"Art should astonish, transmute, transfix. One must work at the tissue between truth and paranoia."
— Brett Whiteley
One of the most undervalued artists of his time, Brett Whiteley was a painter from Australia known for his pioneering work in figurative expressionism. Brett played with perception — using exaggeration, elongation, metamorphosis, motion, and distorted perspectives in his practice. Deeply influenced by Francis Bacon, his manipulation of human form brought a sensual movement to still images reflecting their emotional content.
Decades later, an Indian designer has brought back the same morphing silhouettes in his own collection.
Harikrishnan Keezhathil Surendran Pillai or Harri KS is a fashion designer from Kerala who studied at NIFT Bangalore before working for the 2015 International Woolmark Prize winner, Suket Dhir. In 2020, Harri completed his MA in Menswear Design from the London College of Fashion. It was then the designer caught the eye of the British Fashion Council (BFC) when he presented his graduate collection of latex inflatable trousers called 'Let's Put Him in a Vase' at London Fashion Week.
The idea for these exaggerated silhouettes first came to Harri when he was walking his pug, Kai. He started visualising how Kai saw human beings, as if through a fish-eye lens, looking at "a giant figure with big legs and a small head". The distorted image he pictured was exciting and humorous; a play on proportions, "so I decided to visually remind the people around me through the game of distortion, inspired by his eyes", he tells It's Nice That.
The conceptualization of these designs started as a study on contour and structural development with wooden structures developed in collaboration with the artisans of Channapatna, a traditional toy making town in South India, tagged Geographical Indication by the World Trade Organisation. Then the learnings were transformed and applied through pattern cutting in latex.
The artist described his process of assembling the latex pieces as "similar to creating pottery vases, but with less control over the shape." Taking over 40 hours, after each trouser was formed with Supatex panels based on the clay models, Hari would pump air into the trouser through a 7mm free flow inflation valve attached to the rear edge.
The show, 'Let's put in a vase' was split into three sections – craft, latex and tailoring exhibiting ivory striped inlay jacket and striped inflatable trousers, red striped pot trousers, red striped ball bottoms, and black limo, red limo and striped swirl inflatable trousers.
Apart from the eye-catching 'balloon' trousers, the collection also included Skittle vest trousers and shorts made of 50,000 individually hand-carved and linked beads in organic shades of red and brown and diagonal beige, red and green stripes. They were created using ancient Indian lacquer techniques from the 18th century and modern beading techniques developed in collaboration with the artisans of Neelasandra. The shades were achieved by melting beeswax colour sticks on the flame wile adding pigment to them. The interplay between colour and texture and lines captured the piece's original inspiration of Bauhaus costumes.
Harri received compliments on his collection from legendary artists like Tim Walker, MC Hammer, and Henrik Vibskov. In the days after the showcase, the designer didn't have any plans for selling the inflatable trousers although he did receive a couple of orders for music video costumes. However, six months after the show, he made them available for sale at APOC store, a new platform that works with emerging designers, offering them a flexible model that allows them to sell one-off pieces and more in a place that celebrates creativity.
Let's put him in a case is an avant grade collection that challenges perception and brings the unfamiliar into modern design. Merging high art and fashion, this bizarre and beautiful collection stretches the boundaries of clothing by elevating it into sculpture. Transcending the more or less precedented innovations in colour palettes, textures and silhouettes in the fashion industry, Harri's designs bring multidimensionality to the aesthetics playing with form and function through centuries-old South Indian craft.