E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition

What role does fashion play in society? A new exhibition at Antwerp’s ModeMuseum explores

Cover image by David Sims, The Face, January 1998, © David Sims / Art Partner, model: Bridget Hall, makeup: Linda Cantello

Fashion is a mirror of society, often reflecting the shifts in attitudes, ideas, tastes and preferences that evolve throughout the years; it’s a Zeitgeist. An early example harks back to the hemline, with skirt lengths shortening along with the fight for women’s rights and equality. While in more recent times, the influx of globalisation and the internet – and thus the immediacy of information and access to goods – has also altered our perceptions and ideals of identity, meaning that, on the one hand, fashion choices have become more liberal, conscious and sustainable, while the other is quite the opposite (taking fast fashion into account). Then there’s health crises, a pandemic, economic inequality and social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo signalling to a change in a global society. But what is fashion’s role amongst it all, and where does it sit in the recent world?

Posing this very question is a new exhibition titled E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition. Presented as part of the reopening of ModeMuseum (MoMu) in Antwerp – which opened its doors on 4 September – the exhibition is curated by Elisa De Wyngaert and features works from Helmut Lang, Walter Van Bierendonck, Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela, Hussein Chalayan, John Galliano, Raf Simons, Versace and more. A time capsule of sorts, E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition, looks at how fashion has “served as a visual signifier of contemporary instabilities, concerns and emotions since the 1990s,” explains Kaat Debo, MoMu’s director and chief curator. Below, I chat to Kaat about the role of fashion and how it can evoke real change.

‘Boxing Gisele’ editorial, Big Magazine, 1999, © Photo: Vincent Peters

What does emotion mean in the context of this exhibition and in the wider sense of fashion?

The choice for the title E/MOTION was motivated by a need for genuine emotion. Over the past 18 months, we’ve all had to work, live and create from home and a large part of our lives took place online. Also, designers have been forced to work digitally because of the pandemic. We wanted to research whether there’s place for genuine emotion in a digital world. We felt the need for real human interaction and the wish to integrate a live aspect in the exhibition, which is difficult within the static context of a (fashion) exhibition. We invited director, performer and countertenor Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe, in collaboration with the opera house in Antwerp (Opera/Ballet Vlaanderen) and the exhibition designers (Jan Versweyveld & HuismanVanmerode) to create a live performance for the exhibition. A challenging but also very exciting experiment. 

In order to reflect on the future of fashion, as well as on the recent past, we conducted numerous interviews with fashion students and established designers during the pandemic. The designers gave their personal views on a wide range of subjects: what impact does the digital (r)evolution have on their creativity? Are fashion shows important? Can fashion evoke genuine emotions? What is the importance of craftsmanship, local production and sustainability? And what do you hope for the future? Fragments of these interviews formed the basis for this performance, that will be the closing installation in the exhibition. The performance will be brought 20 times during the entire exhibition period (September – January).

Untitled # 359, 2000. © Photo: Cindy Sherman Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Fashion has long mirrored certain shifts in society. Can you tell me a bit more about this, and how fashion responds to particular events?

Over the last three decades, we have borne witness to unprecedented globalisation, which has had its impact on the creation, production, dissemination, communication and consumption of fashion. More than ever before, it has pushed fashion into the barriers of its own complex system and made it a stage for international political crises, from the Gulf War in the 1990s to terrorist attacks at the start of the new millennium, as well as for financial crises and recessions, the ecological crisis, and such health crises as the AIDS or the current Covid-19 pandemic. Fashion always reflects the prevailing zeitgeist, from social and economic inequality to global social movements, including Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. How have these evolutions impacted the way we see and perceive emotion, success, beauty, creativity, authorship and collaboration? And how has the role of the fashion designer changed in all this upheaval? Some examples…

Kristen Owen, Helmut Lang backstage series, Spring Summer 1994, Paris, 1993, © Photo: Juergen Teller, All rights reserved

90s recession: Against a backdrop of recession, a deflated job market and pessimism about the future among the younger generation in the 1990s, the Heroin Chic look became popular in fashion imagery. Fragile-looking models with messy make-up and drugged expressions appeared not only in photography, but also in fashion shows. The emergence of the look was linked to the Junk Culture of contemporary movies about addiction, such as Trainspotting (1996). The embrace of heroin and unhealthy body images in fashion drew vitriol. After the turn of the millennium, the Heroin Chic look was replaced by a tanned, toned and – in contrast to its predecessor – ‘healthy’ looking body.

Health crises: Our fear of death and disease during the past three decades has been further fuelled by various epidemics and pandemics, including HIV, swine flu and Covid-19. These health crises also affected the fashion industry. In the early 1990s, Benetton, the Italian fashion brand, ran controversial advertising campaigns referring to the AIDS crisis; while Martin Margiela created t-shirts for charity to encourage open conversations about AIDS; and Walter Van Beirendonck included rubber pieces as protective shields and printed messages about safe sex in his activist collections. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the face mask has emerged as a symbol of the crisis.

