Fashion needs young creativity and no one understands that better than 1 Granary. Last year, the London-based magazine launched a new project to support independent labels. Titled VOID, the initiative aims to help young designers, not simply by promoting them, but also by connecting them to established industry insiders. By bringing together those who know the industry with those eager to change it, VOID aims to start a conversation on the future of the fashion system. Last year, they united six designers with prominent photographers and stylists, creating a series of stunning imagery. This year, the exhibition is moving to New York at Red Hook Labs, with an additional fifty designs from four fashion schools – Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art in London, The Royal Academy of Arts in Antwerp and Parsons School of Design New York
Before crossing the Atlantic however, the project made a pitstop in Copenhagen, to present at fashion fair CIFF. This time, they were joined by five young designers, who will each get the chance to meet potential buyers and other industry insiders. A perfect opportunity to talk to them about their work, their inspirations and their vision on the future of fashion.
Your work explores black masculinity and gender performance. When did you first decide to work with those themes?
Being at the Royal College of Art, a lot of the work is about self-expression and finding inspiration in the world around you. That was always pushed, finding a space to show who we are. I saw the exhibition on black masculinity and dandyism at the Photographers’ Gallery and I did a presentation on stereotypes. We were also allowed to invite an industry professional and I chose PC Williams. She asked me why I was ignoring the characters around me. That’s when I really started to look at people from my circle. I interviewed my friends and explored how they handle their masculinity.
Could you tell me about your movie, Personal Politics?
I did a documentary for my research, because I wanted to make clear who I was talking about. It was so important to me to show people. It was all about the emotion I was trying to portray in the collection. I interviewed my friends, asked them how they experience their masculinity. Their reactions were interesting, some got really shy, they got very vulnerable in a way.
How did that research translate to your design?
I wanted to question masculinity but without necessarily making it overtly feminine. I did that by keeping the colours neutral but playing with details. It’s about showing hints of vulnerability, through subtle slits in the trousers, for example. There is a sexiness, but also a shyness.
Fashion plays an important role in constructing these social identities, yet there is such a lack of representation in the industry. Why do you think that is?
I do believe change is coming, with social media opening up opportunities. For example, Samuel Ross didn’t necessarily come from an artist background, but he has reached an audience through social media. Or Ibrahim Kamara, Campbell Addy, these are people kicking down doors. The more you see of yourself in an industry, the more inclined you are to join it, so I do think we’ll see more diversity in fashion.
How do you feel about your future as a designer?
Every time you do a collection, you wonder “Can I do another one?” Until now, the answer has been yes. There is an industry pressure to perform, to present something that fits with the identity of the previous collection. I believe that I have a voice to bring to the industry.
Your graduate collection focussed on transformability, with clothes adapting to their wearer. Why was that important to you?
My main goal as a designer is to create garments that have the potential to be someone’s favourite garment. The one jacket you keep and love forever, even though it might be so worn out in the end that you shouldn’t wear it anymore. I found that if I was somehow able to capture the habits and body language of the wearer in the garments, this could affect the relationship between the garment and the wearer. The garments then become a diary of your life, filled with memories and completely unique.
Could you explain the techniques you developed to achieve this result?
I wanted to create materials that would instantly transform with the wearer’s body. I achieved this through two different techniques: one where I incorporated thin metal wires in the fabric and one where I bonded aluminium foil to fabric. These materials were used in my final garments, but they were also a method to capture the body language of the wearer and then construct garments inspired by those shapes.
Is this transformability something you’ll continue exploring in the future?
Maybe in a more discrete way. It is really important to me that the garments feel unique to whomever wears them and making the garments transformable to the wearer’s body or needs is one way to make this happen. But it is important that it doesn’t become a gimmick. It’s about comfort, personalization and uniqueness. I want the garments to be informed by the wearer and that can be done in many different ways, some more visual than others.
Hyper-personalisation is the antithesis to fast fashion. Is there a sustainable aspect to your work?
My design ethos is rooted in a sustainable way of thinking. I am trying to push towards a mindset where quality and comfort are key and where we invest in garments, both financially and emotionally. It is possible to make garments that last for more than one season. We don’t have to buy and throw away as much as we do. That is just a bad habit.
What do you consider the biggest flaw in the fashion system?
For me the biggest flaw is the fast pace that this industry is caught in. It affects the designers, the ideas, the people who produce the clothes and the environment. Innovation, good quality and great design take time to develop and I think we need to try and push the industry towards a slower rhythm.
