Toronto-based visual artist and designer Avleen Kaur‘s leather goods practice GAHM has reinvigorated her love of craft, both in their intricately bespoke production and in the freedom of their adornment. Hand-made and independently produced by the artist/designer, the vision and manufacturing process of the brand was the result of free time spent during quarantine and an itch to explore the sartorial. We caught up with Kaur to talk about all things GAHM, creativity, and Canadian Fashion.
Tell us a bit about your work as a designer, what was the impetus for Gahm?
GAHM’s current collection is comprised of custom leather wear ranging from harnesses to full-body wear that I design and handmake. GAHM is named after my mother’s village in Kashmir called Budgahm.
It all started because I was in a rut during quarantine and was drooling over all the fashion stuff, I was seeing people make and wear online. I was just consuming so much wearable art that I needed to make some for myself. Then a friend wanted it- and then two and then it got its own Instagram handle and then snowballed into stylist pulls for shows and music videos and all these exciting things I never thought of at the time I started.
Your work seems to be heavily inspired by kink and BDSM wear, where do you draw inspiration from?
My motivation is to adorn my body and get as far away from a simple silhouette as possible. I don’t find straight lines exciting, I think adding layers of metal, big fabric, leather is interesting because it’s so unnatural, it takes thought and dedication to imagine and execute something like that.
I wouldn’t say I’m solely inspired by BDSM. I suppose leather would make you feel that way and it’s up to you to see and use but for me, it comes from my love of expression through dressing up, of changing silhouettes, of tightlacing, etc. Personally, my sexuality and exploration of it are private-it’s not necessary to overtly express through clothing. I think that can get burdensome for me – but you should express it if you feel like it. The leather in GAHM for me is an extension of my body- not necessarily a pursuit to sexually express myself.
What is your process of creation? Where do your ideas stem from?
I’m pretty reclusive, so I can manage a ton of time to put thought into how I can make more and more complicated designs, then work backward from there- how will it make the body feel? what form will it have? how the fit will be? Then I think of hardware – you can easily get cliche with too much metal and I try to stay away from that.
Everyone and everything inspires me visually- from different silhouettes, traditional Indian embroidery, excessive body jewelry I see in India – to Mugler in the 90s, McQueen, Robert Wun. Collections of Tumblr, Pinterest boards, body contortionists, and designers I find on Instagram.
What is your take on the Canadian fashion industry? What distinguishes it from the European and American markets?
I don’t have a hot take on the Canadian fashion industry, I focus on making my work impeccable and it really doesn’t leave much time to criticize or commend the industry at large. My work exists and moves on its own, you know what I mean? Doesn’t leave me much time to think about the industry and I prefer that. I am friends with/ know of some Toronto- Montreal designers who are extremely talented and I try to support them and buy their work.
I suppose I can say I don’t like the colour scheme that we seem to identify with here. A lot of minimalisms which I’m not into. Lots of greys, beige, and neutrals, it’s pretty safe and boring. There also isn’t anything comparable to the accessories I love and have access to from India so I can’t really say much about that industry either. But, I’m also very new to fashion as a designer so I don’t want to condemn something I am not deeply a part of yet.
As a Torontonian, how has the creative community in the city fostered your creative practice?
Toronto is pretty sweet. Once you have your people, it’s a matter of getting together and making work. I have some incredibly talented girlfriends who are down to model/co-create and just lend me their eyes and opinions. Like I said- I’m new so things are happening slowly but just being in the thick of it feels incredibly motivating.
Favourite brands right now?
I like designers more than brands. So I’m pretty easy on brands, more of a find whatever silhouette and fabric I like and wear. I definitely try really hard to stay away from fast fashion and commission designers if I can afford to, or thrift clothing.
What are some words of advice you have for emerging creatives in the industry?
Just gotta do your thing and put stuff out there, whatever you make – you gotta show it and keep making more of it- a better, cleaner, superior version of it with every iteration.
What’s on the horizon for 2022?
I’m going to finally launch my website in spring 2022! I have a few editorials and a short fashion film planned to launch the website which I’m putting together right now- so I’m pretty excited about that.
I got really busy the past summer with GAHM and my art practice so, I had to limit taking orders to once a month. That was the only way to maintain my sanity at the time but I think I’m finally going to make the “big move” to a website and take it from there.
I’ll also be adding limited garments I designed to the line which is so wild for me. It all feels like a dream.
Cody is the Editor in Chief and senior contributor at liminul.
He is a photography aficionado, fashion enthusiast, avid Lana Del Rey fan, and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.