Stefan Cooke’s Ode to the Golden Age of the British High Street

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Stefan Cooke Spring/Summer 2022
Stefan Cooke Spring/Summer 2022Photography by Paul Phung

Designers Stefan Cooke and Jake Burt discuss their Spring/Summer 2022 collection, which looked at the idea of high fashion and aspiration outside the usual tropes of wealth and luxury

During last year’s lockdowns, Stefan Cooke and Jake Burt temporarily decamped to Burt’s parents’ house, an old schoolhouse in Tiverton, Devon. Living in the small town – with its typically British town centre and high street – ignited memories of the two designers’ similar-but-separate experiences of adolescence, much of which was spent searching charity shops at a time when a Topman shirt, or Kurt Geiger shoe, was considered a precious find.

This mood permeated their latest collection, shown yesterday, which the designers described as an ode to the “high street’s golden years” – an approach, they said, which was about looking at the idea of high fashion and aspiration outside the usual tropes of wealth and luxury. An unlikely inspiration point came from the random sighting of a teenage girl outside the Tiverton Tesco, bleached-out hair and leopard skirt, wearing beat up Air Force-1s on her feet. “You know, when someone impacts you without doing anything?” says Burt. “She was amazing. There was something really ferocious about her, something severe and intense, even though she was just going to Tesco.”  

“We were talking about how the last few seasons a lot of the references have been quite wealth-centric – posh English references, because we were trying to get to something severe, and in our heads that’s what it looked like,” adds Cooke. “But after we saw her we started thinking about how we’ve both lived on the edges of towns like that, where we’d walk into the centre of town every weekend and just sit with this community of teenagers. We also thought about those high street stores we’d go to, how we first got fashion in our lives and how we established our identity from them.” 

So there were plays on the sweat pant, decorated with varsity-like insignia, some sliced away into top-of-the-thigh bearing shorts, edges left raw. Knitwear was boyish, with elongated cuffs or blown-up Argyle motifs. Trompe l’oeil – a Stefan Cooke signature – was used more sparingly this season, the imprint of a military jacket found on a series of shirts and vests (as they described, “ghostly rubbings of militaria by way of the high street”). Other pieces spoke of teenage experimentation and abandon – a baker boy cap, a vest of glimmering supersized sequins, a Hervé Léger-esque bandage top, sliced away at the shoulder or chest.

Here, in their own words, Cooke and Burt tell AnOther the story behind the collection. 

“We’ve both been shopping in charity shops since we were really young. We’ve always loved it. When you’re in London you go to charity shops and you find Chanel, and all this stuff. But growing up the best thing you could find was Kurt Geiger, and that was like ‘oh my gosh’. Lots of St Michaels, Van Heusen. We found the most amazing stuff when we were teenagers. So there’s parts of the collection that are more vintage looking. The handbags are inspired by the kind of things we would have been impressed by at that time in shops.

“We’re almost 30, and I think the memories of being a teenager are starting to slip away. It’s really hard to remember them. But because you’re remembering them through that fog of memory, you can be freer with the idea, it’s easier to let go of specifics and just try to get the energy of the time. It’s far away enough that you can be open-minded about how you interpret it. There’s a reflection thing – we didn’t know each other at all growing up, but we had pretty much the same upbringing. I feel like it’s the culture of our generation.

“With our collections, we want people to see a piece and know exactly what season it’s from, but also that it all links together quite seamlessly. We originally wanted to call the collection ‘practice makes perfect’ – there’s a discipline to what we do, in terms of how we feel about the silhouette, the blocks and shapes, using the same textile techniques over and over again. I think at the moment in fashion everyone wants to cater for every single person. But there’s something good about being like ‘this is the brand for me’, the one brand you get your dresses, the other you get your trousers. This thing where it’s so focused and honed, that you're doing it the best that anyone can do it.

“I think the growth we want is that everyone that buys a piece really enjoys it – it’s not trend based, it’s just based on the fact they really love the brand. We have fans around the world that are really dedicated, which we feel lucky about. I really like the idea of spending a lot of time creating something and then somebody absorbs it into their life, so it’s having all these new lives around the world.”