked Kallvis about his thoughts on his age (22) in relation to the fashion industry. He says that though his youth makes him a little spontaneous, he's strong and mature for his age. He talks about how coming to Canada from Taiwan at age 15 without his parents has made him strong, independent, and ready to deal with anything. Kallvis also says that his youth gives him the energy to keep up with the rush and demand of the fashion industry. "You have to run in fashion." Whether it's running to find materials or meet a deadline, Kallvis says that he's running three times as fast. He's proved this thus far by being the first person in George Brown college history to attend the Telio Design Competition in Montreal. He says that it is extremely important to have a clear passion and a clear vision. For Kallvis, this means continually working towards raising awareness about racism.
Human Nature will kick off the runway shows on the final day of Toronto Alternative Arts & Fashion Week on April 29 at 7:10 pm.
Thank you, Kallvis Gents for a spirited interview!
Special thanks to Theresa Micallef of [FAT] for facilitating this.
Images from Human Nature's Flickr