A.W.A.K.E Mode: Exploring the Deconstruction Trend (and How to Style it)

Pioneered by Martin Margiela in the late ‘80s, deconstructionism has become a trend used by major designers today. Here, we unravel the art of deconstructed tailoring in fashion, with a focus on the visionary Belgian brand, A.W.A.K.E mode. 

Every cycle or two, fashion comes undone. It’s left unfinished. Decomposed. Re-assembled. You could say it started in the late 1980s, when designer Martin Margiela introduced pieces that were deliberately undone, kicking off a wider focus on things frayed and destroyed. At the time, the Belgian designer wasn’t exactly new to the scene (he was a former assistant to Jean-Paul Gaultier), but he wasn’t popular either – and neither was the venue he chose as the backdrop to his Fall 1989 show. It was a graffiti-covered, run-down corner of Paris; the neighborhood kids were welcome to watch.

The collection seemed to embody a crafty, do-it-yourself-type of mindset. Ribbons were woven through the models’ fingers, fabrics were taped together, and seams were exposed. Men’s garments were deconstructed and resurrected as floor-length dresses. It was a major unraveling – one that would influence fashion for years to come.

The French press called the movement “la mode destroy,” fashion’s knee-jerk reaction to the economic downturn of the time. Two other noteworthy pioneers included Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. Unsurprisingly, the trend resurfaced in 2020, when the pandemic put the world in a stressful tailspin. Powerhouses like Moschino, Comme des Garçons, Marni, and others embraced la mode destroy, featuring collections that showcased raw edges, fraying, and exposed seams. 

The resurfacing of deconstruction in 2020 also aligned with the growing push for sustainability within the fashion industry. By deconstructing and reconstructing garments, designers are able to repurpose existing materials and reduce waste. It also ties in with the broader idea of circular fashion, which champions extending the lifespan of garments. I’m not saying this is the primary catalyst of the deconstruction trend – but limitations tend to spark creativity. 

Some of my favorite (read: most creative) designers and brands employ deconstructionism in their collections. Ottolinger! Y/Project! Rick Owens! Diesel! But today, I would like to zero in on A.W.A.K.E Mode (an acronym for “All Wonderful Adventures Kindle Enthusiasm”), mainly because that’s the hero piece of this blog post! And also because designer Natalia Alaverdian’s work is a masterclass in carefully calculated and purposeful deconstruction. 

Helmed by the Russian-born, Belgium-based fashion-editor-turned-designer, A.W.A.K.E Mode quickly became a cult favorite upon its launch in 2012. It’s easy to see why. A.W.A.K.E’s unconventional tailoring is catnip for folks who’re looking for something different, something a little, well, more. “They don’t want regular,” Alaverdian told Vogue when discussing her clientele. “They want something special, something fun, something almost surreal – probably to take them away from this reality.” 

The pandemic might be somewhat behind us, but this doesn’t mean I don’t fancy a good distraction. Deconstruction is about transformation – and transformation always requires a little bit of imagination, which Alaverdian has in spades. She has a knack for creating new silhouettes from the old, turning collars into sleeves, denim waistbands into hemlines, and laser-cut circles into skirts. With her magic, perversely ordinary items are transformed into cool, fresh, and unique pieces. 

Just take a look at this dress, which feels like two distinctly different pieces cut from the same, stretch-twill fabric. The top is beautifully structured and fitted, with a super-sharp, exaggerated collar. Below, sliced rectangular panels are stitched together at the corners to create a three-dimensional, most sculpture-like appearance (while being really light and free-flowing). It’s just as neatly tailored as it is not – and it’s surprisingly easy to wear.

Want to give the deconstruction trend a go? I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite A.W.A.K.E Mode pieces featuring raw-cut edges, exposed hems, and asymmetric cuts. 

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LA-based journalist and blogger sharing her deep-seated, honest love for fashion and travel. Check in every week for new stories of exploration and roundups!

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