#MBFWA – Meet Next Gen’ Designer Monster Alphabets

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia is just around the corner so it’s time to have a look at what we should expect this year. Next to established Australian designers, #MBFWA also showcases a carefully-curated selection of who they think will be the next big thing. By “they”, we mean none else than IMG’s head of fashion, Ellery’s general manager, Vogue Australia’s editor-in-chief, the merchandise director of David Jones, the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Australia, the director of Parlour X and MyTheresa.com’s buying director. Quite a comprehensive and intimidating panel, isn’t it?

Well a bunch of talented young Aussie designers made it through this jury and were selected for the St. George NextGen show 2016. No need to wait until their show in May; FIB already had a little chat with these promising creatives. Let us introduce you to Sarah Watanabe, the name behind Monster Alphabets.

Monster Alphabet Form

What does your label’s name mean?

It comes from this artwork that my sister was working on and it was called Monster Alphabets, obviously. Basically, the concept behind it was the question of what would happen if each letter of the alphabet had their own quirky characteristics, would the meaning of words change. That was her concept and I liked that idea, so I kind of stole the title, and here I am.

Do you incorporate that concept into your designs?
I think that there’s a dark quality to a lot of my designs; a mysterious. I think the name does connect to my creations a little bit.

In a short sentence, could you describe your label?
It is a label that captures dark minimalism.


Monster Alphabet Collection


I understand you have a background in Architecture. What prompted you to make the switch to become a fashion designer?
I have always wanted to pursue fashion, but you know, one thing leads to another, and I just found myself in architecture school. Time just flew: I graduated, found a full time job and worked in an architecture firm. I knew that I still wanted to know if I would like fashion design, so I started attending evening classes. It just felt so right and natural that I knew straight away I was doing the right thing. So I decided to quit my job and I moved to Tokyo, where I was born, to study fashion and that is where my career kind of jumped ship.

How has your experience in architecture influenced your fashion designs?
Yes, I think the main design principles that I learnt while I was pursuing architecture still stay with me. A lot of my architecture friends still say that my designs remind them a little bit of architecture influences. I guess the functionality of my clothes is also a reflection of my architectural background, because buildings must be functional in order to work. I think as a designer, my designs are still functional. It might look crazy, it might look cool, but all my garments are still wearable and so the functionality aspect is really important to me.



Lived in both Japan and Australia, which city best represents your design style? Do you find more inspiration from Tokyo, rather than Perth, for example?
Perth is a beautiful city and I love living here, but in terms of sourcing inspiration, I probably do look at Japan. Perth is all about the beach and summer, however I my designs aren’t really ‘beachy’. I quite like to cover up skin and black is definitely my colour. Monster Alphabet suits people who stay indoors a lot in summer.



How has your brand developed since it began in 2011?
In 2011, I started by taking part in small street markets, just to see if I could sell some garments. The designs I was doing back then wasn’t anything close to what I am doing now, but I was making simple dresses, just to see if customers would buy them. I did really well at those markets, so I thought I would try pursuing this a little bit more seriously. In 2012, I started my first official collections, but my designs have evolved a lot since then. I am definitely getting closer to what my label is about, but I feel like I’m still searching for the brand identity, and I probably always will.  At the moment I’ve still got a very “hands on” approach, so I do all of my patterns and most of my samplings. I think there is a lot of ‘me’ captured in my designs.

Is that an advantage to do it all yourself, or would you prefer to have somebody to help with things like that?
I think it’s a double-edged sword in the way that I design. Initially I might do a rough sketch, but the sketches are just an idea of what I might do. My actual design process takes place during the pattern making, so it’s hard for me to hand that over to someone else when the design isn’t finalised. It would be great if I did get some help, because it would definitely make the whole collection development process a lot faster. I’m not good at delegating tasks and I am a bit of a control freak: I like doing it my way.
I think the thing that brought Monster Alphabet to this point is its design quality, and I was able to achieve that because I have such a hands-on approach. I am hoping that I can adhere some aspect of that as my business develops, but I’ll see what happens.


Sarah Watanabe
Sarah Watanabe

What is the hardest thing about being a fashion designer?
Finding the balance between creativity and pieces that sell. There is a fine line between something that looks great on a catwalk, and an item that sells to a customer. Finding that balance is really hard, because as a business I definitely need to make a sale, but as a designer I am always trying to challenge myself in terms of creativity. I have to kind of reign myself back a little bit and say this is a business I have to sell.

Where do you find inspiration? Tell us more about your creative process.
It is a really internal process. It all happens inside my brain and I don’t really talk about it. I guess, in terms of inspiration, it can pop up from anywhere: something I see, something I hear. Sometimes I even work backwards, because I know what kind of creations I want to design. I will start making garments, and then I will eventually notice the element that is tying all these designs together. Sometimes I don’t know what the main theme of a collection is until the very end, I look back at my pieces and I think “Oh! Something is tying them together!”

What has been your career highlight so far?
Being selected for the Next Gen is definitely my career highlight. It is a big step for my label and I really didn’t think I make it. It was a really long, three-phase process. I didn’t even think I would get through the first round, so having my work seen by the panel members is an amazing opportunity, especially coming from Perth.

What can we expect from the collection you will be showing at Sydney MBFW?
Being a resort label, the collection will be much more wearable, although Tokyo’s conservative fashion has had such a big influence on my designs. I have tried to show a bit more skin, but stayed true to the brand.

Explain how you feel about showcasing your collection at Fashion Week in 3 words.
Dark, Playful, Wednesday Adams.

What’s next for Monster Alphabets?
With so much going on in the lead up to Fashion Week, I just haven’t had an opportunity to look forward. I have been a 100% focused on this project, which really is a huge opportunity for me.