Published in Manuscript:
After winning the International Woolmark Prize Australian final, we sat down with Ex Infinitas founder Lukas Vincent.
A young nomadic boy raised in a suburban Melbourne beach town that was obsessed with surf culture, Lukas Vincent founded his label Ex Infinitas on the basis of combining surf sensibility with minimalistic modern punk. Think along the lines of young men chilling out as they roll up joints, smoke, eat burned pizza while having a cold beer, and you’ll get a good idea of Ex Infinitas’ unique aesthetic. Recently announced as the winner of the 2016 International Woolmark Prize, Mr Vincent spoke to Manuscript about the inner workings of his label and the launch of his spring 2017 collection.
How did you come to call the label Exinfinitas?
The concept of infinity has been a curiosity of mine since I was young. My father, who is a shaman and astrologer, educated me early on with transcendental phenomenology and subjects exploring the “space between things”. Hence the Latin translation for “Of Infinity” I felt provided a conceptual framework where I could examine and combine elements of the past and future, through the vehicle of fashion- from fabrics, to styling, in an almost alchemical way.
Did you always know that fashion was your calling from the beginning, or was it something you eventually fell into?
I knew from a young age fashion provided a window into this creative world, which always really fascinated and inspired me. Yet interestingly, no one in my immediate environment had the slightest interest in fashion – for me it was very instinctual. Before the Internet, fashion magazines were the only access I had, so I spent a large portion of my youth studying the various elements of every imported magazine I came across. At the time I wasn’t particularly interested in design and remember specifically never wanting to be just a designer – I wanted build things. Fast forward through 12 years of career to date and I’m now building a brand, which is what I most enjoy. I’ve always had a passion for every facet of fashion – from business to creative. During my career I was quite fortunate to work internationally as multi-disciplinary, across many fields, from marketing and PR, visual merchandising and styling, to buying and design- it was a very slow and steady progression to this point, but I knew I was definitely well prepared.
Ex Infinitas has been regarded as the ‘Aussie answer to Vetements’, which is quite the comparison. What have been some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome in order to establish Ex Infinitas as a unique brand against the masses of other labels out there?
Adopting a clear and relevant point of view is always one of the biggest challenges for any brand. You need a vital reason to exist amongst the masses of other labels, and I think that reason should always come from a very authentic place. This led to examining my personal upbringing, in a low-income costal town, which could be perceived as the antithesis of the fashion world. However, it was something personal to me and something I felt I had to offer. I also had to ask myself on a very basic level, what would the global consumer like to see in a progressive Australian brand. Then ultimately how could all these elements somehow interrelate and work to elevate the somewhat mundane into a more luxury space. For this to be executed well, also surrounding myself with brilliant minds and collaborators with a very high taste level, helped to push and develop the work much further.
You’re the winner for the International Woolmark Prize for 2016 (big congratulations!) – how did you incorporate merino wool into the design concepts of your submission? Explain the story behind the look.
The title of the collection “Kings of Nowhere”, allowed me to explore the nuances of high-end luxury, within a subcultural context. When I set out to create the Woolmark look, I knew I wanted to bring the traditional fibre into a modern space. I sourced and developed the wool fabrics in Italy, most incorporating the highly technical transparent nylon yarn. As the brand DNA sits at the intersection of surf and tailoring- I worked toward creating a look which alluded to surf, without being too cliché. So the fabric choices, design details and accessories all combine the lyricism of surf culture, whilst also incorporating high-end tailoring, heightening the overall look. There is also a particular wool yarn I worked with, certified as the lightest wool in the world and befittingly referred to as “wool chiffon”- at 15 micron, its even finer and more luxurious than cashmere.
When you were announced as the winner for the prize, what thoughts went through your mind? How did you feel about it all?