Joan Didion, Celine Campaign, Spring-Summer 2015, New York 2014, © Photo: Juergen Teller, All rights reserved

Terrorist attacks: The euphoria of entering the new millennium ended abruptly in September 2001. The repercussions of the terrorist attacks in the USA were complex, violent and disruptive, changing the course of world politics. The attacks occurred on the fourth day of New York Fashion Week, making fashion journalists the first to report them. Though incomparable to the tragic loss of life, the financial impact of 9/11 forced many independent designers to file for bankruptcy or to look for outside investment. Another challenge occurred when, against the sudden trauma of 9/11, some of the Spring-Summer 2002 collections were reinterpreted by the press and buyers as inappropriate and insensitive. Some fashion photographers faced the same issues when a few editorials had to be cut at the last minute. In these, models were depicted falling from buildings or looked like survivors covered in dirt; they suddenly seemed too close to reality.

Military references in fashion were often in direct response to pervasive images in the news about war and terror. In the last two decades, a series of terrorist attacks in European cities led to increased military presence. The surreal experience of encountering soldiers in camouflage uniforms – previously out of context in cities – heightened a sense of unease and fear. Directly or indirectly, these ongoing emotions of anxiety and terror prompted fashion designers to investigate the dichotomies between feeling protected and feeling threatened, between soldiers and female warriors.

Vivienne Westwood campaign image, Spring-Summer 1999, © Photo: Gian Paolo Barbieri

Can you give an example of what’s involved in the exhibition and how this relates to the theme?

One of the exhibition themes is dedicated to the digital evolution and the internet. In this theme, we present a chiffon Versace dress, that was worn by Jennifer Lopez in 2000 during the Grammy Awards. People all around the world Googled her photo. This sudden peak in the search for a specific image was the reason Google Images was invented. The look became a metaphor of the ever more powerful symbiosis between fashion and celebrity culture. Twenty years later, Jennifer Lopez appeared on the Versace runway in this very dress.

What can the audience learn from this exhibition? 

I hope the exhibition will inspire and move our visitors, as well as provoke conversation about fashion culture and its impact on society.

E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition is on show at MoMu from 4 September 2021 – 23 January 2022

Delphine Desane, cover image for Vogue Italia, January 2020, Model: Assa Baradji, © Photo: Laurence Prat. Condé Nast Italia
Exactitudes, 104 Commandos, Rotterdam/Paris, 2008, © Photo: Ellie Uyttenbroek
Y/Project by Glenn Martens, Autumn-Winter 2019-20, Model: Leopold van der Noot d’Aasche, (c) Photo: Noel Quintela
Walter Van Beirendonck, æstheticterrorists® collection, Spring-Summer 2002, © Photo: Ronald Stoops
Untitled # 588, 2016/2018. © Photo: Cindy Sherman Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Copyright: MoMu Antwerp, Photo by Stany Dederen
Copyright: MoMu Antwerp, Photo by Stany Dederen
Copyright: MoMu Antwerp, Photo by Matthias De Boeck

Finding Common Ground

Kemka Ajoku’s new series captures migration and settlement of Black people in the UK after the Windrush era

The After Party

A photographer of fashion and portraiture, Kemka Ajoku – who’s born and raised in London – strives to rewrite the stories of Black British culture. Done so through a mix of personal projects and commissions, Kemka has documented all sorts of meaningful tales from the locals of Lagos, busy in the tasks of their everyday jobs, and the beauty of brotherhood in the post-adolescent stage of life. Each picture he takes reverberates with purpose and passion; he’s a storyteller of truth, and someone who employs visual art as a tool for spreading his messages.

Over the last year, which has been a difficult one for many, if not all, Kemka has managed to find a sense of fulfilment. Not only did he graduate at the end of 2020 form a degree in Mechanical Engineering, he also arrived back home and broke away from the educational system for the first time in his life. “I felt free to creatively understand more about who I am,” he tells me, “looking back at my lineage as a guide to learning more about myself, having never given myself the space or time to truly be introspective.”

Gestural Greetings

A period of self-awareness and contemplation, Kemka’s ventures out into the ‘real world’ arose alongside the arrival of the pandemic. Coupled with the increase in racist hate crimes and injustice the globe, he began to question his role as a photographer, “a Black British photographer for that matter.” A sense of responsibility emerged: “a need to document the life of my people both in Nigeria and the diaspora,” he says. “To me, this was more important than taking a pretty photo. And so, a paradigm shift took place within me, a shift which led to me working with more intentionality, giving more meaning to the work with the hopes of lasting the test of time.”

This matured sensibility has manifested into his latest photo series, titled Finding Common Ground. Months in the making, the body of work is currently exhibiting at Wrest Park as part of the England’s New Lenses project with Photoworks, in partnership with English Heritage’s Shout Out Loud programme. In comparison to his previous series – although motivated in their own right – Kemka has never worked with such drive and ethos. “I sat down and really articulated what I wanted to achieve before picking up my camera.” A lengthy bout of research and exploration later, he came to learn more about the migration and settlement of Black people in the UK after the Windrush era, “a story that me, my parents, and their parents are part of.”

Tami’s Portrait

The photos involved are therefore contemplative, powerful and historical. Shot in Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, the location protrudes with British heritage as it’s built atop the style of an 18th Century French Chateau. He cast a selection of his friends to sit for him, each representing a specific demographic within the Black British community. Referred to as “characters”, Kemka explains how each of his models’ personas have been developed from “watching British Blaxploitation films from the 70s and 80s; films such as Black Joy, Babylon Burning an Illusion and Pressure to name a few.” To accentuate this, Kemka worked with stylists Daniel Obaweya, Charles Ndoimu and Lingani Noah who assisted with adorning the models in Black British clothing lines from both young and more established labels. 

