At 2015’s Vancouver Fashion Week, designs by Amber Nifong had jaws dropping all the way down the runway. Even before I arrived at the venue, I’d heard whispers about Nifong’s finale piece; words like “gothic” and “awesome” were being brought up in reference to the collection, and I was desperate to see it for myself. On the day that I attended VFW, Amber’s show was over and she was in the designer’s room with her work, so I made my way over to see what all the fuss was about. As soon as I glanced at the rack of clothing behind Amber’s smiling face, I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed. The garments looked like something Morticia Addams would wear to an important ceremony, or maybe they were more like prom dresses for vampire queens; glamorous, all-black, and fashionably distressed. Not to mention, there were asymmetrical holes clustered all over them. That was something I’d never seen before in fashion, so naturally, I was curious to know more about the collection. Before long, I got talking with Amber, who was happy to explain the inspiration behind her work.

“Everyone’s creative process is a little different I suppose. Mine tends to be a pretty even mix of cerebral and emotive processes,” she said, as we thumbed through her portfolio. “For the current collection, Ange Déchu, it started more with emotion. The collection is based on this general concept of darkness. Not as in things that are creepy or evil, but darkness in a way that I consider even more terrifying: pain, inner demons, struggle, and evil that lies within all of humanity. In my work, I like to explore topics that are far removed from fashion and considered somewhat taboo. This was no exception for my current collection.”


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She continued on to explain the bigger picture behind her fascination with controversy. “Society as a whole tends to bottle up the things that aren’t ‘pretty’. We don’t like to broach painful topics or experiences. Overall, I think that people want to look at what is nice, what is acceptable for polite company, and ignore the dark dirty stuff. That’s what this collection started as. Instead of averting my eyes from darkness, I decided to explore its depths.”

The name of the collection, which means “fallen angel” in French, was inspired by Nifong’s remembrance of her Catholic upbringing. She recalled how gloriously Lucifer’s beauty was described in The Bible, even after he’d fallen from grace, and was intrigued. Therefore, the theme of the collection was born: “even dark things can be beautiful.” For Nifong, the message has a very personal meaning as well. She explained that “the most painful and dark parts of [her] being and life” have been what defined who she is today, not only as a designer, but as a human being. “They may have hurt at the time, but ultimately, my darkness made me beautiful,” added Nifong.


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Understandably, the uglier parts of life are bound to make the public a little uncomfortable. However, as long as it’s just uncomfortable enough to provoke thought, that’s exactly what Nifong wants. She believes that “controversial themes or topics are a key to being an artist,” and asks, “If you show something that is tame or already approved of, then why show it at all? Isn’t expressing oneself, challenging the current human condition, and pursing ideas for the new, better, and different what art is all about?”. She quotes Oscar Wilde in summary of her argument, stating that ”an idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”

This boundary-pushing mindset can be instantly identified in Ange Déchu. The collection is full of high collars, huge skirts, and unique layers and textures. To me, the most interesting of all were the holes adorning the entirety of her finale piece. No matter how long I looked at it, I couldn’t seem to figure out how she created the look. It was in other pieces too, but not to the same extent; the finale work was an enormous gown completely covered in apertures. After almost fifteen minutes of pondering, I finally asked, and the answer surprised me.

For hours upon hours, Amber sat in her New York apartment with a handheld lighter or torch, burning each hole individually into the spandex. If that doesn’t say something about the designer’s commitment to her work, I’m not sure what would. “I didn’t see my friends for days,” she laughed. “I must’ve finished every series on Netflix in the process!” Nifong discovered the idea by experimenting with fabric for a project at Savannah College of Art and Design, and one of her ideas was to burn her favourite fabric. Considering that Nifong was “known by many as ‘spandex queen’ because [she] wore so many crazy patterned leggings,” it wasn’t difficult to choose the one she wanted to practice on. “That’s when I discovered the lovely result that comes from burning spandex,” she recounted. The piece turned out to be incredibly time-consuming, but it must’ve paid off, because the VFW crowd was buzzing about it for days.


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For twenty-five year-old Amber Nifong, the attention and admiration was “extremely humbling and surreal.” The show was her debut, not to mention her first time in Canada, and it was a huge success. “This is all I have ever wanted to do, and to have that validated by so many industry professionals, writers, style gurus, and the like was everything I could have wanted and more. I think it’s going to take a few weeks before I will truly be able to soak in the happenings of VFW,” she concluded.

Amber’s fanbase can rest assured knowing that whatever’s coming next from Nifong will be equally as exciting. Although she will be focusing on a more “ready-to-wear” collection, her love for controversy and juxtaposition will remain an important part of the process. Because Amber “works very organically”, she’s always sure to create from the soul. And when the designer’s soul is so intoxicated by darkness and light, how could you not get a fascinating product?


Video: Designer Amber Nifong VFW Presention


Look at Amber’s collections on her website and follow her on Instagram (@amberalliene) for updates.