Voluminous has become one of the most-used adjectives in fashion. You can use it to describe the Japanese designer Tomo Koizumi’s piles of pastel tulle, which turn his lithe models into couture Candyland characters. Or the sweeping shoulder accents seen on Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino ball gowns that extend women’s wingspans by at least a few feet. Or the oversized Chanel suit Billie Eilish wore to the Oscars, which probably could have fit two of her.
Call it a trend made for Instagram, or one that encourages women to take up more space. Regardless of any sociological implications, one thing’s for sure: voluminous sure is fun to look at.
The young designer Harikrishnan (who goes by a single name) reminded us of this in his graduate thesis collection at the London College of Fashion, which went viral on Twitter and Instagram this week. He sent male models down his runway in gigantic latex bellbottoms that were fitted at the ankle, making the trousers look overblown with the help of Photoshop.
But the pants, which the art magazine Dezeen first reported on, are made of 30 panels of latex inflated with an air machine. Harikrishnan, who is 26 and originally from Kerala, India, told The Daily Beast it takes about five or six minutes to blow up each pair.
“You put on a base garment, then you put the pants on and inflate it,” Harikrishnan said. “Once the air is in there, it fits on the body, and doesn’t move.” But he warned that the style can only be worn “for an hour or two, maximum.”
“I wouldn’t recommend wearing them for too long,” he said. “It’s not meant for that. You can sit in them, no problem. It’s even more fun when you sit.”
Harikrishnan has never tried the pants on himself, but describes the models who went down his runway as giving off a “floating feel.”
“During casting, one of the models said he couldn’t walk in them because he’d laugh,” Harikrishnan added.
The latex Harikrishnan used was sponsored by the UK manufacturer Supatex. He began working with the material about six months ago. “There’s this thing when you put latex in a collection, it just sexualizes it,” Harikrishnan said. “I was scared [at first], because it seems to give you a fetish vibe instantly. But that didn’t happen. The end result was a playful vibe.”
Playful, but a little penile, or at least according to the Internet. “Testicles, but make it fashion,” Bitch Media founder Andi Zeisler wrote on Twitter of the drooping shape. Others dubbed them “ballbottoms.”
“I never saw that,” Harikrishnan laughed. “It’s a new perspective for me, but now I can’t unsee it. It just looks like that.”
“Insiders, those in fashion, those who do art and cultural studies, they don’t see that,” he said. “Their eyes are trained to see it in an artistic way. For outsiders, that’s not in my hands. That’s the relationship between the designer and the common man. You condition your eyes to see in a different way.”
In reality, Harikrishnan said he was inspired by his pug, Kai, while they were playing in his garden. “I was on the floor, talking to him,” he said. “He’s a small dog, and I wondered how he would see me. Is my leg looking like a big thing to him? I do a little pet sitting, so I’m into dogs. That’s where it started.”
While researching for his collection, he began reading about optical illusions in contemporary art. He fell in love with the work of Jean-Paul Goude, a French photographer perhaps best known for his many images of Grace Jones (and Kim Kardashian’s 2014 “Break the Internet” Paper cover).
“He celebrates the beauty of body, the beauty of distortion, and that’s where this came from,” Harikrishnan said. “When you see the collection, I designed it in a way where some elements should surprise your eyes, and other elements should give you good feelings.”
Along with the scene-stealing pants, Harikrishnan made beaded shirts and shorts. These came after a month he spent studying and working in Channapatna, India, known as “The Town of Toys” for its wooden craft industry.
“I went and lived in that village, with the community, and created the wooden outfit in this collection,” he said. “[In the future] I want to work with more women in that village, maybe build something like an NGO. That’s more of a plan right now.”
He came to London two years ago to get his masters from the London College of Fashion, after interning as a t-shirt designer for a soccer club in India.
For now, Harikrishnan is fielding inquiries into his work, which is not yet for sale. “I would love to create custom pieces if anyone is interested,” he said. A few stylists working on music videos and in theater have already reached out. “I am still working on the price,” the designer added.
Latex is a “good material.” Harikrishnan would like to use it more in future collections. “I can imagine it on coats and jackets,” he said. As long as you stay away from sharp edges.