Western Union

“The styling for this project was broken into two parts, highlighting two generations of Black British citizens,” adds Kemka, “from the tailored style of the late 40s and early 50s, to the more relaxed and youthful looks of the 70s and 80s. Fashion is an important part of British culture, used in a way to express identity with the community one associates themselves with. Many fashion nuances migrated from foreign land have interwoven with British styling over recent years, and this integration of style was a focal point in styling the models.”

Observing the completed works and you’ll notice how the poses or gestures appear to have been caught in a freeze frame – recording not only that moment in time, but also an experience and learning exuded from the photographer who’s captured them. “The intention with this work is to artistically depict an important era in Black British history (not in a common documentary photography fashion) that will have longevity long after I’m around,” he concludes. “Thinking back to my intentions as a photographer, one thing I revert to is the legacy my work will have for other Black British creatives, looking for a reference upon which to build their creative career upon.”

One View of the Temple
Kozy’s Portrait
Couple in Wrest garden
The Consultation
Wrest River
The Essence of Chi
Lover’s Rock

Credits:

Photographer: Kemka Ajoku

Assistant Photographer: Anu Akande

Talent: Kozy, Ore Ajala, Amidu Kebbie, Chieloka Uzokwe, Tami Bolu, Feranmi Eso

Hair: Shamara Roper

Styling Team: Daniel Obaweya, Charles Ndiomu, Lingani Noah

Special Thanks: Mahtab Hussain, Ingrid Pollard

And special thanks to Photoworks and English Heritage for giving me the opportunity to create this body of work through their ‘England’s New Lenses’ project

The Path to Positive Change: Episode 3

The latest podcast from Port, featuring fashion designer Kaushik Velendra and CSM course leader David Kappo

In the third starter episode of The Path to Positive Change, we are joined by Kaushik Velendra, the founder of the London-based luxury menswear label which carries him name. Established in 2019, his collections have already won praise during London Fashion Week and led to him being shortlisted for the LVMH Prize, in 2020. Our second guest, meanwhile, is David Kappo, a London-based fashion designer, regular broadcaster, and course leader of Central Saint Martins’ world renown Graduate Diploma in fashion. Together, we discuss fostering diversity and inclusion, creativity in education, and more holistic, human definitions of sustainability.

 

Our next episode will be released next month via Spotify, so stay tuned. 

Thrifting in Accra

Creative director, designer and stylist Kusi Kubi discusses reworked garments and his Ghanaian label, PALMWINE IceCREAM

Accra is home to the biggest secondhand clothing market in the world. Twice weekly, Ghana’s capital becomes enlivened with those in search for hidden gems in its infamous Kantamanto Market – where over 30,000 traders gather to sell all sorts of thrifted treasures from food to spare parts for cars, and most notably, secondhand fashion imported from across seas in Europe. It’s a mammoth industry and one that sees locals revelling in the early hours to discover various ephemera and fashions, collecting and reviving what was once tossed and thrown. Kusi Kubi, a creative director based in Accra, is one of those collectors. 

Kusi hails from Osu, a neighbourhood in central Accra, and previously studied business at University of Westminster. It wasn’t long until he decided to flee the corporate world of banking and software development for a new career in fashion – “I just never thought it was a career path to focus on,” he tells me.

Now, Kusi runs PALMWINE IceCream, a Ghanaian fashion label that utilises a mix of reworked fabrics and materials, most of which is sourced from the market. In its second season, the latest collection is replete with neutral shapes and forms, sprinkles of shimmering gold fabrics, earthy tones, denims and metallic chain accessories. Indeed for the bold and daring, its these exact cut-out designs and striking ensembles that break down all preconceptions of what can be achieved under the name of sustainable fashion. Here, I chat to the creative about his empowering and ethical business, where he sources his garments, and what’s in store for the future of Accra’s fashion market.

What’s PALMWINE IceCREAM all about, and who do you see wearing the clothes?

I wanted to create a name that resembles the look, taste and feel of a tropical climate. PALMWINE IceCREAM is a blend of tastes and feelings, which are not necessarily meant to be combined, but once brought together exude a sense that is new and unfamiliar. PWIC stands for all the things that we are told or made to believe should not co-exist with one another. 

Almost every item in the collection is genderless. The brand is welcoming to anyone who feels a connection to our creative output. It definitely requires some element of confidence, but confidence is very subjective and we have garments which cater for all.

Where do you source your materials?

The denims and leathers from this collection are reworked. This season, there’s also a lot of linen and sheers harking back to the tropical West African origins of the brand. The jewellery and accessories are sourced from Italy, while the denims and leathers hail from Accra, by way of Europe – Kantamanto Market, West Africa’s biggest secondhand market. The denims are restored using non-chemical methods and customised by hand in the PWIC studios to add the signature visual sensibility to each piece. The production team behind the collection is all-Ghanaian and the pieces are finished in Accra, Ghana.

How important is sustainability to your work?

PALMWINE IceCREAM is built on a foundation of sustainability. Though not all garments are reworked, the denims, leathers and buttons are examples of the items reworked throughout the collection. It’s essential for me as a creative director to understand the direction the world is heading into, and to also understand the value of creating garments which really speak for itself. 

