Earlier this summer, in a sunlit room in London’s Somerset House, Glamcult witnessed some of fashion’s brightest rising stars vie for the winning places in the Woolmark Prize Semi-Finals 2018. With high-profile figures such as Tim Blanks, Catherine Baba and Jefferson Hack gracing the jury, the pressure was on. Creating and showcasing collections that highlight the timeless properties of Merino wool, all participants raised the bar high on what the future of fashion holds. There could only be four winners, however, and Nicholas Daley, Daniel W. Fletcher, Edward Crutchley and CMMN SWDN triumphed. All four unsettled certain concepts in fashion and its future, and also turned Merino wool into innovative and timeless pieces. We caught up with the prizewinners to discuss their collections and their hopes for what’s next.
There has recently been a much-needed push in fashion for the future to be sustainable and circular, with the increased use of enduring fabrics such as Merino wool promoting care for the land, the animals and the production, and greater work to develop recyclable polyesters. How does this influence your designs?
For me, it’s always been a part of my DNA. I’ve always used British manufacturers and British cloth, trying to be as sustainable as possible and to source things that are around me locally. Even though it’s on a smaller scale than a lot of other bigger fashion brands, I’ve always tried to be utmost careful and conscious. That’s also what I sought to embrace with the Merino wool and the Prize: how I can look at the features, which the wool brings to the collections, and incorporate those with some of the other fabrics I’ve developed. In terms of recyclability, there are certain items in the collection that reuse wastage from other fabrics that we’ve incorporated. So I guess I’m always thinking of ways I can be as conscious as possible. As a collective, we all need to be responsible and sustainable in full measure.
Specifically for this collection, what inspired you to create the designs you showcased?
Well, my passion for music has always been a big drive for my collections. For this one, I continued some of the research I’ve been doing on my own family’s history with music. My parents actually ran one of the first reggae clubs in Scotland in the 70s and, obviously, I’ve collaborated with a lot of UK artists and musicians from my own LFW performances. These performers are always running around on stage, so what I wanted to do was to build a wardrobe around these musicians’ habits, and also reflect on what my parents were doing back in the 70s. Perhaps it’s performance wear, but it also incorporates my traditions stylistically. It’s trying to blend the Merino wool, the performers, the artists and their needs, craftsmanship and what I’ve been doing over the past seasons.
I actually wanted to ask you about the music side of it. You’ve set up music events as well?
Yeah, I’ve set up events in Tokyo, Paris and London for my last 3 fashion week shows as part of the NEWGEN programme. I’ve always incorporated live music, and the last two shows I took it to a next level, where the artists kept the clothing, but also created their own atmosphere and vibe for the show.
Instead of just having a show with soundtrack?
Yeah, combining it. It’s not as if it’s mind-blowing, but I think in terms of the fashion industry, there’s a tendency to show as much of the clothing in a certain time-frame. What I was trying to present in those shows with the music artists is more of an emotion and a sense of community, with artists who are all trying to strive to push their creativity. We can all come together and do these events, and aim to communicate and create something quite unique that works for everyone.
How do you find the London scene in terms of nurturing artists and designers?
London’s been like a Mecca for creativity for a long time. I studied at CSM, which is a really great institution with a lot great alumni coming from there. And I’ve worked in retail at Dover Street Market. London is so diverse and has countless different subcultures. It’s hard to find a match for this anywhere else in the world, and I think that’s why we’ve always had such a strong creative community here.
In this @financialtimes @ft_weekend out now, @campbelladdy photographed the Red Clay collection part of his #MyLondon photo story. ✊🏽 Pick up the newspaper this weekend to see the full story. The images will also be on display next week during @photolondonfair at @peckham24photo. #NicholasDaley #RedClay #NiiAgency #FT #PhotoLondon
Where do you see yourself going next as a designer?
Simply working on my craft and allowing my brand to grow. Asia has been really strong for me, especially Japan. I’d really like to be able to present and continue to push my clothing into different markets. I’d love to put on some kind of a festival, bring everyone together and try to continue to do the music thing. For me it’s important to build a sense of community, to aim to collaborate and cross-pollinate different artists and musicians—that’s what I want to keep doing. I want to se how far I can push this culturally. But in terms of fashion and fabrics, I still want to try and produce as many designs as possible here in the UK, and expand my knowledge. The Woolmark Prize has definitely done that already—enhancing and enriching my professional, creative and personal growth.
Daniel W. Fletcher
How have you found your Woolmark Prize experience?
Actually, receiving this has really given me the freedom to experiment some more. One of the things that’s difficult as a young designer is to balance a collection’s creation and its production—cash flow and all those things. Having the support of Woolmark to build up this new selection is going to really allow me to experiment more and give me a bit of freedom to develop my creative boundaries, which I’m really excited about.
So for this collection specifically, what inspired you?
I was thinking a lot about youth and growing up, and what it is to be a young person today. I think we’re in quite a politically turbulent time, which is hard for young people. So, for this collection I looked at school uniforms, but also at my own Northern English heritage and photographs of the North from the late 70s, which was another really politically unruly time. Such is the backdrop for this collection—it’s inspired by something as traditional as British heritage, but then it’s taken to a new place. I think when people buy clothes, they want to be able to connect with them in a way that feels familiar yet novel. Through the use of wool and the textiles I’ve come across through working with Woolmark, I think I’ve been able to do that.
What prompted your new perspective on and respect for cultural heritage and your Northern roots?
For me, in this collection in particular it comes from looking at art education in schools. They’ve now introduced a point system where you earn more points for academic subjects than you do for arts subjects, so people are discouraged from taking arts subjects at GCSE level, A-level and degree level. That is absolute insanity, because if you look at the economic side of it, 32 billion pounds a year is contributed from the fashion industry to the British economy, and if students aren’t taking GCSE art anymore because they can’t get enough points for it, then we’re going to lose countless people entering into creative industries. That was one of the reasons why there was such a focus in this collection on the North, because I was thinking a lot about what it was like for me at school. One of the things I want to do is to go back and meet students at my school, and tell them how many jobs there are out there in fashion. You don’t just have to be a designer—there are a million jobs in the industry, and not just in fashion—in so many arts subjects. This is the collection’s underlying theme for me: education, youth and standing up for what you believe in.
Following your Woolmark Semi-Final win, where do you see yourself progressing from here?
Well, I had my first show this season, and I see that as something I will continue doing. I’m also excited to explore other areas of the world. For instance, at the moment I’m in 13 countries all over the world, with a couple of stores in each. Yet they’re very much the capitals, like Paris and London. What I’m looking forward to is exploring other areas and getting more stockists. And I want to see where I can take this creatively. I mean, there is a lot of pressure and restraint placed on a young designer, but if I can release that pressure, it may allow me to push the brand creatively. I also just want to go into it with no expectation. A lot of ambition, but no expectations. I’m taking every opportunity that comes my way, but I’m not looking at it too seriously—just experiencing it.