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Rise, Fall, Revamp: the Attempted Comeback of Forgotten Nineties Designer Andre Walker

Andre Walker's recent collection for Dover Street Market.
Andre Walker's recent collection for Dover Street Market.

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When it comes to succeeding in fashion, talent isn't always enough. Designers have to learn the hard way that business finesse is just as important as the actual ability to design and even the most talented creatives can go bust without proper funding. Andre Walker is one formerly famous name who has had to come to terms with this reality.

Walker boasts a resume that includes stints as a consultant for Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton and Kim Jones. A wunderkind, he hosted his first fashion show at the tender age of 15 at Brooklyn club Oasis and had his own line by 19. But unlike other notables of his era, such as Michael Kors, Elie Tahari, Isaac Mizrahi and Donna Karan, Walker was unable to build and maintain a fashion dynasty.

Now, he's attempting to make a comeback in the design world. While the London-born, New York-based designer is eager to put out eclectic, avant-garde apparel, he noted that the most important thing is that his clothing sells. He's testing the waters with an exclusive line out with Comme Des Garcon's Dover Street Market.

"I have to make a living from this practice. It's not virtuous. At the end of the day, it's about clothes," Walker told audiences at an intimate talk last Thursday at Manhattan's Museum of Arts and Design.

Andrew Walker in his Brooklyn home. Photo by The Selby.

Walker made a name for himself in Paris in the nineties, where he, along with other independent designers, headed to find success. He's been referred to as a "fashion Zelig" and "a designer truly ahead of his time" by the New York Times and the "fashion industry's secret weapon" by the American Craft Council. In 2000, he won the ANDAM Fashion Fellowship, France's version of the CFDA awards, alongside fashion designer Jeremy Scott. But Walker closed shop and moved back to New York in 2005 after he'd "had enough," as New York Magazine put it.

Walker now blames disorganization and lack of funds for his reason for shuffling in and out of the fashion industry over the years.

"I'm a free spirit and used to be extremely disorganized. This kind of sporadic nature was part of my personality. I would get super impassioned by things, I would just get totally obsessed and if it didn't come out my way, I would just crash and have a huge depression. Or I would run out of money. Or no one believed in me. That accounts for stopping and starting," he said. "I really feel like over the last 10 years I've been forced to grow up."

Walker moved to New York from London as a child in 1979. He began his fashion journey by selling fringe T-shirts he'd cut himself outside his mother's Brooklyn salon when he was 13. He is entirely self-taught; an old girlfriend tried to show him how to sew, but he resorted to craft tape and glue for early collections.

"I would iron fabric bought on Canal Street, and use magic stitch tape," he said. "I would iron the pieces together and glue the hems down and that's how I made my first pieces. From there, I cut into fabrics. I would cut horizontally, then vertically and then cut out shapes. It was a great experience: not knowing is an incredible thing."

Walker's line in Dover Street Market. Image via.

Walker noted he's not always thinking about the customer when he's designing but admitted he's aware he needs to make clothes that sell. He pointed to one piece in his current collection—a paper-bag-waist skirt—as something that he made to satisfy his creative appetite but acknowledged that it's not jumping off the shelves the way his T-shirts and dresses are.

The fashion landscape Walker returns to is much different than the one he left 10 years ago and making clothing that can sell is more important than it has ever been before. Independent designers are struggling to compete with fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M, who gobble up runway trends before they even hit shelves and Walker acknowledged these players as new competitors in the market place.

"The amount of clothing being made is outrageous. No one needs to make a collection for 15 years, I'm sure there's enough clothes to take care of everybody," he said.

Andrew Walker in his Brooklyn home. Photo by The Selby.

Looking ahead at what he hopes will be a successful comeback, Walker said he won't let old beefs get in the way. W Magazine recently accused Jean Paul Gaultier, a close friend to Walker, of knocking off Walker's pant-skirts. Walker said he's learned to forgive those who wronged him and is eager to move forward.

"Luckily, I'm a very forgetful person. All the things that have happened to me in the past somehow haven't managed to stick," he said. "I've seen things. When you're a teenager and someone steals your design, your like, 'aaah.' But by the time your like 35 or 40, you're like, 'this is really good for business.' My viewpoints have changed as far as plagiarism and being copied. I don't think about it so much anymore."