With Accra having one of West Africa’s biggest thrift markets, I can’t help but notice how many leftover garments are received on a weekly basis. It’s important for me to play my part somehow to reduce further mass consumption. Our Aim at PWIC is not to saturate the market but produce clothing for people who believe in what we do and stand for.

What items can be found at Kantamanto Market?

You can find anything from Rick Owens to Topshop; I think that’s what makes the market special. Twice a week they receive new arrivals from all over the world. The trick is to get there early to ensure you get the special goodies before everyone arrives. The selection process can be intense but finding that one archive piece can be rewarding. The market is divided into sections: denim, leather, vest, shirts and dungarees etc. A whole day can be spent there easily.

Where do you see the future of fashion heading, specifically in the context of Accra?

We’ve seen some fashion houses merge seasons into one as a way of reducing waste or improving their sustainability league. I believe consumption will reduce but not drastically. There will be a need for quality over quantity, and most people will lean towards brands which have some sort of sustainability approach to their designs. 

The future of fashion in Accra is developing at a good pace, there are a few startup labels, like PWIC, thriving to make an impression within the creative world. However, there’s also the need for our art ministers to believe and invest into the young creative minds here, because there’s too much talent out here waiting to explode.

Photographer: @kofmotivation
Creative and styling: @kusikubi
Grooming: @giselle_makeup using Pat McGrath
Style Assistant: @shineorgocrazyy
Photo Assistant: @_thedotse
Producer: @instabryte @luduproductions_
Prod Assistant: @zongostudios

Sister Sister

For 15 years, Dutch photographer Liv Liberg has been documenting the growth and fashions of her sister, Britt

We can all remember the days spent rummaging through our parents’ wardrobes, grinning and smirking as we’d pick out the most colourful (and likely most expensive) items to prance around the muddy garden in. The familial grounds would become our stage, as we’d proceed to strut in shoes too big and dresses too puffy. It was a glimpse into what a life might be in adulthood.

For Dutch photographer Liv Liberg, she was 10 years old when she started dressing up her six-year-old sister Britt in their mother’s clothes – documenting her as she posed around the house. But little did she know that this lighthearted pastime would become a 15-year-long project, and one that would eventually form a new book titled Sister Sister, now published by Art Paper Editions and designed by Jurgen Maelfeyt. 

Within its pages, you’re met with a mix of stern portraiture and sweeping model-ish glances, paired with artful postures, nudes and a plethora of vintage fashion from the likes of Yamamoto, Commes des Garçons and Kenzo. Their parents had an entire room dedicated to clothing and, naturally, the sisters couldn’t resist diving in and using the pieces for their photoshoots. “They inspired us and they made my sister look like a fancy woman,” Liv tells us. “We were always trying to imitate fashion shoots that we used to see in magazines. The red lipstick, the pearls, the clothes; they are all my mother’s influence. This is just something that we found beautiful and still do.” Below, we chat to the Amsterdam-based photographer about sisterhood, fashion and how it feels to finally publish this archive of a young girl reaching womanhood.

Let’s begin by hearing about your first introduction to photography. 

I come from a very artistic family and have always been surrounded by art, music and fashion. This has obviously influenced my move into photography; I started photographing my sister and my friends when I was about 10 or 11, and we would take bags with my parents’ designer clothes and go into the forest to take pictures. This continued through school and I went on to study photography after that. Photography has always felt like a very natural thing to do; I would dress up my friends and family, ask them to pose and perform for me, and I would take photos and direct them. This never changed, and it is what I still do to this day – just more serious. 

Why focus on your sister as a subject?

Photographing my sister is something that I have done since I was young, and it continued (with some breaks) for about 15 years to this day. It started off as play but grew into something more serious. When I was a bit lost with my work after I graduated, I came upon my old archive of images of my sister; I started photographing her again and started working with the images in the archive. I felt that there was something strong and true to tell about myself, as well as my sister and our connection. Because I was already photographing her for years, the question of why was already clear long before I started the project for the book. In this moment, it just felt right to bring it out into the world.

What was it like to see your sister grow and evolve through the lens?

It’s funny, because some people tell me that in the book – even though it is not presented chronologically – you can’t really see that my sister is getting older (or younger). She has many faces but seems ageless as well. 

We grew up together, loving and fighting like I’m sure many sisters do. She is younger in some images and now she is older, as am I. Of course nudity came into play when we were both growing into young women, something we also very naturally played with. Although, it is striking to see how well my sister moves and is totally in tune with me when we are shooting; we just know each other so well. She used to be a dancer and is now a fashion designer, and she is very aware of how her body moves and how I like to direct it, and this really inspires me. So I think we are both changing constantly and in a way we are looking at each other from the opposite direction. 

How do you hope your audience will respond to this work?

I really hope that people feel a connection to it; may it be because they have a similar connection with a sibling, or they can feel this truly crazy family relationship. I hope the book and mass of images will overwhelm people, that they will want to know more about this mysterious girl that someone is so often looking at. I want to share work that is very close and personal to me, and can actually only be shown by me (and my sister). It’s created with love and is a bit of an obsession, so I hope that this is something that people will feel. 

And how has your sister reacted?

