Q&A with Rasha Khoyi

From Iran to America, to England to Alexander McQueen, Rasha Khoyi's life so far reads like a movie. Perhaps even more cinematic and enthralling are the designer's hand-painted custom clothes. As you'd expect of a brand who's name includes her initials, RKApparel is very much a personal project which sees Rasha spend hours on hand painted custom garments. She even invites customers to see the taking process via Tik Tok. We sit down with her to find about the journey so far.

When did you move to the U.K. and what're your memories of Iran?

I moved out of Iran at an early age, of about 2, which is actually when I moved to America. I lived there until the age of 13, which is when I moved to the UK. I visited Iran every year once my father moved back there, so the majority of my memories come from visits as opposed to actually living there. My relationship with my native country has always been mixed, perhaps because of this. I have vivid images in my memory of colourful life in the bazaar, rife with 'taarof,' a quintessentially Iranian display of politeness and etiquette that is just as present in my household as it is in public. Though my fondest memories live outside the city of Tehran, when I experienced the rich landscape that the world outside of Iran seemed to have no idea about. Riding polo horses and some of the best skiing I've experienced in my lifetime just to name a couple. Though of course, despite all the beauty, I can't help but feel some form of disconnect from my culture, as a woman. Some opposing memories I have would be forced veiling at a young age; regardless, I would not trade my heritage for anything.

Do you feel your identity as a global citizen influences your artistic outlook?
Absolutely. Of course from moving around so much at a young age I struggled to identify with one culture, the old adage of not being 'X' enough for these people or 'Y' enough for those people. My parents did their best to allow me to assimilate to make my life easier, though this perhaps leaves a young person in a state of limbo. This is potentially what drew me to surrealism over and over again, as it exists in that space of limbo that sort of no one and everyone can participate in. I feel like having access to a multitude of perspectives has proved to be a great tool as an adult; there's a strong sense of empathy that comes along with that. I believe empathy is a vital quality as an artist, as it allows you to connect with who is coming across your work.  

We know skulls are a signature feature of your work. What is it about them that makes you include them in so much of your work?
I have such a fondness for them that I honestly could list the reasons forever. Perhaps my most favoured perspective of art is somewhat through the lens of Gothic literature; the imagery in this genre is such an essential backbone to identify it. I have always been drawn to artists, designers, and writers who create work that exists in this space that is theatrical and passionate; it's both sensual and menacing. The skull woman hybrid that I've created, that often identifies my work, is exemplary for who I am and where I exist in the world of art. It gives tribute to a movement that smashed through taboos in its time, but is modernised so that this figure is now the protagonist rather than the victim.

We love the fact you show your making process on TikTok. What inspired that idea?
I started to realise that photographs weren't always enough to emphasise the amount of work that goes into each piece. Of course the end result is a piece of clothing, but I wanted to share that for me they are art pieces. Often they can take upwards of 20 hours, so for me it has become important to at least try to give some insight into the love that is poured into them. I chose TikTok because I found the format to be entertaining and attention grabbing, which is so important with the vast expanse of content on the internet. 

Video: Tik Tok/ @Rashakhoyi

Doing all your work hand painted, we imagine it would be difficult to run large scale production? Would you be willing to look at alternative manufacturing processes if the demand arose?
It's definitely challenging to keep up with an influx of commissions when I'm investing so much into each piece. I would love to carry on those pieces forever, though yes I'm already looking into additional means of production. Both processes will exist alongside each other, with different approaches. I wouldn't try to replicate my painted pieces exactly, as I feel the lack of limitations is what makes those designs so unique. Though these new works will have their own special approach, and I'm very much looking forward to releasing them.

We saw via your LinkedIn that you interned at Alexander McQueen. What was that experience like?
It was such an extraordinary opportunity, it truly expanded my mind for design. I got to witness a process of meticulous consideration of every piece that was created; you can be a lover of art and design, but seeing it first hand really does show you there is always so much more than a finished product. For me it's simply one of the most legendary fashion houses out there, so it honestly was a dream come true. It also was a valuable experience for me to learn incredible balance and planning, keeping up with my own commissions alongside.

Why do you focus on surrealism in your artwork and why do you feel it works so well on your pieces?
As I was saying before I have this fascination of art existing in this state of limbo; sometimes it can dip a toe into realism and really challenge your observational skills, while other times it leans more abstract. For me it's important to comment on reality, but representative of your own views and fantasies. It's those fleeting thoughts and ideas I have that then have to be pushed through the design process, taking an abstract or dream-like concept and interpreting into reality, or semi-reality. It can also take the smallest starting point, such as a colour, and say okay how can I create an entire world based around this colour. I also believe art shouldn't have a set of instructions telling you how to interpret it, surrealism allows the viewer to connect with a piece in whatever way their brain wants them to.

Shop RKApparel here

Follow Rasha'a Instagram

Keep up with the making process via Tik Tok


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