T/SEHNE by THOMAS SEHNE
What inspired you to work with men’s suiting?
I am intrigued by the challenge of rethinking what is, in theory, the most classic element in a man’s wardrobe. I really enjoy bringing together both the classic as well as the inspirational elements and refining that idea into a new expression. Depending on the context and the way it is worn and combined, a tailored suit can be so many different things.
You study vintage and second-hand pieces as part of your research. Could you explain why that is important to you?
While I don’t generally use vintage pieces as a base for my designs, I believe they are a tremendous source of information regarding the construction and finishing of garments. There is so much to be learned from just looking at garments. Especially when experimenting and developing ideas, it is a method I really enjoy integrating into my design process.
You graduated almost a year ago. Did you feel you were properly prepared for the industry you were entering?
Fashion education does not necessarily prepare you for the industry that awaits you out there, but it does help in shaping who you are as a designer. I feel that in education, your work is sometimes not being put into context enough. Why is it we are doing this? And what for? To me, designing is more than just creative self-expression within a project. I was lucky enough to be able to gain industry experience before graduating, which hopefully will allow me to examine and develop my work in a broader context.
What aspects of the fashion industry would you like to see changed?
I think the industry needs to be more about individuality and identity again. Examining what is happening in the industry, I feel that there is a lot of the same out there. When brands don’t really stand for much anymore beyond their names, why do they exist?
How is this translated in your own work?
With my own work, I am trying to follow what I personally believe in. The main focus is to create designs that end up being worn, with a focus on quality and finishing. I don’t believe in menswear that exists just for show. Given our current times, this can be a challenging process, especially for a young brand. Things will have to be tweaked and adapted along the way, but I am hoping that I can continuously work on the development and refinement of that aesthetic and belief.
You specialise in tailoring and suits for women. Could you explain what attracts you to this?
In tailoring it is the precision, the high level of craftsmanship and all these “secret” details and tips you come across while pattern cutting and making. I think what interests me the most in suits is the versatility they provide to the wearer. From anonymity and uniformity, to uniqueness, you can stand anywhere by wearing a suit.
You’ve added a few menswear pieces to your line. How did you transform your work in womenswear to fit men?
Actually, the whole collection was based on menswear pieces that were adapted to a woman’s body. Men can fit in the bigger sizes, they would just have to get used to the right over left closing.
This doesn’t seem like such a big leap since your central inspiration was a male actor. Could you tell us about him?
Yes, Nicolas Cage! He seems like somebody who doesn’t feel the need to prove himself, like he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He has a carefree, cool attitude and he is as unconventional as a Hollywood actor can be. Strangely, the moment I started having him as a “muse”, I managed to see my woman, who had been blurry until then.
You graduated last year. What is something you wish you had known about the industry before entering?
I’ve been I the industry for a while, and I still feel like I don’t know anything.
What is the biggest lesson you could give to young students starting fashion design?
Find what makes you unique, what your perception is, and communicate it in a way that those you’re referring to can relate to.
Your work is strongly inspired by the climate and environment in your home-town in Iceland. How does working in London influence your aesthetic?
I would say that living and working in London has helped me define my aesthetic in terms of it being designed for a person who lives in these two worlds, the mix between nature and urban life. It has allowed me to look at both the culture and the nature in Iceland from a distance giving me a different perspective. I have realised that a lot of thing are not as mundane as I thought whilst living there and are really intriguing to me now. I now have the point of view where I can take the fundamental elements of dressing for that harsh environment and can appropriate it to urban living.
How does your photography come it to play when it comes to designing your collection?
It is my main reference point. It helps me to stay constantly connected to the people I design for. I try to capture the visual language and signals within the group and work from there.
In your design process, function follows form. Is it challenging to keep the right balance between practicality and beauty?
In life, function has to follow form. Dressing in Iceland has to be practical, so practicality is the fundamental idea behind all my designs. However, the two have to go hand in hand. That can sometimes be challenging but it is very rewarding when it works out.
What could the industry do to better support young talent?
In general, I think there could be more help for designers doing things in their own way. The industry could be more open minded to designers who are not going down the traditional route.
You graduated last year. How has the transition to working in the “real world” been?
It has been really good. It is an enjoyable experience and all the challenges I have been faced are real for sure. The transition has not been overwhelming having worked in the industry before, but it is a different experience now working more independently and I definitely prefer this route.
Words by Aya Noël
Arnar Jonsson images by Magnus Andersen
Eftychia Karamolegkou images by Pascal Gambarte
Thomas Sehne images by Fabian Kraekel