L: Slim wears trousers SLACKER CITY. Balaclava MS. MASKIE. Jewellery and socks model’s own. Trainers REEBOK. R: Madi and Valentine wear all clothing YOUTHQUAKE. All jewellery model’s own.
This story originally appeared in i-D’s The In Real Life issue, no. 364, Autumn 2021. Order your copy here.
What does the London fashion scene look like to you? Right now, yes, but also historically. What did it look like in the 70s or 80s or 90s? Who defined it? What does it feel like? What does it stand for? And I say “scene” because it’s always been more of a scene than an industry. The London fashion scene comes from the street and brings with it all the riotous uncontrollability of the street. It’s always been a little iconoclastic, a little DIY. And despite being home to Central Saint Martins, maybe the most prestigious fashion school in the world, London fashion is as much defined by an attitude as any formal aesthetic, institution or vision of luxury.
And the designers featured on these pages — young kids and their friends wearing clothes they’ve made themselves, and shot by Lola and Pani — represent the latest iteration of what London fashion looks like and how it operates. With little formal training, they may technically be considered outsiders at the moment. Still, they’ve managed to carve out an aesthetic that seems to speak of hope and sedition and the future.
Hal wears jumper and shorts DOZERZ. Jewellery and socks model’s own. Trainers REEBOK.
Maybe more so than with any other movement, there’s some equivalence here with punk. Just as the original punk generation picked up guitars and began to play, these young designers picked up sewing machines and began making. Speaking to them about the stories of how they got into fashion and design, it was all born out of love and boredom and raw inspiration — never school. They broke a knee skating and started screen printing to pass the time, or began watching YouTube tutorials on how to use a sewing machine gifted to them by their mum’s friend, or they didn’t realise they were getting into fashion at all, they just started making clothes inspired by what they and their friends were wearing and doing.
If they are punk, though, they aren’t punk quite as you know it. They embody something more expansive and less reductive; punk not just as an aesthetic but as an impetus. They are influenced by skateboarding or streetwear, but what they do isn’t really about skateboarding, or doesn’t really share much visual sympathy with streetwear. It just comes simply from the fact that a lot of them are into skateboarding. You don’t have to be a skater to understand what they are doing.
Mariah wears shirt LOUTRE. Balaclava MS. MASKIE.
They aren’t macho invocations of hypebeast style — quite the opposite. For many of them, upcycling, recycling and reusing are all second nature. They are involved in the handmade, the home crafted, the artisanal, but it’s not necessarily political beyond the fact that everything is political. They use what they find and engage in sustainability as part of the circular economy, forgoing the precision engineering of expensive fabrics and processes. They use what they have to make what they dream of existing.
The designers featured here aren’t even really part of a scene in that strict a sense; rather, they’re simply united by the things that they almost are and almost aren’t. For example, look to Martha White, and the pairs of trousers she’s designed that are shot here — one a patchwork of football scarves, one from cut-up old jeans, another cut from bulky faux fur into Mr. Tumnus-esque legs. They’re all a little asymmetrical, a little off, they owe as much to the spirit of Martin Margiela as they do the Southbank. Martha talks about the “campness” of football and dressing up to go see a match (her granddad played for Spurs, incidentally) as part of her inspiration, but also of just making “things with whatever is in my room instead of going to the fabric shop and planning.” She says, “I love the adrenaline of making something instantly; thinking of it in the morning and finishing it in the afternoon. It was also lockdown, I just had this huge box of scarves and needed stuff to do so it just happened. The traditional fashion industry has always been something unattainable for me. I look around at myself and my friends and we’re all making and doing it ourselves. We just make cool stuff and that’s it.” Which is enough.
Yolanda wears vest PURE TERROR. Balaclava MS. MASKIE. Glasses model’s own.
Of course, the time freed up by lockdown had an effect here, but this isn’t really a lockdown story as much as it is one about an almost parallel fashion industry — one that highlights the expense and prohibitive barriers to entering fashion careers, and the industry at large, in the “traditional” way. It also echoes that timeless narrative of cool kids doing it for themselves, making the things they want to exist, and infiltrating the mainstream from the margins. They are coming in “through the backdoor”, in the words of Lukas Kacevičius who designs under the name of Pure Terror. Lukas takes old, unwanted and discarded clothes from the street and turns them into his own designs. He doesn’t buy fabrics but reuses what people chuck away. “I get my inspiration from the city and its everyday madness,” he says. “From spending huge amounts of time at Southbank, and all the good-hearted people around me that transmute everyday stress into beautiful works of art.”
