Locally crafted unisex threads and splashy swimwear to storm 32nd edition of Vancouver Fashion Week

B.C. designers Adam-Lin Bungag and Anelia Basson will hit the runway with gender-fluid garments and printed sun-protection wear, respectively, during Vancouver Fashion Week, which takes place from September 17 to 23.

Face tattoos may be the dernier cri among today’s recalcitrant youth—to which we have to earnestly ask, why?—but Adam-Lin Bungag is all about the neckline. Rather than dubious depictions of barbed wire, stars, and split-open hearts, however, three simple words—each letter capitalized in plain sans-serif font—are centred above Bungag’s collarbone, the phrase clearly visible against the 23-year-old’s olive skin: NOT DEAD YET.The Philippines-born and Vancouver-raised fashion designer had the expression inked on him last year following a particularly tough struggle with mental illness. It’s a reminder that “I can keep going and I can be the person that I want to be. And I can create my future, my truth, and my outlook,” Bungag tells the Straight by phone. But as friends, colleagues, and strangers increasingly came to recognize him through the distinguishing tattoo, the message evolved into his brand.

“I was like, ‘Well, this is a great business move because people know me for this tattoo, and people who don’t know me will know the name because it’s so—well, it kind of hits you hard,” explains Bungag.

Prior to rebranding his clothing line as Not Dead Yet earlier this year, Bungag was designing and presenting edgy, gender-fluid garments under his first name. Not Dead Yet is a continuation of this work, offering up a made-to-order selection of brash, unisex, and often voluminous apparel—think drop-crotch trousers, graphic crewnecks, and decorative harnesses—that command one’s undivided attention in an oversaturated fashion market. The LaSalle-College grad liberally employs “marginalized” fabrics like PVC and latex in his collections, expertly crafting them into cropped blazers, hoodies, and belted military-style pants fit for casual wear.

The shiny latex, in particular, lends the items an arresting but still approachable quality—especially when the material is drenched in vivid hues like red, lime green, and yellow—helping to combat the “oversexualization” that typically surrounds the textile. “Just because the main industry in which latex is used is fetish,” notes Bungag, “doesn’t mean everything we do with latex is fetish.”

Bungag’s manipulation of unconventional fabrics is evident in Not Dead Yet’s past collections, and will also carry through to Eulogy, a boxy, “dress-shirt–heavy” line for spring/summer 2019 that the designer will present at New York Fashion Week and Vancouver Fashion Week (VFW). Informed by Bungag’s interests and influences during his so-called “emo phase”—a dark time in his youth when he would readily self-harm—the collection will make generous use of Tyvek, a waterproof and tear-resistant synthetic fibre most commonly seen in housewraps and the coveralls worn by tradespeople.

“That fabric symbolizes how crushing and how easy it is to leave scars on someone,” the designer explains. “Or how, even though you try to iron it out and make it better, there’s still going to be creases.” While many of Euology’s pieces will be cut to feel billowing and extravagantly oversized, there will be more skin-tight garments as well. These, too, serve a purpose. “The stuff that is fitted is meant to feel constrictive, like it’s holding you back,” notes Bungag.

As a queer man who has wrestled with identity issues and feelings of inadequacy, Bungag wants other LGBT folks to view Not Dead Yet as a safe space where they can express themselves freely through their wardrobe choices. “That’s really the driver for Not Dead Yet: to share what the queer experience is, what my experiences are, and what marginalized experiences are,” he emphasizes. “And to just share feelings, because, often, you can’t express those feelings well enough in words.”

Bungag—who is set to appear on Slice’s competitive reality series, Stitched, this fall—is one of four B.C.–based designers appearing at the 32nd edition of VFW. Other homegrown talents are Lillea Goian, a 20-year-old who makes comparably not-for-the-faint-of-heart gender-neutral pieces, and Kirsten Ley, who will present an avant-garde collection of couture gowns inspired by 1900s anatomy diagrams. And then there’s Anelia Basson, a newcomer to VFW who will debut Explore the Journey, the spring/summer 2019 line from her Ania Art label that’s comprised of flowy dresses, swimwear, and sun-protection apparel for both men and women.

A self-taught artist and designer who’s dabbled in everything from painting and photography to textiles and ceramics, Basson dreams up colourful, psychedelic patterns before printing them on T-shirts, rash guards, and silky shorts and frocks. Many of her designs are abstract—boasting what Basson describes as a “tribal” style—though some feature the outlines of bears, rhinos, and other creatures that nod to the 56-year-old’s adopted home on the West Coast and her birthplace of South Africa. Amid the swirling shades of azure, rust, and violet are references to B.C.’s Indigenous communities, too.“A few of my fabrics are representative of the beauty of Indigenous culture,” Basson, who is based in Chilliwack, explains. “And through each of those prints, there’s a story to be told.”

In addition to honouring her roots and surroundings, Basson takes care to consider Mother Earth in her work. The designer’s swimwear and sun-protection garb is manufactured from a breathable, ecofriendly fabric crafted from post-consumer plastic bottles and crab and shrimp shells, and boasts a UPF rating of 50 and is antibacterial and odour-zapping, to boot “It’s very important to me to be more aware of the environment,” she says, “because the fashion industry can be a very large polluter in the world.”

Explore the Journey will tell the story of Basson’s voyage in life thus far—both as an artist and designer, and as a woman who immigrated to Canada from South Africa more than 25 years ago. She hopes that wearers of the collection will feel as poised and content as she does putting it together. “I just want the customer to feel freedom in the comfort of the fabric,” she explains, “and to feel confident when wearing my dresses.”

Bungag feels similarly. “It’s really about how you allow them [the audience] to see it and experience it,” he says. “They can either see your story or create their own story. And that’s so powerful.”

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