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Breaking Down Gender Norms: A Journey into William Crosson's Graduate Collection

A Deep Dive into William Crosson's Creative Journey: This extensive discussion, conducted by William Zhang and refined by Alexia Georgieva, is a component of a series created as part of the LIGNES DE FUITE short course called "How to Interview Fashion Creatives and Frame Their Research and Ideas." The course was designed to bring together budding writers and fashion enthusiasts, offering them an exclusive chance to grasp the essentials of journalism.

In a world that obstinately reinforces gender roles, William seeks to subvert unhealthy standards of toxic masculinity. His graduate collection, South Ontario Lovesong, is an ode to young Canadians who have been affected by traditional notions of gender. William aims to present a meaningful way for Canadians to embrace the importance of vulnerability and emotional awareness. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Political Science and English Literature, and a rigorous two years in construction labour, William found himself drawn to the fashion industry. This, however, is not his first creative endeavour. He draws on past experience as a social media manager at HotNewHipHop, and his musical marksmanship in synths and production as one-third of the multitalented left-field pop (ambient hyperpop) group Province.

Sensing that fashion would ultimately enable him to produce the art and visuals that excited him the most, Will equipped himself with diploma in Fashion Design at LaSalle College. He took a particular interest in coats and jackets essential for the great outdoors, stereotypically worn by men in rugged conditions: lumberjacks, manual labourers, military men, and even the average camper. Will noticed that these clothes have traditionally also perpetuated an image of toxic masculinity. One way he subverts the intrinsic masculinity of outdoor clothing is through designing menswear, but with feminine silhouettes. Uniquely, Will creates traditional military –and outdoors– wear silhouettes that present themselves as delicate, but are able to stand up to the elements as effectively as their historic relatives. “I felt like the best way to challenge [toxic masculinity] was to essentially prove to people that you can create these very functional garments that are able to stand up to intense outdoor weather, but that actually appear and present themselves as being feminine or vulnerable,” he says.

The final pieces within Will’s unisex graduate collection are laden with meticulous and carefully selected references. From a lineup of nine looks, he constructed three: the blue and yellow rain dress, the white topo-puffer and the campfire wrap skirt. Will employed design techniques including intense primary research, as well as deep archival image research and referencing. Personal research was important for him. Will started by asking his mother to scan and send him every old photo that she could find of his family. These ranged from family photos in the 1960s to those taken during his own childhood. Many photos involved the Crosson family camping in Northern Ontario, with various colours within these pictures being referenced in his final graduate collection garments—a blue from the logo of his dad’s Grumman aluminium canoe, a yellow lifted from a lifejacket or a raincoat. Yellow was also the colour of a boat rope used to tie up canoes, his dad’s old dry sack, a 1970s Parks Canada pinback badge, grade school “cahiers”. The references to yellow were extensive in Will’s primary research and translated into clothing as yellow pocket accents and a yellow belt. Will attentively explored how conceptions of masculine behaviour within Canadian and military culture have harmfully affected generations of Canadian men—as well as generations of his own family. He recalls his father’s inability to admit his struggles with alcoholism and subsequent liver cirrhosis, from which he ultimately passed away without seeking help. His father also talked a lot about the emotional abuse he suffered at the hands of Will’s grandfather, a WWII veteran with symptoms of military PTSD. Neither of them were willing to discuss mental health or be vulnerable even in their worst conditions. Will elaborates: “I know this collection will inevitably address the passing of my father in 2009 due to his drinking problem... I believe this is a symptom of deeper problems that men face today, namely: depression and anxiety, lack of kinship or loneliness, and toxic masculinity.” In crux, Will witnessed that engrained expectations of masculinity incite men to act in extremely damaging ways. He describes this unwavering, masculine stoicism as something formative within his family history, but also something that he wishes to subvert as a concept within society and fashion.

Meanwhile, William’s secondary research played a big role in his silhouette and detail research. In his early stages of ideation, he studied online government sources in detail, such as Library and Archives Canada. He describes referencing from a vast electronic database of old articles, newspapers, and an extensive image collection. Some pieces that stood out to William were a 1943 Canadian Army Snow Camo Sniper Smock, as well as a World War II R.C.A.F Type E-1 Deacon Flight Suit. Resemblances can be recognized between these, and his rain dress and topo-puffer. More importantly, the Archive gave him a robust sense of how the Canadian government understood militarism, and that there was little room for nuance in what it meant to be an outdoors person. The pictures that William found were of a singular understanding, such as

“a dude in a plaid shirt with a bear on his shoulder... but obviously that’s hyperbolic.”

As William’s main goal was to subvert standards of stereotypical masculinity, he juxtaposed modern technical fabric elements and traditional Canadian textiles. His white topo-puffer is a prime example. Staying true to military-specific materials and silhouettes, he modelled the puffer after a WWII Canadian flight jacket, even including the diagonal zipper. He explains that this topo-puffer was incredibly difficult to construct because it was made from deadstock military parachute material, which is light, soft, almost sheer; but waterproof and strong. Through this material, William wanted to evoke a sense of vulnerability. Moreover, the couched topography-looking threads on the puffer were stitched to replicate a map of Simcoe County, where he grew up in Southern Ontario. Additionally, the silhouette research for this puffer was pulled mostly from womenswear, becoming another way for William to subvert the typical military

mens’ silhouette.

With fabric manipulation being at the heart of William’s design technique, he says: “I find practicality in clothing design to be a major source of inspiration. Clothes are made to be worn and should first and foremost allow the wearer to do whatever it is they’re required to do. But it also provides a source of limitation, which I think is necessary for good design work.''

Regarding the blue and yellow rain dress, Will contrasts the practicality of a classic rainshell jacket with the addition of a half-circle skirt. Another technical piece, he recalls that this dress took more than 40 pattern pieces alone. With the insertion of a two-way separating zipper, the wearer can unzip from the bottom-up. Double-facing adhesives were used to create pockets, the contrast between form and function here epitomises the concept of his graduate collection.

Another design metaphor was used in the plaid-woven campfire wrap skirt, made functional from repurposed Scouts Canada camping blankets. Paired with this skirt is a giant hoodie resembling a Canadian military flight jacket. Will explains that he used pads to create a layering effect, making it seem like the wearer had on a hoodie underneath another hoodie.

Many men, like Will’s father, were “proud Canadians” in a way that was harmful. Nonetheless, he describes himself as a Canadian designer first and foremost. He states, “There’s no aesthetic to comfortably rely upon. There’s a huge void to fill, which to me is super exciting.” Having just finished his studies at LaSalle College, Will feels even more prepared to work in the industry. He reflects on how he surmounted learning an impossible amount of work that comes with studying fashion design, from 14-hour work days to exhausting minutiae at the cutting room table. This education reaffirmed his capabilities

and sparked his interest in slow fashion. In the future, his goal is to develop his reputation as a fashion designer, and eventually build his own brand.



Text William Zhang Images William Crosson


Originally published in LIGNES DE FUITE vol.3

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