Australian Fashion Week is well and truly underway, and we made a beeline for what’s set to be one of the most exciting moments of the week — Nathaniel Youkhana’s first ever fashion week show.
“This collection was inspired by resilience and determination. Being unafraid to push boundaries by staying deeply true to authenticity. It is also the story of my growth, both personally and publicly, with a focus on the details that lie deep within each garment rather than what you see on the surface.”
In the busy moments before the show friend of CPC, Tommie Love, spoke to Youkhana about what inspired the collection, the work that goes into the intricate hand-crafted garments, and got some sage advice for aspiring designers wanting to launch their own label.
Get to know Nathaniel Youkhana better below and come behind the scenes as photographer Hameed Akinwande takes us backstage at the breathtaking show, in the gallery above.
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
My name is Nathaniel Youkhana, and I’m the founder and head designer of YOUKHANA. I’m living out my lifelong dream of debuting my collection at Australian Fashion Week!
What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘home’?
My family. Once I’m around them, I can let my hair down, relax and be silly.
When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve wanted this. I gravitated to, and was always making garments for myself over the years. It wasn’t until I lived in London and lived with a bunch of people who went to Central Saint Martins that it clicked in my brain that I should be actively moving towards a career in fashion design and starting my own label.
How did you establish your style, and how would you describe it?
My starting point actually began in hair, and was the reason behind why I began using a braiding technique on my garments. From there, I kept practising, striving to constantly better my craft. Being able to braid has opened up a whole world of silhouettes and garment creation techniques over the years, allowing me to develop a memorable and unique aesthetic. It’s raw, strong, and beautiful. Malleable and flexible.
Fabric hand-braiding is a powerful technique used across your work. Can you tell us what it means to you?
Any kind of creative work that involves using your fingers and hands, or any kind of garment that’s created through intricate detailing—whether braiding or hand stitching—displays an incredible amount of hard work and dedication that’s gone into the process. Braiding is both culturally and historically significant, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with my hands to create and design my garments using such a traditional technique. It’s always really fulfilling working on a design for a few weeks, knowing that I took the time to honour the braiding process wholly and fully.
What has inspired your debut collection for AAFW 23’? Are you nervous, excited or both?
This collection was inspired by resilience and determination. Being unafraid to push boundaries by staying deeply true to authenticity. It is also the story of my growth, both personally and publicly, with a focus on the details that lie deep within each garment, rather than what you see on the surface. My latest collection is a testament to my perseverance and consistency in the face of setbacks, emerging stronger and more resolute than before. Each garment is a celebration of being one-of-a-kind and serves as a continuation of my commitment to empowering individuals to express their true selves by embracing uniqueness and individuality. I’m excited. I’m nervous, but I’m also so ready for this moment. It’s been a long time coming, I’m looking forward to showcasing what I’ve been working towards for over seven years.
How do you feel being from Australia and living on Gadigal Land influence your work?
Sovereignty was never ceded. It always was and always will be, Aboriginal land. Both my grandparents immigrated to Australia from Italy and Baghdad to find better opportunities and to build better lives for themselves and our family. I’ve always been so proud of my heritage, and consider myself incredibly lucky to have been brought up in Australia. I’m also fully cognisant about what it means to live and work on Gadigal land, and I pay respect to First Nations people, and their Elders past and present.
How important is sharing your work and how do you approach this?
I think it’s important to share all aspects of my work, especially in the fashion industry. Sharing your creative output is truly like a form of currency. it’s important to showcase everything you have to offer, whether you’re obsessed with it or feeling okay about it. What you might think isn’t great, someone might love and appreciate. You never know until you relinquish control and push it out into the world.
What’s the best advice you’ve received or what advice would you give to creatives/designers hoping to start their own label?
I’ve always been a perfectionist. I put so much pressure on myself to “catch up”, thinking I had come into the fashion world too late. If I could go back, I’d tell myself that there isn’t a time limit to being creative or achieving success—it’s genuinely about the hard work you put in that solidifies your achievements, and nothing to do with how others perceive you, or how far along you are in the industry.
My biggest tip to designers or creatives starting out on their own is this: If you're doing anything that is creative and unique, which doesn’t fall under the label of ready-to-wear, make sure you have a hustle or some income on the side. Striking a balance means experiencing financial highs and lows until you work out that rhythm.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Leading in the industry with a team of people by my side. Creating new looks and pushing boundaries.
Photos: Hameed Akinwande Interview: Tommie Love
We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which this shoot took place.