By Aisha Hassan on May 19th, 2021
Consciously drawing connections
AHNDE exists at the confluence of many things: Malaysia and London, friends who came together, science and art. Tanya Steven and two other partners debuted AHNDE at London Fashion Week in 2013, complete with a moss installation and stellar soundtrack thanks to working with landscape architects and music artists. While Tanya now runs the business alone, that spirit of collaboration remains in the brand to this day.
AHNDE is pronounced “and,” like the conjunction. “It’s a connecting word, you and me, the process of connection, conversation, and the concept that an idea manifests when there is input from many different directions,” Tanya says. This notion of interrelation is also vital to her design process. “It’s like finding a seashell on the beach and then finding the narrative behind it, and then thinking about the sort of woman we’re designing for,” she says.
Tanya, who has a background in biochemical engineering, is also cognizant of how scientific principles can influence her ethical fashion brand. “Fashion or design is in effect a form of engineering, it’s basically solving a problem, putting form to an idea, and also little micro-tweaks,” she says. “You see a blurring of boundaries between science and art with interesting or sustainable fabrics being developed...it’s constantly evolving."
The anatomy of a shirt
Construction and fabrication were two key considerations for AHNDE’s collection of ready-to-wear shirts. “I thought a lot about insects, like butterflies,” Tanya says. “The shirts are quite loose fitting and billowing so you have that sense of movement, but you also have structure,” she continues. The MAYA Shirt, for instance, features puffed sleeves, while the KARLA Shirt incorporates buttons down the back, and the oversized CORA Shirt makes use of a casual drop shoulder. It’s a matter of transforming a trusted essential into something more striking to suit “many different types of women,” Tanya says. “I wanted to design shirts that were interesting and wearable.”
Tanya chooses fabrics that support the design’s structure as well as achieve a specific color effect. The Petrol Blue shirt, for instance, is created using “shot fabric”, which is when two differently-colored threads are interwoven with each other. “You get that iridescence and it has a special sort of color like oil on water,” Tanya says. “When you look at flowers especially, there’s not just one tone...if you look at a petal you see the topography of the color and how that changes.” Selecting unusual fabrics, Tanya says, can be a way of trying to emulate nature and experiment.
Between the seams
AHNDE has been committed to small batch production from the beginning, and the brand’s London-based studio is largely for bespoke or made-to-order items. In Malaysia, Tanya works with a small team of elderly ladies skilled in the art of Cheongsam making. (Tanya is Chinese-Malaysian and Indian-Scottish, and she sometimes takes inspiration from vintage or heritage clothing.) “These seamstresses are people I’ve found through my mother, and theirs is a very specific form of craftsmanship,” Tanya says. Working on the loose-fitting shirts is experimental for these cheongsam-makers and yet the artisanship is never compromised. “There’s a lot of detail by hand, there’s a lot of precision, love, and years of experience that goes into it,” Tanya says.
In fact, Tanya treasures the moment she sees the first sample, and when both she and the seamstresses are surprised by the result. “It’s the manifestation of all you’ve thought about or put on paper and dreamed,” she says. Beyond that, seeing women wear AHNDE adds a whole new level of joy. “My favorite part of it all is when people say that they wore my pieces and felt amazing or received so many compliments,” Tanya says. “Fashion is very powerful in that respect because it makes you feel...it’s isn’t as superficial as we might imagine.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aisha Hassan is a writer, journalist, and co-founder of Dia. Previously, Aisha worked for Quartz in New York and Harper’s Bazaar in Malaysia. Her fiction has been published in international literary magazines. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from the University of Oxford, and a master’s degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.