As it is for me, seeing the work is nothing new because we have worked together for so long. Seeing all the images together as a final result in the book, however, is quite strange for her I believe. Everyone else can see it now too; all of our friends, everyone around us, the whole world. I think she likes it though and she is proud, and we will continue to make images together, forever I hope, because it is truly a special collaboration. I want to try and give her as much appreciation for this as I can, and I also think that other people will see the special and giving part she plays in this project. It’s probably strange and fun for her at the same time. 

Liv Liberg’s new book Sister Sister is available to purchase at Art Paper Editions.

Waiting with Wilson Oryema

Port has partnered with Closed for a series of stories profiling poets who are encouraging social change through their work. We talked to Wilson Oryema about language, climate change and making fashion sustainable

“Whether painted or untouched,

an honest depiction, or a bunch of fluff,

all things carry the same value under the blazing sun.”

– Wilson Oryema

Asked what the primary stimulus for his writing is, Wilson Oryema calmly replies, “Life.” The London-based poet, filmmaker, environmental activist and model – a potentially dizzying combination for some, but not him – finds he can only authentically write on subjects he’s personally experienced: “I’ve tried to do various things in my life outside of poetry and they never work out unless I’m putting 100% of myself into it. For it to make sense, emotionally, it has to be honest, understood and lived.”

Oryema’s focus covers capitalism, modern masculinity and most frequently, how we can adopt more sustainable practices for the planet. His recently published collection of poetry, Wait, meditates on the complex web of constant consumption in the 21st Century, urging us to halt before moving onto the next thing held briefly in our hands. “The voice is such a powerful instrument,” he notes, “and poetry is a great medium because it exists between reems of text and nothing at all. It’s punchy. It gets to the point.” I enquire whether poetry’s resurgence in the digital age is in thanks partly due to its brevity? “It definitely taps into the contemporary brain of quick consumption which has gotten used to headlines, advertisements, skimming information. If you look at the Bible – in the beginning was the word. People can’t escape language. The voice is the first medium of communication they come into contact with and it remains the most important means to define ourselves.”

With the UK Prime Minister recently dismissing the danger of inflammatory language – traitor, surrender, betrayal – as “humbug”, how political language is targeted and weaponised is causing a great deal of public anxiety and division. Oryema reflects that this is nothing new: “After WWII, the propaganda writer Edward Bernays introduced a switch in language through his use of public relations and advertising. You can feel that influence in politics now, through the aesthetically pleasing politician, reliance on focus groups, relentless slogans. A faux-science has been built around language manipulation and we’re in a place now where new levels of mastery have been unlocked, but most people are unaware of the control or influence they’re being exposed to. We know how to instil feelings effectively, what buttons to press. There’s a great Drake lyric which comes to mind – ‘Tell me lies, make it sound good.’”

Oryema went from working at a charity to walking the runway at Paris Fashion Week in a matter of weeks. Scouted on his lunch break, he has gone on to work with Edward Enninful, Hugo Boss and extensively with designer Grace Wales Bonner, who he counts as “an older sister”. In a previous interview he knowingly described himself as a “walking contradiction”, both part of the one of the biggest polluting industries in the world, but separate enough to offer a critical perspective. By only choosing to work with brands aligned with his values, it’s clear he feels he can best shape the world of fashion from within, using his work as a platform for change.

His latest documentary examines the toxic chemicals and natural fibres in fashion manufacturing and their unseen effects on the human body. “In the production process, there’s about 8,000 different types of chemicals that clothes are exposed to through their entire manufacturing, from farm to store,” he explains. “We have millions of pores, composed of billions of trillions of cells, so we’re constantly absorbing fibres around us. We’ll think about the environmental cost of the fashion industry, but don’t typically think about the dangers of petrochemicals directly on our body. How do we reconcile that? Are there any effects? The documentary delves into this and looks at some of the chemicals used, as well as alternatives that can reduce your risk. We have to take care take care of our surrounding environment, but also not lose sight of self-care, protecting the human body.”

Having just joined the Global Fashion Agenda, a forum arguing for a change in how clothing is produced, marketed and consumed, Oryema has publicly stated that the future of fashion will be rooted in accountability. Expanding on this, he rationalises that, “with the advent of the information age, the internet, connected devices, the brightness of our screens has reduced the amount of darkness in the world. There’s nothing that isn’t being captured or tracked in some way, whether that’s the end user or back end. Traceability is now becoming a big trend and we’re coming to a point where we’ll be able to track everything, with new companies like EON creating digital identities for clothes. Once these things become totally visible, when parties have to take ownership of their production – how much waste you’re producing, how many physical stores you own, how you treat your workers – there’s going to be no dark spaces to hide secrets. This transparency will lead to much more accountability.”

Originally born in Clapham, Oryema grew up in Brixton surrounded by British Red Cross research and pamphlets from the Salvation Army due to his mother working for both, in addition to a number of other charities. Did this emphasis on care – for others, for the world at large – subconsciously shape him? “Naturally we are the sum of our environment and our surroundings. I’ve somehow strolled into a space where I’m considered an activist or environmentalist. Whatever I’m doing, though, I don’t see any way forward for myself that isn’t improving my surroundings. Whether it’s my writing or photography or film, I want to play a role in creating social change. Art has this ability to reach people who wouldn’t necessarily come into contact with or care about issues like climate change. I want to contribute new perspectives.”  

