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Original Selecta: Aartthie Mahakuperan on stepping into your own style

As adidas launches their “Step Into You’ collection, stylist Aartthie Mahakuperan talks to us about the concept of original style, creativity in fashion and confidence through self-expression.

26 Aug 2021

Produced in partnership with adidas 

“Most people come into this world and are told that gender is a binary construct, you automatically fall into one, and that is yourself – that’s identity. I think through time, you learn that that’s actually not the case,” says Aartthie Mahakuperan, gesturing with her lime green nails. “People are learning that you don’t have to fall into the category that you’re told you belong to. Actually, you don’t have to fall into a category at all.” 

Developing original, individual style is Aartthie Mahakuperan’s modus operandi. A freelance fashion stylist and art director based in London, she prides herself on facilitating authenticity through her style choices – allowing her models and clients to step into themselves. Unfazed by gendered labelling on clothing, Aartthie dresses in womenswear and menswear, selecting items that appeal to her sense of fashion, regardless of what section they are found in the store. 

As the stylist on a collaborative shoot with gal-dem and adidas, celebrating their new noughties inspired collection Step Into You, Aartthie celebrates this freedom, dismantling the archaic binary and allowing for unbridled style choices. 

Playing with the rules 

When we meet over Zoom, Aartthie is chicly dressed in neutral colours, her manicure serving a pop of colour. “It doesn’t always have to be a statement,” she explains. “I think people feel that style has to be this massive, theatrical event, and that is when you’re fashionable. You can wear all black and just look super chic. You can just be in a white t-shirt. Be you that day.” 

She explains that her foray into menswear began as a child, where she would combine traditional feminine pieces with the adidas tracksuit she bought with her pocket money from the boys’ section. When she first began styling however, she felt pressure to play by the rules, creating editorials that were strictly either womenswear or menswear. “It dawned upon me that my work was not fully true to who I am and my style,” Aartthie reflects. “One shoot I was working with a menswear designer who did amazing pieces – I wanted to wear them myself. So I just decided I wanted to shoot it on a female model. I was celebrating the piece rather than who it should be on.” 

Adapt, evolve, change 

In addition to playing with the confines of gender, Aartthie takes the ‘pick and mix’ approach in choosing clothing from Western society and elements from her own Sri Lankan heritage. “In my day-to-day, I wear traditional earrings that my mum got me as a kid. In the adidas shoot, I’ve dressed one of our models in a South Asian jhumki and a tracksuit outfit.” 

Inspired by the playful, noughties feel, Aartthie created multiple adidas looks for our models. “I came in on the day, spoke to them, got to know their personality a little bit. I asked about the colours that they liked, what they would normally wear.” Based on this, she was able to deduce what they would feel comfortable in. Taking her love of originality even further, Aartthie also requested that each model bring their own personal jewellery to style the looks with – reflective of their own authentic style. The final images are a fun amalgamation of sleek streetwear and Aartthie’s trademark non-conformist swag. 

So what advice does she have for those nervous about stepping into their own style? “Don’t be scared to make mistakes. It’s fine. Part of the fun is looking back at photos and being like, wow, that was a moment!” She laughs. “It is a nice thought that as our sense of self evolves, as we learn, we adapt, we evolve, we change. Clothing lets us do that.” Check out adidas’ Step Into You collection here.