The currency of celebrity has never been more important for emerging designers. They wear it, we see it, we want it. A simple grid post and a tag (if said famous person is feeling, er, generous) can propel recent grads to overnight sensation status.
Having only graduated from Brighton University in 2019, womenswear designer Tara Hakin has seemingly, effortlessly, found fans in today’s superstars. Julia Fox, Kourtney Kardashian, Tems and Iris Law have all worn a bit of Hakin – modern-day advocates for her turbo-charged designs that sensually wrap the body, in line with today’s hyper-sexual dress code of less is more.
Hakin’s upbringing was far-removed from the idiosyncrasy of her namesake label. Growing up in Donaghadee, a small Northern Ireland village 40 minutes from Belfast, her teenage years were mostly informed by her quiet, conservative surroundings. “Fashion wasn’t ever anything that anyone did there,” she says. “I do remember trying to experiment as a teenager and I would get heckled in the street. I wasn’t even experimenting that much, to be honest!”
Village life did teach her not to take herself too seriously, though, something she has instilled in her brand’s messaging of sexed-up frivolity. Hakin puts that down to the Irish sense of humour. “I feel like Northern Irish people are quite easy-going. They’re fun and have a good sense of humour. English people are a bit more reserved in that aspect.”
In her early years, Hakin would draw “stupid designs” in a journal she carried around with her, under literal lock and key. “I was so embarrassed! I didn’t want to tell anyone,” she says. “My parents aren’t artistic in that aspect at all – no one in my family is – so I honestly couldn’t tell you where it all came from. It just felt very natural.”
Instead, and like most creative success stories, there was an art teacher in Hakin’s life who inspired her. “She saw something in me and let me flourish,” says the designer. While at school, Hakin would skip classes and hide out in the art classrooms, sometimes hiding from teachers under tables, where they’d come to pull her back to lessons. “They gave up with me in the end because I was too stubborn to go back – I’m still the same person!”
Before moving to London in 2019 – where her studio is still based, Hakin enrolled onto Brighton University’s BA Fashion Design course. Looking back, Hakin is fond of her formative years spent there, finding comfort in the city’s open-mindedness, even though it was a sensory overload and “a bit of a culture shock” compared to the sleepy village she grew up in. “It definitely made me more open-minded because I was exposed to so much.”
One of her fondest memories of that time is, when walking home at night, she came across a man hanging out, casually dressed as a mime – worlds apart from the sights of small town Northern Ireland. “I barely flinched,” she says, laughing. “That’s just Brighton! Anyone can do what they want and it’s fine. You never know what’s going to happen and I love that.”
Hakin’s graduate collection laid the groundwork for what was to come, looking like it had been dug up from a seedy underworld. Influenced by the postmodern photography of Guy Bourdin, Hans Furer, Daido Moriyama, Kazumi Kurigami and a wealth of Japanese fashion ads shot in the ’80s, the six-piece womenswear collection involved techniques she still uses now: draping fabrics on mannequins, blood-red plastic jackets moulded onto the body, prints on gathered, full-length dresses and razor-sharp shoulders. Sexy, subversive, and much of it coming from an unlikely fascination: car crashes.
“I love how they’re so abstract and textural,” she says. “I came across an artist called Nicolai Howalt who does a really interesting series of car crashes – the textures that come from that really evoke an emotion in you. And then John Chamberlain, who also does these mad car sculptures, which I love.”
Hakin places much emphasis on the body, using it as a starting point as opposed to drawing sketches because “I’m so bad at it, honestly.” She uses the design process to find new means of accentuating the body, whether it’s cinching the waist or contouring limbs by way of printed close-ups of car parts or jersey twisted around arms and legs.
“I like to place prints in a specific place that is going to flatter the body and accentuate it, rather than cover it,” she says. “I feel like that’s how my designs become quite body forming, because I work with draping and turning the drapes into patterns. Everything starts with the body and ends with the body, not from a piece of paper.”
Recently, Hakin reached out to Julia Fox to shoot her in her latest collection and found herself in Paris with the pop culture phenomenon. “I think she’s amazing! She was really up for it,” Hakin says. “It bothers me when people think she’s a different person to what is presented. She’s super intelligent and is using the media in a really interesting way. When people are contrived, it comes across.”
Looking into the future, Hakin’s well up for carrying on the way she’s going – independently – and hopes other designers can do that, too. You can very easily fall down a rabbit hole with people that don’t really represent your values and things like that,” she says. “My work is an extension of myself, so I try to manage that. I like controlling it myself and doing things on my own terms.”
Below, we go Off the Rails with Tara Hakin, who invites some famous guests over for dinner, plays a bit of Aphex Twin and sinks a pint of Guinness.
OFF THE RAILS
What’s your daily motto?
Don’t ask, don’t get.
What do you love and what do you hate?
I’m really enjoying life right now and having some new experiences away from London. I feel like I really needed to get away from London for a bit. I don’t really hate anything right now, to be honest! Although I did get bitten by a stingray yesterday…
What do you reckon you’d be doing if you weren’t a designer?
I’m obsessed with anything spy-related. I don’t know why, but I really am. So maybe a spy.
Who would you most want and least want to wear your clothes?
Least want: anyone that doesn’t inspire me or interest me on a personal level. Most want: I mean, if Rihanna or Lady Gaga wore my clothes that would probably be game over. Anyone who I love listening to, really. Kelly Lee Owens wore my stuff and I nearly died – and she invited me to her gig. I love when someone I listen to daily wears my things. That feels very surreal. It doesn’t really matter how big they are.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I’m the worst morning person, but quite aggressive music usually does the job. I work better during the night, to be honest, so I’ll usually stay late and work in the studio ’til the early hours.
What is on your playlist in the studio?
Madonna’s Ray of Light album, Kelly Lee Owens, Massive Attack, Aleweya, Djrum for some funk vibes – it depends what mood I’m in on the day. Aphex Twin is my favourite in the mornings.
What’s the best city or club or place on earth to let your hair down?
I’m an Irish pub kind of gal, so anywhere that doesn’t serve a shit pint of Guinness is my go-to!
Who would you invite over for dinner?
Vivienne Westwood, Julia Fox, Kim Kardashian and Edward Snowden.