Sid Neigum wasn’t inspired by the colours of the fall leaves, the glamour of old Hollywood or a dream he once had as a child. Instead, the Alberta-born designer who has recently taken the runways by storm, sought inspiration in stem cells, embryos, mathematic formulas and samurai.
Working in retail during his studies in science in Edmonton, Neigum (pronounced N-EYE-GUM) decided he needed to be around clothes full-time, and so pursued fashion design. The creative aspect of the fashion industry is what pushed him to start designing. “I like to make unwearable items,” he says, recalling a competition he entered where he had to design a dress out of anything but fabric.
“I made it out of car tires and screws, and it weighed over 300 pounds. I cut 10 car tires and built a three-tiered dress. The model stood in the middle of the tire holes in high heels, and on a step-stool, making her look like she was seven or eight feet tall.”
Known for his black-on-black androgynous designs, Neigum says he is constantly working on having his own voice in the industry, to the point where people will look at a piece and know that it’s from his collection.
“What sets me apart is not that I use a lot of black in my designs – a lot of designers do that. It’s my inspiration. I don’t know that others use math and science the way I do, or if they do, they don’t talk about it.”
Indeed, Neigum’s uses of these two subjects are far from basic: “The prints are microbiology-inspired,” he explains. “I worked with a friend who is a graphic designer, and what we did was take an image of a stem cell, reflect it onto itself, and create the print that way. In my pieces with a rust colour, we did the same thing with an embryo, looking at it through a kaleidoscope.”
Neigum also used the Golden Sequence, measuring lengths, and dividing them in half for the next portion, several times over, to create visibly symmetrical and asymmetrical pieces. But his inspiration didn’t end there, and he says that his latest collection could also be described as “East meets East: an old Asian samurai feel, mixed with contemporary Asian fashion trends, like polka dots.”
“I just love Japanese fashion,” he adds. “Sometimes my pieces will end up as Asian styles, without my even having to try.”
Androgyny is also a major part of his signature styles, “I like how shocking it is to have men walk as women, and women walk as men… It adds something to the show.”
Indeed, when Neigum caught Andrej Pejic opening a show at the recent 2011 LG Fashion Week in Toronto, he booked him immediately for his own show.
Pejic, the model famous for his androgynous look, has walked as a man and a woman, and for top designers, such as Marc Jacobs, Jean Paul Gaultier and Givenchy.
Canadian-born Neigum travels between Canada and the U.S. extremely frequently for his business. “I love working in Canada because there has been very good pick-up in terms of coverage,” he says. “But when I moved to New York City to study at FIT, and discovered the Garment District, I realized how unique it was of NYC. Within a 10-block radius, I can buy my fabrics, snaps and zippers.”
Neigum has found one particular fabric showroom that sells “hi-tech” fabrics: “They’ll take polyester and give it certain treatments that will make it feel like silk, but it will be easier to wash than silk.” Designer Yohji Yamamoto uses that fabric too.
In addition to this low-maintenance version of silk, Neigum says he has found and fallen in love with a fabric made of 50 per cent silk, 50 per cent metal.
“It’s a sheer fabric that you can crumple, and it will hold its shape,” he explains excitedly. “I don’t know what [exactly] I’m going to do with it yet, but I love it, and I will use it.”
So what is next for Neigum? “My inspiration from math and science, and my androgynous and Japanese styles are here to stay. I also don’t use symbols and logos. It’s a conscious effort not to have logos on the clothes or on the website. I want everything to speak for itself.”
He also reveals that his signature black-on-black styles won’t be a main focus in the next collection: “There will be black, but it won’t be mostly black.”
Where Neigum’s clothes are made
Backstage at Neigum’s LG Fashion Week show
Photography by Luis Mora