Saul Nash, Monad and Stefan Cooke are the fledgling brands to keep your eyes on as London Fashion Week Men’s begins this evening
1. Saul Nash
Saul Nash first discovered dance while at school in north-east London, and by the time he was a teenager, he had become part of the youth division of a dance company (it specialised in an amalgam of contemporary and hip-hop). Movement is now the backbone of his young, eponymous label, which Nash begun after graduating the Royal College of Art’s Fashion Masters program just last year (his graduate collection was put to task with a dance-based presentation, in which he appeared). “Dance for me has been a long journey,” he tells AnOther. “It provides a constant awareness of the kinetic journey that a wearer can take; this constant feeling of release I feel when I’m dancing subconsciously influences my clothing. The garments should feel like air.”
As such, his collections – his sophomore outing was shown in an intimate presentation at London Fashion Week Men’s last season – rely on the unrestrained ease of sportswear: sweatpants might be sliced away or unzipped at the joints for movement, while various toggle fastenings allow stretchy high-neck tops and nylon outerwear to be adjusted to the body. “Sportswear played a major role in shaping my identity as a young man growing up in London,” he says. “That concept of shape-shifting is always prevalent.” And it is exactly this ability to shape-shift which makes Nash’s pieces so appealing: when worn they come dynamically to life, transforming to the wearer’s body and the way it moves (whether leaping across a dancefloor or otherwise).
The undeniable energy of Nash’s work has now drawn the attention of talent incubator Fashion East, where he will show for the first time as part of their Fashion East runway show on Sunday evening, alongside returning designers Mowalola and Robyn Lynch. “This year has been quite non-stop, really,” he says. “It’s all a little surreal, but it’s so nice to show as part of Fashion East, and to have the support of such a caring group of people.” No doubt the feeling is reciprocated: Nash’s famously friendly demeanour has seen him accumulate a loyal band of supporters.
Daniel Olatunji of London-based label Monad is a welcome proponent of “slow fashion”: a response, in part, to the endless turnover of clothes he saw while working in the industry after graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2012. Pieces might have been years – or decades – in the making, at least in their component parts: Olatunji works often with antique or discarded fabrics (recently, old French linen tablecloths and napkins), recrafting them into easy, workwear-inflected tailoring, where the imperfections of handcraft are left purposefully on show. This coming season, shown this evening, he has taken this further still, working with handweaver Catarina Riccabona to make a fabric from hundreds of yarn ends collected by her friends and family for years. (Olatunji himself has never thrown away a piece of leftover fabric, and they sit in giant bags in his studio.)
It means each Monad piece is entirely unique, and will often be one of only a precious few in existence – the maximum garments he will ever make from a single roll of fabric is four. “How many times a year do you actually have to buy a new shirt or a jacket?” He says. “I just want to make really well-built clothes by hand that last; rather than [people having to] to buy an entirely new look twice a year.”
Olatunji is also a founding member of the collective 419 – the name is playfully taken from the Nigerian penal code used to prosecute email scammers – alongside designers Olubiyi Thomas and Foday Dumbuya, who runs the label Labrum. Together, they put on a self-produced show for Autumn/Winter 2019 and hosted a joint showroom in Paris; tonight, 419 return with a Spring/Summer 2020 group show held in Bermondsey, where Monad will present alongside Thomas, Proposition, Azura and Wonderound. “419 is this idea that if we put each of our tiny resources together, we can make something a lot bigger than any of us could have done on our own,” Olatunji says.
3. Stefan Cooke
Stefan Cooke – the collaborative label of Cooke and his partner Jake Burt – will hold its much-anticipated first solo show this Sunday, having previously shown at Fashion East for three seasons. Their impressive, intricately wrought clothing can appear on the surface deceptively simple, but look closer, and the complexities will be revealed: an Argyll vest might in fact be constructed from hundreds of buttons, hand-stitched together; what appears to be ribbed knitwear actually delicately sliced strips of leather backed onto elastic. Playful details – sprays of feathers, shrunken ladylike cardigans, twists of coloured wire “like party streamers” draped around models’ necks and the pair’s super-desirable trompe l’oeil bags – complete the picture. “The idea that 500 people might come and watch your show just for you is quite crazy,” Burt tells AnOther of the upcoming solo show. “But it does feel quite liberating.”
That Spring/Summer 2020 collection, which will be shown on Sunday, first began in New York: “We were like, in the Village, and there’s all these students from NYU,” says Burt. “And it got us thinking about acting, and we did loads of research on the Actor’s Guild, looking really deep at costume. That connection to acting makes this collection quite personal – it feels like we’ve been acting a lot, Stefan and I, adapting to different situations.” One of those situations was the LVMH Prize, which they were rightfully shortlisted for earlier this year. As part of the original longlist they met numerous high-profile people in the industry, worlds away from their lives as Central Saint Martins students just over a year ago. “We met Bernard Arnault [chief executive of LVMH], like, one of the richest men in Europe,” says Burt. “And Anna Wintour! She was really nice, and funny.”
Still, they call being a young designer in London a “steep learning curve”. Money is tight. This week, they’ve been making toasted cheese sandwiches for their loyal team of interns in the studio when they stay late into the evening (“It’s literally the cheapest thing!” says Burt). Little doubt the long days have been worth it, though: “I think we’re really proud of it already,” Burt says. “I think it feels like people are ready to see what we do next. Now we’re just excited to show it off.”