Last year saw six million citizens the world over join in a mass global climate strike. I ask whether this is an encouraging sign, and just how optimistic he is about stemming the damages brought by climate change? “This may come as a shock, but I am supremely hopeful,” he replies. “Lots is already being done and I can see so much promise in people right now. There was a recent news story about a schoolchild committing suicide because they were so scared of climate change. If people are bullied or scared into thinking they’re the cause, if you back people into a corner, you’ll naturally evoke feelings of paralysis and apathy. Problems are never solved through fear. Long term thinking relies on hope – we have to stay calm.”

Wilson Oryema wears Closed Spring 2020 throughout

Photography: Paul Rousteau

Styling: Dan May

Styling assistant: Ellie May Brown

Hair and makeup Ditte Lund Lassen using Oribe Hair Care, Weleda and Glossier.com

The Vantage of Vintage

Jason Jules & photographer Will Milligan profile nine designers on the creative potential of vintage clothing

Finding good vintage is getting harder and harder. In part this is due to the fact that an increasing number of people are turning away from fast fashion, realising the simple fact that oftentimes old clothes are much better made. It also comes from the desire to have something unique and individual, a limited edition piece by virtue of the fact that it miraculously managed to survive the ravages of time.

As a result of this growing popularity, vintage sellers, fashion designers and wardrobe researchers are now finding themselves competing for pieces with members of the public in places they once regarded as predominantly ‘insiders only’ – places like Clignancourt in Paris, The Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, Portobello Market in London and War & Peace in Tonbridge. These are the places where, if you get there early enough you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders with a legion of fashion designers all vying for ‘the best stuff’ which is usually gone, so they say in the trade, by midday. Here you’ll come across designers and vintage buyers from heritage brands alongside fast fashion brands all searching for inspiration pieces and detail features. Anything from the shape of a shirt collar to a button fastening, from to the way a coat drapes on the body, to a colour combination ora textile…you name it, vintage pieces can be a wealth of surprises and useful information in the hands of the right designer.

But that doesn’t mean to say that vintage clothing is immune to general trends. Whereas once all eyes were focused on finding mint condition Big E Levis’ denim or WW2 Deck Jackets or work-worn French farmers jackets, with the increasing interest in more tailored menswear, the hunt for vintage pieces like a good Turnbull and Asser shirt, Ralph Lauren blazer, Gieves and Hawkes suit or a Drakes tie, has become a more common pursuit.

In this environment, it’s the people selling the vintage clothing who are the real stars, not the designers. The sellers are the ones with the gems, they’re the ones with the eye and they’re the ones you have to negotiate with on price. And if you’re a regular, they’re also the ones who’ll pick something specifically with you in mind while on their travels or put together a rail of vintage pieces for you to look at before anyone else gets to see them. These experts in the past have developed a way of seeing into the future too, as a really good vintage dealer will also develop a keen awareness of emerging trends, in part because they’ve been in the game so long but also because they know what fashion designers are asking for and buying with regards to looks for forthcoming collections. It’s what you might call the vantage of vintage.

The creative magic of course lies in being able to take a vintage piece, mine it for inspiration and produce something with your own signature and style through out or simply to wear it in a way that makes it your own, even if it were made decades before you were born.

We shot these nine designers and creatives in Shoreditch Studios. Local to most of them, it’s also surrounded by a multitude of vintage stores and flea markets alongside a plethora of independent labels and menswear brands. Besides having an amazing sense of style, these designers and creatives all have one major thing in common – an elevated appreciation of vintage.

On a certain level their love of vintage is about the detailing – those novel and long forgotten features that can only be found by delving into the past. But, it also comes from the awareness that great vintage pieces evoke an energy and a romance capable of informing the creation of something totally unrelated and new.

Each designer wears a vintage piece which, not only incredibly stylish, has also proven to be a personal source of inspiration them.

Name: Nicholas Daley 

Occupation: designer, fashion designer

Vintage Piece: 1948 British Army Desert SAS Cargo Pants. I reinterpreted these for my pull-cord trouser silhouette which has been in my collection line for the last few seasons. Its’ wide shape and easy fit has been a great style to add. 

Quote: I always keep in mind when creating my own collections, how can I make garments more sustainable and last just as long as the vintage pieces in my archive. 

Name: Nick Wakeman 

Occupation: Founder & Creative Director of Studio Nicholson

Vintage Piece: – 70’s marl sweatshirt by Sears. 

Quote:  I bought this sweatshirt around 8 years ago from my friend Joey Grana who has a beautiful vintage store on Melrose Ave. in LA. We made a plated merino / cotton knitted sweatshirt for our Winter 19 collection with the same feeling as this piece.

Name: Shaka Maidoh (L)

Occupation: Art Comes First, Design, and Production 

Vintage Piece: Vietnam US military jacket. 

Quote: I bought this piece at the Rose Bowl in LA about 6 months ago. Found it last year but it was very costly – this year the price had come down slightly – I was lucky to see it again. I’m sure the fit and design will inspire something in our next collection.

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Name: Sam Lambert (R)

Occupation: Art Comes First, Creative Director

Vintage Piece: The eyewear resulted from me wandering Portobello Market every Friday checking every single stands. I think it’s from the 60s British made.

