Demo Division – a fashion label created by Maltese designer Louise Aquilina – will be featured in ‘THIS IS NOT FASHION: The Complete History of Street Wear’, published by Thames & Hudson, on the bookshelves in summer 2017. Lovin Malta caught up with her to understand more about how she created her anti-fashion label
You could describe Louise Aquilina as a rebel fashion designer. Her career to date has been focused on eradicating the conventional understanding of what fashion is – destroying the notion that it must go hand in hand with all the social myths connected to its industry. Her label, Demo Division, she describes as a "protest against these superficial connotations".
So she's basically Malta's first fashion crusader.
Aquilina grew up in Xgħajra, Marsascala and Rabat. She speaks fondly of her childhood, and especially of Xgħajra, where she still spends most of her summers. She went to an international school in Malta, travelled a lot with her family, and had moved to London by the age of 19. From a young age her life felt like somewhat of an adventure, and so the bar for what she wanted out of her career was set there.
She decided to go into fashion while in high-school. She loved art and felt like fashion would give her the freedom of expression she so craved. But once she started her BA these wishful sentiments quickly evaporated. She hated it.
"after my first degree I absolutely ended up hating fashion"Louise Aquilina – Demo Division
She returned to Malta, began lecturing, and stayed here for three years. It was enough time for her thoughts about fashion to gestate and for her to realise she had some "unfinished business" with the industry.
"I had something to say and I wanted to say it in person. To explain how much I hated [the fashion industry] and why, so I decided that I had to go back."
Aquilina took a study break from her job in Malta and went back to London to do an MA in Fashion. With a new found energy her attitude towards creating a career in fashion had changed. Instead of feeling angry towards the industry, she was motivated to try to make changes.
"I think at this point I was older and bolder and I didn’t really care what anyone expected of me. I realised that in my BA I was too worried about fitting into the superficial world of fashion – which I really didn’t fit in to at all – that I totally suppressed my personal views and just tried to do the expected. This time round was totally the opposite."
The MA course Aquilina followed at Kingston was very anti-fashion so she found a perfect platform from which to express her philosophy, with tutors who really understood where she was coming from.
"I finally understood what ‘Fashion’ really means to me, and why I did indeed want to be part of it. I realised that fashion is not the clothes, it is the investigation of culture, it's the reading of society and capturing the ‘next’ and the medium you use to do it with does really not matter. The garments come later - they are just clothes."
Since completing her MA (with a distinction) Aquilina has exhibited twice at Berlin fashion tradeshow ‘SEEK’ (SS16 and AW16), she's been was featured in blogs such as ‘WGSN’ and ‘High Snobbery’, and last season (SS17) was selected as one of 6 designers to form part of ‘The Latest Fashion Buzz’ at ‘Pitti Uomo’ in Florence. For this she was sponsored by Italian Vogue and GQ, and as a result got what most young designers can only dream of: a spread in Italian Vogue.
So why has her label made such an impact?
"The name stands for the ‘Democracy Division of Fashion’. It's a sort of protest against the superficial connotations that surround the word fashion, and also against the fact that anything could be claimed as fashion as long as there is a 'show' a ‘shoot’ and some ‘flashiness’ involved.
So, Demo Division was formed by a (pretend) group of militants that escaped this remote communist island and by accident found themselves in London. They come across this superficial looking world of fashion then their protest beings. It’s a rather comical narrative but the meaning and the statements behind it are very real."
There's no doubt that Aquilina is carving her own path in the larger story of fashion. She offers a refreshing, new perspective – that you can succeed as an outsider, with opinions and tastes that go against the status quo. She's also grounded in pragmatism. Her advice for anyone looking to pursue a creative path:
"Dream big, but make sure that you have a secure income while you are dreaming otherwise you might just end up dreaming and dreaming!"