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TFD Student Story: Alexander Lehr shoots for the stars


Alexander Lehr is a senior in Textiles and Fashion Design (TFD) with an apparel focus, particularly in menswear, and “dabbling” in textiles. He started at UW-Madison in Letters and Science, but landed at the School of Human Ecology after learning about its Design Studies program. His expected graduation is August 2018.

student Alexander Lehr

SoHE: How did you find out about the TFD major?

AL: I was looking through classes with my L&S advisor and I kept seeing something about Design Studies. I was like, “What is that?” and she said, “You can’t do that unless you’re a SoHE major.” So I met with (SoHE Student Services Coordinator) Amy Bertrand and she was like, “Oh yeah, super easy. Now you’re in SoHE and I’m your new advisor.”

SoHE: Did you have a background in fashion?

AL: I was going to sing and write for a living, but then it turned out that I didn’t want to base my livelihood on something I considered my soul. I chose fashion because it still gave me that creative output, the idea to play with societal issues, and challenge norms. I didn’t feel like it was something that I could put too much pressure on and buckle under. So I ended up in SoHE and it’s been fantastic exploring something new. And I hadn’t sewn at all until I got into the program, so I came in really fresh and I started from square one, and it’s great seeing how far I’ve come and in just a short amount of time.

I hadn’t sewn at all until I got into the program, so I came in really fresh and I started from square one

SoHE: What are some highlights you had at UW-Madison?

AL: Learning how to drape. I was really excited to learn how to do it in the first place and then I started doing it and I realized it was definitely a therapeutic thing for me. If I’m going through a tough time or I’m stressing out about something, I just drape and it just kind of lets the world fade away for a little bit because you’re working on something and just focusing on aesthetics and it’s really nice.

Obviously showing my thesis in the gallery was tremendous and a very great first step towards the future.

Working with all the professors and getting their support and mentorship has been really. I guess it’s been more of a journey rather than specific points. I view the experience as a whole—what it’s doing for my life rather than these specific things or life changing events. But overall, it’s been good.

Photo by Alexander Lehr

SoHE: Which of your TFD classes stood out?

AL: I really enjoyed Draping Through Time. It was a great way to expand the horizons of your aesthetic and learn from the past and incorporate that past into your future. I’ve really enjoyed working with (instructors) Holly, Carolyn, and Jenny. They’ve all been absolutely incredible with pushing me where I need to go. Holly makes a point of going down to the textile collection at least once or twice for each of her classes, which is really great because it gives you some relevancy to your current projects

I’m one of those people who really like independent study because I like being able to work specifically with one professor and have them give me the time I need to get where I need to go. Sometimes depending on how big your cohort is, you kind of get lost in the mix and I kind of really like attention, so independent study has been good for that.

SOHE: What are your plans after graduation?

AL: Sleep, first of all! And after sleep, I’m hoping to get another internship and within the next year or so, make my way to one of the coasts and immerse myself in a little more fashion than I’m used to in the Midwest. Just kind of see what brands I vibe with and which brands will take me and make a decision based off of that.

SOHE: What was your first internship or your other internships?

AL: I dressed a DJ in the Twin Cities. He had a residency at a club and he didn’t quite know how to mesh with the clientele, so I made some stuff for him and got him up to speed.

(The internship) definitely focused my vision. Beforehand, I didn’t know if I wanted to go the traditional route of having a line and making a collection and selling those pieces in mass market. Or, doing the more one-off, couture, bespoke side of things and working with one client at a time. Really expressing a vision from start to finish and being more attached to it. It’s more immersed in the arts side I guess, which is the side I’m more interested in, so he helped me realize that.

SOHE: Do you have an ultimate career goal?

AL: I definitely want to be my own boss. I want to have my own company. I was born with a lot of ambition, so shoot for the stars and drag the moon behind you. Just kind of seeing how far I can climb and how far I can soar, and just living for it—every second enjoying it. And working really, really hard.

Shoot for the stars and drag the moon behind you.

SoHE: What advise can you give new students?

AL: I would really suggest taking a professor that you mesh really well with and building that relationship as much as possible because you’re going to need that support; you’re going to need that foundation. (The coursework) going to be way harder than you ever imagined. It’s going to test you mentally, emotionally, and physically. You’re going to be exhausted constantly and no matter how long you think a project is going to take, always double that time.

Photo by Alexander Lehr

Always stay true to your own aesthetic. A lot of students take it one project at a time and they build things based on the prompt, but what I would suggest is using the prompt to bend your aesthetic but also making sure that it’s still within your aesthetic because you’re trying to build your portfolio and not just make a specific project. You want to come out with a body of work.

SOHE: How do you describe your work?

AL: My work is a really big play off of masculine and feminine ideals, dark and light, and play a lot with positive and negative space. I definitely veer in between romanticism and extravagance, and then minimalism and solid lines. So I’m kind of all over the place, but for the most part it’s really how those contrasts play with each other and what can come out of that dichotomy or out of those opposites.


Alexander’s Designer Statement from the 2017 Design Showcase exhibition:

Dichotomy is an exploration of contrasts. It seeks to show light and dark, positive and negative space, and masculinity and femininity. These themes are applied to my studies of fashion, and menswear specifically.

This vision was brought to fruition using draping, patterning, and sewing as its main processes. Beyond that, I also worked in digital printing and used that as a way to play with aesthetic in a different avenue, with a different outcome than the main collection.

This collection deals mainly with masculinity and why it poses itself as an antithesis to femininity, rather than allowing for the intermingling and mutual growth of both. This idea started for me after being exposed to much of contemporary media. Red carpets are a big part of that. You always have this gown culture in womenswear. Everyone competes to see who is best dressed – who expresses their individuality the most. On the other end, you have menswear. If a man shows up in a tux of a different color, it seems almost revolutionary. It is a sea of monotony. Why is that? Fear. I wanted my work to spark discussion as to what that fear is.

As a designer, I am happiest when I am trying something new. I hate the idea of doing the same thing over and over. This collection shows that even in cohesion, I make uniqueness a true factor. Growth-wise, this is, without any doubt, my best work to date. I feel it breathes with me as I breathed into it. It has a life of its own, an inner working that allows me to bare my soul in a new way. A goal I have is to make things that challenge the norms of menswear, and I believe this collection has definitely accomplished that.

I learned a lot about why I make the things I make. There was a time when I knew I wanted to make the kind of garments I do, but I could not adequately put into words the reason behind it. This collection has allowed me to do precisely that. I feel my aesthetic continues to grow as I mature into my views and my craft as a designer and artist. My thesis was originally far less about contrast. It was a lot more superficial in nature, and though I do love fashion for the sake of fashion, this path, though harder, has been far more rewarding. I love that it represents me so well as a person. Overall, continuing in this vein of designing would be beautiful. The amount of growth that this thesis has produced in me is even more beautiful still and I am forever in awe of how far I’ve come, and how much further still I have yet to go.