Quote: Quality lasts longer – this has always been my main point of inspiration…. I’ve often said our kids won’t have any vintage from our generation coz of fast fashion.

Name: Tony Sylvester

Occupation: Writer, sales associate, musician. 

Vintage Piece: My watch is from the early 40s. It’s an old Tissot Aquasport. It was a gift from a friend of mine, Axel Jansson, who’s a vintage watch dealer of some repute. It was a barn find and had been sitting in a dresser on a Swedish farm for decades building up this killer mustard yellow patina.

Quote: I think my interest in vintage doesn’t come from any allusions to living in the past but from an appreciating of well-made items – pieces that were designed with longevity in mind. 

Name: Nicholas Walter (L)

Occupation:  Designer & creative consultant and co-founder of Horatio Footwear 

Vintage Piece: Red tasselled jacket, by Ralph Lauren’s 90’s brand RL ‘Country’

Quote: Great vintage pieces can really make you think about who you’re designing for and also realise that sometimes you just got to make it for yourself.

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Name:  Billy Pendergast (R)

Occupation: Co-founder and designer at Horatio Footwear

Vintage Piece: The jacket is by Proposition. It’s a reconstructed WW2 Marines jacket.

Quote: Vintage is always on the radar of what we do. Whether it is how we picture our footwear as part of outfits with clothing or old shapes and lasts we find, it’s constantly being thought of.

Name: Shaun Gordon

Occupation: Menswear Consultant, founder, designer & tie-maker for Shaun Gordon Ties

Vintage Piece: 1940s double-breasted jacket 

Quote: The craftsmanship of the past produced high quality pieces because the customers expected this. Hence vintage pieces are still with us today. This is the same attitude we have towards all our products at Shaun Gordon.

Name: Scott Fraser Simpson

Occupation: Designer for Scott Fraser Collection

Vintage Piece: mid 1950s suit, knit shirt from the late 1960s

Quote: The details and functionality of vintage is there for a purpose, in most cases there is no value engineering, cutting corners or lack of thought in these clothes. The cut, the drape of the fabric, the technical weave of the knit – all of these elements help me to design and make clothes ready for today but with a strong respect and foundation in the past. 

Text & creative direction Jason Jules

Photography Will Milligan

Shot at Shoreditch Studios, Shoreditch

Production consultant, Monique Kawecki, Ala Champ Fest

Special thanks to Issa Kunda

Garçon Style

In a foreword to the new book Garçon Style by award-winning photographer Jonathan Daniel Pryce, Sir Paul Smith explains why photography and fashion have always gone hand in hand for him 

Photography has always been a part of my life. My dad was an amateur photographer who developed his own photographs in a darkroom in our attic. My first camera was a Kodak Retinette. Back then, you had to look through a viewfinder and locate the image. I would save up money to buy a 36-exposure roll of film, shoot it and hope to get something good. I never knew what the result was until I got it back from the developer. It taught me how to look and see. Today, there are many who look but don’t actually see.

I am inspired by shape, shadow and texture. When taking a walk, my focus is less on the clothes that people wear and more on the bigger picture. On the street, I see shapes and angles, size and dimension, rough and smooth. When I first saw Jonathan’s photography, what really interested me was his lateral thinking. The world is there to be photographed if you want it, it’s just about having the eye to spot it. Jonathan captures the context of a location, from architectural details to the vastness of the sky. A stone staircase becomes something curious. Texture against texture, pattern against pattern.

I’ve been designing clothes for what feels like a very long time. I opened my first shop in 1970, when there wasn’t much men’s fashion around. Men were quite nervous about wearing fashionable clothes. Luckily, things have changed. At Paul Smith we have always focused on designing something ‘classic with a twist’. There’s always some kind of surprise. I’m not one for making radical or revolutionary design changes. It’s only slightly bigger – slightly smaller – slightly longer – slightly shorter.

That’s the challenge. It nudges forward, season on season, and men personalise with subtlety. I enjoy the challenge of the ‘nudge’. I like that Jonathan finds characters within each city, the men who put their own unique stamp on a look. His focus isn’t on the perfect way of dressing or obvious trends and statements, it’s about personality.

I still get excited when I spot someone on the street wearing one of my designs – it gives me goose bumps. I love it most when people are able to make it their own, adding their own twist. One of the most exciting things is when we have a sale on and I see a student from Central Saint Martins coming in to get a deal. An art student from somewhere like Japan can come in and buy one item to pair with their dad’s old kimono and the styling becomes genius. For me, the most interesting part of street style is documenting the way someone chooses to wear an item, rather than the design of the garments themselves.  

This excerpt is taken from Garçon Style, published by Laurence King

Photography Jonathan Daniel Pryce

A Point of VIU

As VIU open up their first London store, creative director Fabrice Aeberhard explains what it means to be Swiss and how geography has an aesthetic impact on the brand’s acetate and titanium frames    

Somewhere in the Dolomites, Northern Italy’s majestic mountain ridge, there’s a family owned factory producing hand-made acetate frames. I can’t tell you exactly where we are: the name of the village is secret, not for public consumption. That makes sense: eyewear production is like anything else, you don’t give out your sources. This area of Italy is home to countless factories, producing spectacles for both large fashion conglomerates but also smaller niche and independent brands, like VIU.