Sol wears jumper and jeans JOSHUA SAMUELS. T-shirt and sunglasses model’s own.
Look to Loutre, a project by Pia Schiele, who upcycles and creates one-off products for sale. It began with them creating clothes to skate in, then they began selling them to friends. Before long, people they didn’t know started asking for them. Upcycling is the heart of what they do, the “starting point”, in their words. “Upcycling creates a circular economy with already existent materials, giving them a new lease of life,” Pia explains. “But it has to go hand in hand with material research focusing on exploring solely environmentally friendly material options for the future. I worry a lot about upcycling becoming an excuse for companies to greenwash their wasteful manufacturing processes and justify their usage of poorly made fabrics from harmful fibres.”
There’s also Mariah Turner, and her project, Ms. Maskie, through which she reuses old fabrics to create unique balaclavas for people. “Upcycling is a kind of metamorphosis of the garment. A phoenix from the ashes of an ugly sweater,” she says. “My process is intimate and very time consuming. I think the creation of my work is closer to a conversation than that of a business transaction, and that’s quite special.” That’s another thing that unites these designers – their humble attitude towards success and growth. None of them talk of fame or money. Success for them is about connecting with people, self-expression, uplifting others, valuing what you do, working with friends and being able to continue to work with friends. That’s what lies at the heart of Slacker City, the project of a 21-year-old who’d rather remain anonymous because they don’t feel like Slacker City belongs just to them, but to their friends, too. They frame it as a collaboration that “is all done with my homies and as a collective movement.” They put on events with their friends who are musicians and make merch for them. They also turn the venue walls into canvasses for artworks. “Anyone is welcome to come and sellclothes, take photographs, hang up their work, perform their poetry or art or music. I don’t really know what I’m doing but Slacker City changes its meaning every few months.”
Dylan wears jeans LOUTRE. Bag MARTHA WHITE. Boxers, jewellery and shoes model’s own.
Then there’s Youthquake, who describe what they do as “bringing people together to form new bonds, spreading the message of sustainability and self-awareness, visual anarchism and vocal spiritualism.” These are primarily collective concerns, enterprises that have holistically grown out of and in response to the environments they come from. No one started doing this to make money; from the beginning their labels have been vehicles for self-expression.
Which is why, more than anything, this is mainly a heartwarming story about the sincerity of creativity, and all the possibilities that reveal themselves when you simply decide to do it yourself. If we see punk as an impetus rather than an aesthetic, they’re upcycling that too, along with whatever frameworks you use to think about what fashion, streetwear and sustainability mean, and what London fashion really looks like, too.
Maite wears shirt and jeans LOUTRE. Balaclava MS. MASKIE. Mariah wears jumper model’s own. Balaclava MS. MASKIE.
Priya wears vest YOUTHQUAKE. Top, trousers, jewellery and boots model’s own.
Sol wears t-shirt, necklace, socks and trainers model’s own. Balaclava and shorts PURE TERROR. Boxer shorts SUPREME.
Callum wears hoodie GULAN.
Madi wears coat and top YOUTHQUAKE. Trousers, jewellery and trainers model’s own.
Photography Lola and Pani
Fashion William Barnes
Hair Michael Harding at Streeters.
Make-up Crystabel Riley at Julian Watson Agency using Absolution.
Styling assistance Lilly Hill.
Hair assistance Olivia Cochrane.
Make-up assistance Patrice Amma and Sunkiran Boyle.
Production Daisy Bendel and Guy Gooch.
Post production Ink. Models Mia Gurary, Slim, Yolanda Imoke, Mariah Rose Turner, Sol Gregory Cundy, Madi Swain, Valentine Auge, Priya Grewal, Hal Hewetson, Callum Hansen, Enzo Vera Madeiros, James Williams, Joshua Samuels, Beth Yemi-Omowumi, Maite Steenhoudt, Dylan Timmis, Martha White.