Breaking The Bubble: Dal Chodha On His Fashion Journal Archivist, The Future Of Design And Why He’s Off Instagram
Dal Chodha looks exactly how I’d expect him to. The editor of the non-seasonal fashion journal Archivist meets me in a busy London bar looking completely serene in a pair of sandals with a grey boiler suit. “I’d say my regular style is utilitarian, basic and uniform,” he tells me. “I really don’t like to draw attention to myself with patterns or bright colours. Though….” he pauses, “People do tell me I stand out.”
The 35-year-old has built a name for himself in the fashion world for his work as a fashion lecturer at UCA Epsom University, a consultant for luxury brands like Burberry, Paul Smith and Sunspel, and — what he labels his biggest achievement — editing Archivist.
“When I was a student at Central St. Martins, we were told to be a jack of all trades, to say yes to everything and then learn on the job,” he shares. “It’s the best advice I’ve ever been given. My biggest achievement is managing to keep Archivist going despite all the other things I do.”
And he describes the magazine as operating “in a funny niche, between a fashion magazine and an academic journal. We don’t work to any set guidelines. It feels like a political project in lots of ways. The whole premise of Archivist is that it’s a reference journal for designers. It’s the anti-content.”
The magazine only prints 2,000 copies, and does not have a strict publishing schedule (the last one came out in June 2017). But in 2015, it was the only printed matter to be nominated in the fashion category at London Design Museum’s Designs of the Year awards. This is important to Chodha, and he feels that more and more people in fashion need to think about design as a whole, and break away from their comfort zones.
He says, “My big thing with art and design is how important and crucial it is to expose yourself to things you probably won’t like, and break out of your bubble. I want someone to show me stuff I hate.”
During our conversation, I work out that he dislikes clothes that fit badly, people who try to look like the Kardashians and anyone who isn’t authentic. He also seems to hate the way the fashion industry is going. “The whole problem with the fashion industry is that it is based on the constant need to tell people they’re not good enough,” he tells me. “They need to buy something new every couple of weeks. It’s now become aesthetically unsustainable. The intellectual rigour has disappeared from fashion. Where we are now is a constant barrage of bad taste.”
As a journalist with a platform in the UK, I recently launched a campaign called #SideProfileSelfie to encourage people to celebrate their big noses. It went viral and Chodha had come across it. To him, it’s an example of how the world is changing — and the fashion industry needs to catch up.
Chodha emphasises, “The irony is that when we’re celebrating our flaws, it’s making all of us feel special. With that kind of democracy everyone becomes the same, and then there’s nothing to aspire to. But the fashion industry is based on aspiration.”
He is more positive about the fashion industry in India, where he feels that a generation of millennial designers are mixing things up after studying abroad and returning to India, like Ruchika Sachdeva — a London College of Fashion graduate, and founder of the label Bodice.
“I definitely think there seems to be more of a revisit to traditional materials and things that are fundamentally Indian,” he says. “Sachdeva uses traditional Indian fabrics but very European cuts. There’s a real meeting of worlds. That’s what feels very modern. Some Indian fashion can be so wedded to an idea of tradition that it becomes difficult to see it in new contexts.”
In some ways he feels that fashion in India has a long way to go globally, but he also thinks it’s ahead in terms of sustainability — a hot topic in the current world. “In India, designers know where the cotton is from, woven and made,” he says. “There’s a really holistic, kind of beautiful, transparent cycle, which you don’t get with loads of clothes, like Prada or Louis Vuitton. That’s the jewel in India’s crown and I hope it never loses that.”
Chodha is very clear about his views, making statements like: “I don’t care what anyone wears — all I care about is a vision and a look.” But one thing that he is less certain about is the fact that neither he nor his magazine are on Instagram.
“My biggest challenge is career FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out),” he admits. “There’s this, should I be on social media or shouldn’t I? The hardest part is convincing people of our quietness.” He has made the decision to stay off Instagram — though he does have an active Twitter account — and hopes that more people in the design world will do the same and start focusing more on their products.
“I don’t think there’s enough self-reflection on anything at the moment,” he says philosophically. “But I try to give myself time to reflect on everything. It allows me to think about fashion and design.” He worries that things in the wider world, however, will “get worse”. The only upside for him is that magazines like Archivist do exist. “We have a small group of people making things that speak to a few people. There would be no Archivist if there was no Boohoo. The legacy of exposing people to these images is worth more than cerebral fashion.”
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