A bubblegum pink mould of a pitchfork leans, virile and rigid, against a pile of soft, fleshy cushions; two legs sport a pair of nylon tights, studded all over with protruding, red-tipped matches like long, aggressive leg hairs; a face is concealed by a mask made from kitchen knives, bound together by sheer plastic cable ties. What appears to be a photo book filled with delightfully absurdist artworks is in fact the latest offering from Rottingdean Bazaar.
The famously playful brainchild of designers James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks is, on paper at least, a burgeoning Fashion East-backed brand, but the Central Saint Martins graduates prefer to describe it as a series of “fashion experiments”. Indeed, unlike most brands, its first collection, launched in late 2015, was comprised not of garments but of badges, some bearing words such as ‘god’ and ‘why’ spelt out in pubic hair, others drooping condoms and individual socks. Buck and Brooks launched their first menswear collection the following year, carrying their fondness for found objects into the fashion realm; T-shirts bore everything from dried flowers to hotel slippers, while tights stretched languorously across sweaters.
The duo’s new publication is a lookbook of sorts to showcase the third collection, which debuted in June at MAN 2018 – but it is also an art project in its own right. “We like making pictures partly because of the relative speed of them, compared to when we make physical things,” Brooks tells us of the compelling images taken by photographer Annie Collinge, a frequent Rottingdean Bazaar collaborator. The pieces themselves – worn by Buck, Brooks and friend and artist Ryan Connnolly – are shown alongside photographs of implements used in the creative process, Buck explains. “We made silicone moulds of household objects and cast them in a flexible foam directly onto cotton jersey. It is a form of printing, as the casts irreversibly fuse with the fabric. The moulds are the light pink objects featured [like the pitchfork].” The results of this process can be viewed in the form of metallic cans strewn across a black sweatshirt, the partial appearance of blue jeans melded onto tracksuit bottoms, and bank cards adorning the back of a T-shirt.
The shoot took place in the pair’s house-cum-studio in the seaside village of Rottingdean, from which their name derives (the “Bazaar” was inspired by Hampstead Bazaar). As with their previous collections, their hometown and its wares offered a wealth of inspiration for the designers: “Handy Hardware on Rottingdean High Street, Rottingdean Village News and the 20p toy box at PARC Charity Shop were our key reference points,” they explain. When asked to describe their current aesthetic in three words, Buck and Brooks’ response is “amateur, dramatics, society” – a perfect summary of the whimsical collection, and accompanying imagery. The non-professional element is embodied by the designs’ many purposeful imperfections: hammers seemingly Gaffa-taped onto tops, for example, or a headpiece made from a colander, dripping with spaghetti. Theatrics abound, courtesy of the tongue-in-cheek manner with which Brooks, Buck and Connolly model the garments, striking solemn poses, and pair up to deliver joint performances (see the image of Buck poking his head through a gilded frame, worn by Connolly as part of a distinctly surreal sweater). And then there’s the society element: the invitation from a marvellously madcap duo to don a sweater boasting balloon boobs and join in the fun. “We hope our clothes make people feel like you do in those dreams where you leave the house without trousers on,” they proclaim.
For more from Rottingdean Bazaar, head to the brand’s website.