WHEN THEY FOUNDED it two years ago, the two Australians, Kain Picken and Fiona Lau, christened their “unisex, prêt-a-porter fashion label” ffiXXed. The unlikely name (pronounced simply as “fixed”) might be an homage to the sense of dependability evinced by the family-like atmosphere that their four-story in-house production studio plays home to, or just as likely, to the silent longing for stability that had been following them across the globe in the two years previous, during their start in Berlin and later stints in Hong Kong and New York. They were initially drawn to Hong Kong by the helpful presence of Lau’s relations— a family friend introduced them to fabric agents and their first master sewer, and through the latter, to the rest of their current sewers— and there they stayed for over six months, producing their first full-fledged collection. But as the cost of real estate and labor in Hong Kong dictates, they were forced to outsource to the Mainland. For them this proved to be a source of extreme discomfort, not knowing whether the place they were told was producing their collections was actually that place, what working conditions were like for their sewers, or just plain not knowing who their sewers were.
For others in the creative industries, leaving Hong Kong for money-governed Shenzhen may have seemed preposterous, but for ffiXXed, the vibe was somehow right. One visit to the neighboring Mainland city, and the two fell enraptured with the possibilities. The area’s trademark speed and flexibility of labor were among the first advantages they drew on: within two weeks of deciding to move shop, they had their entire studio set up and rearing to go, and with so many other clothing factories nearby, it didn’t take long to put together a highly skilled team. All twelve came by way of personal introductions, often friends or family of their master sewer, and sometimes both (there are two married couples in the ffiXXed “family”). Taking the family analogy one step further, as well, is ffiXXed’s way of stretching the local socio-industrial fabric in a positive direction. Says Picken on their working practice, “We really want to make the staff feel valued for their ability and skill, to recognize that this is a super-important part of the process, something that seems to be taken for granted in China, and in the fashion industry in general.”
Picken and Lau have found themselves increasingly happy with their decision to move to Shenzhen. They recently opted to upgrade with a long-term lease on a studio in the quieter Wutongshan area, just outside the city. This laid-back lifestyle, which ultimately becomes manifest in their clothes, runs through the entire studio— a tangible, almost tactile mantra that occasionally even allows for dancing and flirting to occur during working hours. In terms of materials, their choices similarly skew toward the spontaneous, with unlikely complements arising out of knits and crochets of Japanese and Italian wools.
To see an article of ffiXXed clothing in person is to feel an irresistible urge to touch it, and to secretly suspect that wearing it just might change your life in some way. To be sure, this kind of premonition might be based more on empirical observation than quack fashion-fetishism: ffiXXed regularly incorporates practicality into their creations, as evinced by the “mosquitonet hat extension,” “bookhanger neck chain,” “shopperbag top” and “multi-sleeve (picnic) rug,” items whose purposes are brilliantly self-explanatory. This nonchalantly DIY sensibility leaves the wearer to wonder: Why didn’t we think of that first? To create is to grasp a language that would otherwise remain unspoken. And as with any language, two participants are needed to communicate.
The pair chose to work together once they discovered— not incidentally, through conversation— the tools each could bring to the (sewing) table. Picken is a trained painter with additional background in sculpture and installation. A graduate of The Victorian College of the Arts at the University of Melbourne, he has often collaborated with New York-based artist Rob McKenzie. Lau trained as a fashion designer. After graduating from The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology for Fashion Design, she interned at both Wendy & Jim in Vienna and BLESS in Berlin (with whom ffiXXed organized their first collaboration, in the “shopperbag top”). They chose Shenzhen along a similar line of logic.
For all that Shenzhen, and China, represent to the brand, a fertile consumer market it is not. All but one of ffiXXed’s stockists are located outside of China, with the highest concen- tration in Japan, where in terms of fashion philosophy— the belief that working practice and sense of aesthetic hold incontestable precedence over profit— they claim to find unparalleled solidarity. There are only 33 outlets in the world where one may acquire ffiXXed pieces, and true to the familial style of their operation, Picken and Lau know many of the owners personally.
Recently, ffiXXed has placed a greater focus on its seasonal fashion lines due to physical demand— only so many hands, and so much hands-on work to do— but their conceptual framework has always left space for participating in and curating art exhibitions. Their first such endeavor came at Art Rotterdam in 2008, for which they made a series of fabric flags, and the second, at Berlin’s Sparwasser HQ, for which they created a pair of “fish-smuggling pants.” They have what they call a permanent “spiritual advisor” in James Deutsher, the owner of Y3K Gallery in Melbourne, where they have had two exhibitions in as many years; Deutsher handles their sales in Australia, and was their exhibiting partner for “No Soul for Sale” at the Tate Modern in 2010. They have also exhibited at Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, Craft Victoria in Melbourne, and Triple-Major in Beijing. Many of these projects at first glance don’t seem to deviate much from ffiXXed fashion, but then again, that’s the whole point: for Picken and Lau, ffiXXed is neither art nor fashion, but both, a carefully crafted approach to the way we live, work, and react to the world around us.
At the “westwing” shopping-center project space ffiXXed occupied for the Melbourne State of Design in 2010, a limited number of materials were cut and pasted together in a makeshift installation-cum-working space that also served as a nerve center for several ongoing collaborative programs. Images of the space show instant noodles, old newspapers, champagne, what seems to be live electronic music performance, pillows, and plants in a kitchen sink. Fashion, in the traditional sense, is nowhere to be seen. Yet in the tight-knit world in which ffiXXed and family lives, the articulation of the everyday through food, song, and fun somehow makes more sense than hanging up their latest collection would.