Fashion & Beauty / Collections Digest

English School London: Our Favourite Imaginary Brand

We explore the bizarre references and brilliant designs of Isamaya Ffrench and Josh Wilks' new clothing line

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English School London
English School LondonPhotography by Josh Wilks

Isamaya Ffrench and Josh Wilks first met in the bizarrely enchanting scenario of a party in the New Forest, where Wilks was chopping wood for a fire. They immediately connected and embarked on a creative partnership; as Wilks explains, "Back then I was an image maker who lacked the confidence to transfer the ideas in my mind onto paper, while she on the other hand couldn't care less about the paper but suffered pangs of self-doubt when it came to assessing the initial concept." Ever since then, their collaborations have pioneered a new wave of creativity which has most recently manifested in English School London, a new fashion brand that manufactures screen-printed pieces in Isamaya's Hackney Studio and, based on a fictional cosmetics company, the line incorporates some of the best references we've seen in a long time.

"We realised we were in danger of repeating ourselves creatively if we bound ourselves strictly to the field of make-up art" explains Ffrench on their new endeavour. "Since Josh has a background in print design we thought the idea of a clothing label would be an ideal escape route into other artistic mediums. It's like when you see a tiger in a zoo just going round and round in circles, sometimes habit can be insufferable!" Here, we speak to Ffrench and Wilkes about the motivations and inspirations behind their new venture, accompanied by their references and campaign imagery...

On the conception of an cosmetics company...
"Initially we had this idea of making uniforms for ourselves since we were always getting make-up on our clothes – you can't wear nice things around Isamaya! We didn't want the leap into new territory to be too alienating to people who knew Isamaya as a make-up artist so we decided to incorporate that factor into the first designs. Then basically we just developed the idea further by adding more and more of a backstory to the concept until it became the branding of this fictional pharmaceutical company." 

"The graphics we developed for it are based on the 'minimalist delicious colours' of real pharmaceutical branding, but with a facetious twist"

"Under that umbrella we designed the first collection around this fictional cosmetics company called I.F.M.A Cosmetics. All the products are white because obviously it's based on a kind of laboratory aesthetic and likewise the graphics we developed for it are based on the 'minimalist delicious colours' of real pharmaceutical branding, but with a facetious twist – a little like Damien Hirst's 'Medicine Cabinets'."

On the phrases and references...
"We are both inquisitive people, so we are always searching for things that interest us and then working out how we can incorporate them into our work. In that way we have a mental scrapbook of ideas and influences that need to be realised; as in consumed, reappropriated and expelled, before we can be released from their incessant push for expression that seems to be a shared natural system in both our psyches. However, specifically for this, once we decided on the pharmaceutical angle they're just an amalgamation of research notes."

On 'English School London'...
"It was important that we used a brand name for this project as we wanted to be free from the usual boundaries of getting work coming in for 'Isamaya Ffrench, make-up artist'. We came up with the name 'English School' as we wanted something that sounded intimate and structured but ambiguous enough that we could freely expound a brand aesthetic that was as changeable as our individual tastes. Also we liked the romance of it being English – we can go high end or straight to the gutter."

On the English School dream...
"Our dream is to use it as a tool for creative endeavour that can keep pace with our ever-developing personalities. We have no interest in designing seasonal collections that take months to organise – neither of us wants to spend our days on the phone to factories asking about trimming and dye samples. We love the idea of maybe designing shoes (something I'm already doing for a big shoe brand), or shooting a look book that has absolutely nothing to do with the clothes. It gives us a legitimate outlet to explore other ways of working, like we also have these random ideas for short films but nowhere to put them, English School now gives us that platform."

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