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ABRA and Princess Gollum transcend reality in this new London label

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Digital artist Ruby Bloom and model Jazzelle finish the line-up in Appeal to Heaven’s futuristic first campaign

For all the horror and misery of a year spent largely in lockdown, witnessing the against-all-odds creativity that’s come out of it has been truly heartening. All around the world, people are turning to art, fashion, photography, and countless other mediums as a way to pass the time, soothe their minds, or otherwise make sense of the strange times we’re living in. 

Even more exciting than that has been the swell of wildly talented individuals transforming their passions and side projects into small businesses, setting out in new directions when it comes to their careers. With the chaos of the 9-5 currently a distant memory for many, and the relentlessly grinding gears of capitalism momentarily slowed, people are being afforded the breathing space to bring meaningful ideas to life. 

One project finding its feet in lockdown is Appeal To Heaven, which launches today. Founded by London-based stylist, consultant, and writer Nazanin Shahnavaz and musician Austin Milne, the label is made up of second-skin separates bearing shimmering liquid and cracked, geode-like motifs that swim across each piece. Simultaneously natural and artificial, it’s as if each pattern has been run through a computer program that’s left it distorted and skewed – and needless to say, we’re extremely into it. 

Fronting Appeal to Heaven’s first campaign are a series of avatars you might just recognise. With ABRA, Princess Gollum, and Jazzelle (aka @uglyworldwide) all part of a shoot the design duo named Transcend Reality: Manifestation of a Deity, each one was transformed by Hong Kong-based digital artist Ruby Gloom (who also stars). “We really wanted to capture that fleeting, haunting beauty you might get in a film noir or a sci-fi movie that never lasts long enough,” explains Shahnavaz of the concept behind the images. 

Ahead of the label’s launch we caught up with Shahnavaz and Milne, as they discuss finding inspiration in Mugler’s cyborgs and Canary Wharf at night, getting North West and Y2K-era Eminem in their clothes, and becoming, what they call, ‘a four-armed multidisciplinary animal’.

Hey Naz and Austin! First of all I’d like to ask how Appeal to Heaven came about? Why did you decide now was the time to launch a clothing label? 

Appeal to Heaven: The pandemic brought a lot of sudden changes and pretty quickly it was clear that this would be a major pivot point in culture. It’s been horrific in so many ways, but has also hastened inevitable shifts and brought the future forward. It felt like we skipped ahead a few years and was an obvious moment to create a project for this new era. 

We wanted to embrace the possibilities that self-isolation presented. It felt like this was the first time that life migrated online in a meaningful way for a lot of people, and the remote and digital became the main site of cultural production. We thought it would be cool to create a series of digital avatars to reflect this and with so much social distancing, the idea of physically connecting with others through clothing was interesting. 

Personally, lockdown gave us time to change our routine and reflect. We tried to make the most out of the unexpected situation and as time went by self-isolation became liberating in a way – we were beholden to fewer people, ideas, and conventions. I (Nazanin) was tired of making things look cool for other brands – a lot of the industry relies on doing favours for big companies, and we wanted to do something for ourselves. Appeal to Heaven embodies that spirit. 

Where do you find inspiration? 

Appeal to Heaven: London is a changed city. Cycling around in the pandemic, especially in the last few months, it feels like a different place, almost like it’s lost its purpose. Most of central is a ghost town compared to what it’s usually like. It’s been beautiful catching the empty buildings and quiet streets at dusk. There’s a lot of room for imagination to fill. More specifically, FM-2030 – the Iranian transhumanist philosopher and Olympic basketball player – Mugler’s AW95 Cyborgs, strobe lights, psilocybin, and Canary Wharf at night. 

“(ABRA, Princess Gollum, Jazzelle, and Ruby Gloom) project these strong, enigmatic personalities and at the same time are the most down-to-earth people ever. Simultaneously unknowable yet approachable, kind of like a goddess, which inspired the direction of the shoot” – Appeal to Heaven 

Can you tell me a little about the model line-up? It is a vibe

Appeal to Heaven: Such a vibe! Jazzelle, ABRA, Princess Gollum, and Ruby Gloom are incredible artists. They’re all such smart, creative, multifaceted people that we have so much respect and admiration for. They do everything on their own terms and we’re honoured to have them on board. We’ve always loved their work and have had the privilege of getting to know them through styling. They project these strong, enigmatic personalities and at the same time are the most down-to-earth people ever. Simultaneously unknowable yet approachable, kind of like a goddess, which inspired the direction of the shoot – Transcend Reality: Manifestation of a Deity. It was a dream collaboration. 

What do you like about Ruby Gloom’s work, and why did you want her to create the avatars? 

Appeal to Heaven: She’s an incredibly talented digital artist based out of Hong Kong with a super cool transhuman avatar that she’s been building on for years. We’d loved how striking and elaborate her work was and thought going down a digital route could be liberating, especially during lockdown when no one was really shooting anywhere. It allowed us to cut out the messy logistics and bullshit that comes with a photoshoot while at the same time creating things that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. 

Her aesthetic is badass and fit perfectly with the direction we wanted to take with ATH. We really wanted to capture that fleeting, haunting beauty you might get in a film noir or sci-fi movie that never seems to last long enough. Definitely check out the images on a larger screen if you can, the level of detail is mind-blowing. Ruby is a true master, more people need to know about her – and her hamster!

The whole process was exciting and felt like an inevitable disruption to an antiquated way of working. Rather than having to gather everyone in the same place at the same time, the team was spread out across the globe, and yet we had full control of the final outcome. It cut out a lot of the steps and egos that can bog down a shoot, with the added bonus of being able to add bionic limbs here and there. 

Who would you most like to see wearing the collection, now you’ve had four iconic artists digitally step into it? 

Appeal to Heaven: Zendaya  and Hunter Schafer, Sevdaliza, Telfar Clemens, AOC, JPEGMafia, Frank Ocean, North West Kardashian, Eminem circa 1999 – 2002, and Karl Lagerfeld (RIP). 

What do you each bring to the table when it comes to Appeal to Heaven? 

Appeal to Heaven: It’s been great. We each compliment the other’s strengths and fears really well. Austin is a musician and always enjoys making things, coming from outside fashion he’s brought a different perspective to the project, while Nazanin has taste and sound judgement. Together we’re like a four-armed, multidisciplinary animal. We’ve had a lot of fun. Sometimes we joke about being twins. 

For now the line is made up of just a few different styles. Do you have plans to extend the offering or keep it small and simple? 

Appeal to Heaven: We definitely want to explore different categories, to be playful and keep things fresh. The industry is in flux and there is ample room for new ideas. We’ve got some exciting plans in the works.  

Last question. The campaign gives off some v cinematic sci-fi vibes. If you were to remake the costumes for a cult movie, which would it be and what character would you choose? 

Appeal to Heaven: Wesley Snipes in Blade, Eleonore from The Pleasure of Being Robbed, Christiane from Eyes Without A Face, Rei’s plugsuit in Neon Genesis Evangelion, Hari from Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Mona from Vagabond, the cast of Bones (especially Snoop Dogg), Googoosh in Hamsafar or Dar Emtedade Shab, and The Montagues in Romeo + Juliet. 

Check out Appeal to Heaven here.