For most people, the idea of wearing your own face on a T-shirt—let alone on a custom corset while onstage—is a terrifying prospect. As if putting your face forward in a public context isn’t scary enough, the act of duplicating your own image on a garment that you’re wearing is a very public commitment to self-representation. But when London-based singer and London club collective Nuxxe co-founder DJ Blane Muise, aka Shygirl, performed onstage at a hometown show at the beginning of the month in a baroque skirt and corset custom printed all over with different selfies, she seemed completely immune to any sort of sheepishness in putting multiple faces forward (even if her moniker might denote otherwise).
Created in collaboration with British designer Max Allen, whose patchwork pieces you might recognize on the likes of Lafawndah or FKA Twigs, Shygirl’s garments were printed all over with different Shygirl selfies that Allen blew up to differing proportions. On the bust, Allen rendered the cover art from her debut solo EP from last year larger than her actual head, while ribbons extended from her sleeves and were printed all over with smaller sized selfies in panels, almost resembling the old school photo booth film. Even the skirt, which at first seems like a print of a digital watercolor painting, is made from a selfie that’s been enhanced so dramatically that its origins are completely abstracted.
Shygirl first became aware of Allen through his work with Lafawndah, a mutual friend. “His whole collage-like approach really appealed to me. It’s almost like he’s making a beautiful mess, and I don’t think everyone can do that well, and also being able to build something new out of old pieces is a really interesting way of looking at things,” Shygirl says of what first struck her about Allen’s designs. Allen is as much a classic dressmaker as he is a sculptor. “I build stuff, add bits, try things out, and edit—I don’t really design on paper,” Allen says of his approach. “I’ve been making clothes for 15 years and do a lot of research into historical garments, and I’ve worked in costume design for years, so I bring all of these things loosely together to create things with clients.”
They first linked up via Instagram, as is the custom these days, but soon after they bumped into each other at a party in Berlin and started discussing collaborating on something special around Shygirl’s London show at Scala. The two discussed Shygirl’s more general style influences in the process—she says that she’s particularly interested in the way in which femininity is expressed through the over-the-top drama and exaggerated opulence of the film adaptation of Chicago. “It’s something that I see in queer culture as well, where I sort of found myself—everyone is free to be themselves, whether it be the most extra or the most chill, and that’s something I see reflected in cabaret or burlesque style.”
It was actually Allen’s idea to turn Shygirl’s face into a print—perhaps not surprising given his work falls as much into the realm of pop art as it does costume design. “I’ve always printed pictures of faces and people from pop culture on garments and textiles,” Allen says over email. With Shygirl, however, it was the first time Allen printed someone’s own face onto a piece of work. “I needed something that was kind of like an armour in a sense, but I’m still showing so much of myself,” Shygirl says of the outfit. “It’s not like I’m hiding myself from the crowd—I even took pieces off throughout the set—so it’s just this idea of being covered in myself and undressing and revealing more of myself throughout the set, not just through my body but through the prints themselves,” Shygirl says over the phone from London following the show.
The moniker of Shygirl first started out as a sort of alter-ego, but her relationship with the name and this ultra-confident persona that she’s created is shifting, which is a transition that Shygirl and Allen wanted to reflect in the designs of the garments themselves. “It was once a role that I stepped into, but now I don’t really feel like I ever step out of it. It’s more of a phase of my life,” Shygirl says, relating it to Picasso’s Blue Period. “And even thinking about presenting yourself as a woman, the theater aspect of it all, and how I want to express that visually, we came down to these regal aspects of it—everything has this kind of like poise but undressed quality to it, almost like what you’d wear as undergarments,” Shygirl says. “However long this period lasts, there’s so much room to explore and develop as a person, and how I present myself creatively changes all the time—sometimes it’s extravagant and sometimes it’s really chill. I always feel the same at my core, but my mood is ever-changing, and I think your clothes should reflect that.” And when all of your favorite selfies comprise the raw material of your garments—right down to your satin gloves—it’s the ultimate way to give the entire spectrum of your personality traits their proper face time.