The Dolomites have 20 peaks that are 3,000 metres or higher. It’s perfect for seasonal adventure activities, like skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. But eyewear production, that’s an all year around job for the 13 people working in this factory. Touring the space you get a feel for the challenges of scaling hand-crafted quality into a sizeable business. Zurich-based VIU seems to have nailed it: though only founded in 2012 they have over 50 stores – including a new London location opening up this week in Soho.

VIU makes their acetate frames here. The titanium ones are produced in Japan. In fashion, those two countries are the very best for manufacturing in, and the same goes for eyewear. Add to that the perceived minimal design and efficient quality that comes with a Swiss passport, and VIU ticks a lot of boxes. There’s an old school classicism to the brand, at least its backbone offering, that cements VIU as a wardrobe staple, the kind of pieces you can wear wherever and whenever.

Creative director Fabrice Aeberhard’s vision is clear-cut: the classic designs are a foundation to stand on while experimenting with more directional looks going forward. Based on innovative techniques and raw materials such as acetate, titanium and stainless steel, VIU has managed to navigate a market that is often dominated by large global luxury brands and high street opticians by finding the right balance in terms of both design and price points. VIU isn’t cheap, but it’s certainly not expensive considering you get frames designed in Switzerland and made in Italy or Japan. Ahead of the store opening, Aeberhard explains why making frames is as much about making people feel comfortable as making them look good.

Why did you get into the eyewear business? What do you find fascinating about frames?

If you look at the everyday products we use, what is more extreme than something that sits in the middle of your face all the time? You need to get it right, or people will look strange and not feel right. It’s quite the responsibility!

Yeah, there’s a lot of trust put into you because not only is it an aesthetic thing, there’s a medical side to it, it really has to work … people depend on their frames for survival. Or at least I do, as I’m severely short-sighted

Me too! But I’m always trying not to give the full potential to my eyes because I want them to have to work a bit. So, I wear my frames maybe a third of the time that I should. I don’t have strong correction in my eyes. I need them for when I’m driving or watching TV. But for moments like this it’s OK that it’s not 100% focused … I like not seeing everything super sharp because sometimes when you walk around it’s quite sad how dirty everything is. 

I’ve heard it from a few people actually, that they like living in a sort of fuzzy world… 

Yeah, life becomes a mix of colours, like a Jackson Pollock artwork.

Yeah exactly. Well, when you put it like that it’s quite nice. Life is like one constant artwork

I think frames have something very magical about them. You can either emphasise a character, making them stronger, making a man more male or women more female.

You say that but if you look at the VIU offering it’s a very classic type of eyewear?

That is the beginning. When we built VIU, I always said our first three collections should be contemporary classics. Just because if you start with an edgy collection it’s very hard to survive. But if you start with something that has more of a classic character, the foundation becomes more stable. That was my logical approach to building a base that we can actually make a business out of. We can build stores, we can build a strong machine and then we can start to create character and edge lines. So this is what we have been doing for three years, based on Italian classical art and languages and the natural approach of things.

When you design frames it seems to be very much in the twilight zone between fashion and product design. Would you ever want to work with clothing? 

What is very interesting about clothing is that it’s basically about reinventing yourself every season, which is sick, but in a certain way there really is the need to actually reinvent everything.

There aren’t that many Swiss fashion brands around, at least comparatively. How do people perceive Switzerland and, as a consequence, your brand?

Switzerland is seen as a humble place; it’s very simple, structured and it’s focused on the essential question of what defines something. To be Swiss also means to be very secure, always projecting five years ahead. And obviously that mindset has an impact on how we run our company.

It’s also a very fortunate country from a geographic point of view – you can borrow the pragmatism of your northern German neighbours but also the flare of the Latin countries

Yes, geographically, the surface that we are covering is very small, the longest distance measured in a line is around 400km. But in this very compact world you have so many cultures clashing together; we have a French part, an Italian, German and Austrian part that are all quite big, but also a Latin background that is still part of our culture. But once again, it just shows, you know that Switzerland cares about the future.

You know, if you look at politics, it is also our way of thinking of the future, as being neutral, as being negative but also a very positive side, we would never be too strong in one direction, so it means that when we move on it is quite secure and the population decides on the big topics. We do not have one guy at the top that is just shouting around, deciding on the direction of things. We have the “Bundesrat”. We have seven Presidents, and one is always elected for one year as being the one ahead but he is not the one deciding, he is more like the leader of all seven for one year. And the departments are exchanging every year. This is also part of our system, that you cannot create a system that is corrupt. So with politics as with everything else, we are quite slow in changing, but that can also be a good thing. 

As a brand, where do you position yourself? Your price point is not cheap but it’s not too expensive either; it’s affordable I suppose?

I would say the most important thing for us is talking about prices being fair. It’s not about being expensive or being cheap, it’s a lot more than that. It’s about being fair and conscious, and explaining to people what they are paying for.

Is there a frame, that you would say sums up the brand?

Our titanium frames are very strong and it was also one of those moments where other brands saw us in a very specific way, because what we achieved in titanium was competing with the very best ones, like Dita and Thom Browne. So having that approach, that quality and that sense of lifestyle, but interpreted in quite a classical way of building and expression of the frame, that’s a good way to describe VIU.

Photography Sandra Kennel

VIU, 5 Upper James Street, London W1F 9DG