Naturally, it’s a gruelling build up to such an event and when the announcement was made, there was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s an enormous honour to be internationally recognized and awarded for your work, so it’s certainly a career milestone. Particularly when there were endless sacrifices made to bring the brand to fruition, since building it from the ground up and relying only on my own resources from its inception. It’s certainly invaluable to now have the much-needed industry support behind the brand, which will make the future trajectory one full of many more opportunities to grow the business in diverse ways.
Now that you’ve won the prize, what are your plans for the future and what can we expect to see from Ex Infinitas in the coming years?
At a point in the near future, a fashion show or presentation during Paris Fashion Week – that is certainly high on the agenda right now as we concentrate on the northern hemisphere market. This will be a unique platform to present the collection to a different audience and culture, where typically Australian brands are rarely experienced. Australia is seen to be this exotic culture from far away, so to me there is tremendous opportunity to bring a piece of our distant culture to the international fashion arena in a very unfiltered and highly curated way. In terms of the brand itself, I’m continuing to cultivate a quintessentially Australian look and feel for the product and overall brand image, yet more unconventional and progressive than one would expect. There is also a high profile collaboration in the pipe, the details I cannot yet reveal.
Describe your SS17 collection in three words.
Surf, art, tailoring.
What was the creative process behind the look for the new collection? Where did you source your inspiration for it?
At the time I was looking at a few books in particular that provided the basis for the collection narrative. Gonzo by Hunter Thompson, 10X15 by Quentin de Briey and Plans for Other Days by Jan Family – the latter largely influenced the lookbook art direction. The concept was to create a tailored surf collection, using high-end fabrications made in limited supply, but based around the idea these clothes would be worn by a cross-section of youth who really couldn’t afford them. They spend all their money on the expensive clothes they wear, slabs of beer and have very limited money for renting the run-down suburban place which they live. So it was a very true-to-life approach for the creative process. Surf subculture was also a major part of the inspiration, so I worked to capture the spirit of the surf movement; translated into refined functional tailoring – the end result is what I refer to as surf dandy.
The lookbook itself is quite stellar in terms of photography, what story are you trying to portray in it?
The lookbook was photographed and art directed by a close collaborator and friend Fabein Montique, most well known for his creative work with Kanye West and Donda since 2010. We wanted to portray a lifestyle in the images and move away from the traditional notion of a lookbook. So we scouted a soon to be demolished artist squat outside of Paris, where we could shoot the models in a very raw, gritty space. This helped to give the impression the models were genuinely living in the building, so we shot the boys from early on, as though they had just returned from being at a party. We followed their progression throughout the day as they continue to drink, smoke, burn pizza in the kitchen and play video games as they prepare for the night ahead. All while observing their many incarnations of looks, as they continue to dress and undress all day in a very stoner-like manner.
Ex Infinitas has signed on to at least eight stores globally (Toronto, South Korea, Paris, Los Angeles to name a few) – what advice would you give to other labels looking to expand their presence into international waters?
Slow and steady wins the race. For me it was always a focus, as there is a limited market in Australia for non-traditional luxury menswear. However, the beauty of today is any brand can access overseas markets from relatively humble foundations. There are many options for creating fully intergraded online stores with little overheads that can service international consumers. Having strong content to capture the attention of these overseas markets is key. Certainly securing wholesale accounts with top international department stores and boutiques is never easy, it takes a lot of persistence and being physically present in these overseas markets to push and sell the brand, which is not always feasible for an Australian brand, being so far from the action. However I was extremely fortunate to have a very wide network of associations overseas, enabling me to get the brand in front of some highly influential people, who would normally be completely out of reach.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion for me is one of the many great disciplines of an artist. Some use paint and canvas, others use the written word, while in fashion it’s about working with cloth and the physical form. Like all other creative disciplines, fashion can also be used to gauge the mood of any generation, so I’ve always been fascinated by the direct relationship between fashion and culture. I think right now we live in very precarious times, which indeed seems to reflect the current mood in fashion – one that is fluid, unconventional and constantly hungry for change.