What are you wearing today?
Yohji Yamamoto coat and trousers, a black Comme des Garçons t-shirt, a white Ann Demeulemeester shirt, and black Converse. Most of my wardrobe is Yohji Yamamoto, when I first tried it on, it just felt right. Like Wim Wenders says in his documentary, it’s as if he knew me. His clothes always feel comfortably worn-in, because when he designs he says that he wishes he could use fabric that was already ten years old. This means that his clothes age well, and you can buy good second-hand Yohji on the internet that still looks contemporary because he doesn’t change his line drastically from season to season.
Tell me about your jewellery?
My bracelet and skull ring are Werkstatt Munchen. The oxidised band was made for me by a friend, and I bought the agate ring in Damascus. I wear the same jewellery every day. I just got my ears pierced, so I’m on the look-out for interesting earrings.
Have you always dressed like this?
No, in the academic year of 2009/10 I used to dress crazily with lots of colour and print. I had a three-piece suit, bow-tie and pocket square. The Courtauld is a good place to dress like that because no one bats an eye-lid. Then I got ill and was away from the Courtauld for a few years. By the time I returned, I had sold everything in my wardrobe and started from scratch, because the way I was dressing and the way I wanted to dress were so different. People used to see the clothes, not me. So I stopped dressing in front of a mirror and started to wear a personal uniform. If I’m wearing all black then people think I’m wearing the same thing, but only I know about the differences in cut, proportion and line.
Can you tell me why you don’t dress before a mirror?
The way I dress is less about looking a certain way; it’s about feeling a certain way. I wanted to learn why I dress in a certain way, and it had to be a personal journey. How can you begin to understand why other people dress the way they do if you don’t understand your own choices? In one History of Dress class, Rebecca (Arnold) advised everyone to try on a corset to see how it felt. I was the only man in the class. She looked at me and said: ‘Yes, including you Syed’. I’m not a cross-dresser, but I’ve tried on a corset and a full-length gown. Womenswear is a completely different way of interacting with the world. How can you understand it if you don’t try it?
How do you store and document your clothes?
I can fit my wardrobe into a suitcase. It’s very small because I’m learning from the ground up. I never keep anything that I don’t wear, but I do keep photographs of everything I’ve bought, sold or given away. The one item I have for sentimental reasons is a tiny red sweater with ‘cheeky monkey’ on the front with a label that says ‘three to six months’. My family had very little money then, and there are no photos of me from that age, so that sweater is an important memory, it keeps me grounded.
Any other wardrobe secrets?
(Pulls out a bright Liberty-print handkerchief) I end up giving these away. When I see someone crying, which is common around exam and dissertation time, I hand them one and then through sniffles they promise to give it back to me, but I let them keep it.