Conner Ives’ Autumn/Winter 2023 show was about the pursuit of one very specific feeling. For the past year, the American designer has been chasing a memory of being ten years old, secretly reading his mum’s fashion magazines in his childhood home in suburban Bedford, upstate New York, and “going absolutely feral” over the elusive glamour that was printed inside their glossy pages. The designer describes the crazed feeling these images awoke in him all those years ago as a kind of “fashion mania”. “I’m a very intense and emotional person, so nostalgia is always the initial inspiration for me,” he tells AnOther in the lead up to his second London Fashion Week show, which took place on Friday evening. “I love sharing those feelings with other people.”
Ives has an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to his label, where he plays with ideas of pop culture, consumerism, nostalgia and Americana through witty and beautiful “female archetypes”. Cramming together several far-flung personalities, his latest collection builds upon the frenetic energy of his debut runway show last February. The designer looked to Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 drama Magnolia for inspiration, a dizzying three-hour story that follows ten disparate characters – played by the likes of Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, and Philip Seymour Hoffman – as they search for meaning and redemption in California’s San Fernando Valley. Dividing critics at the time, Anderson described his epic feature as “for better or worse, the best movie I’ll ever make” upon its release, though years later joked that if he could do it again he would “chill the fuck out and cut 20 minutes”.
Nevertheless, for Ives, Magnolia’s messy human world provided the perfect touchstone for his sophomore show. Presenting his own assemblage of characters, the collection included an ode to Magnolia ‘trophy wife’ Linda Partridge; nods to ultra-rich mid-century socialites the ‘Shiny Set’; a look inspired by Kate Moss at Glastonbury; and a bridal look with a top hat that winked at Elizabeth James’ character in The Parent Trap. Technically, the offering was equally varied, bringing together gorgeously neat tailoring, savoir-faire-style dressmaking, sporty diamante-encrusted athleisure, and new expressions of the designer’s cult upcycled T-shirt dresses. Marking a noticeable refinement of craft and the arrival of a more grown up (yet still slightly bonkers) version of the Conner Ives woman, the show was an effervescent tribute to the “emotion that fashion has the potential to inspire.”
Here, speaking in his own words, Ives speaks on the making of this collection.
“We started this season with the ‘Hard Rock girl’. It was kind of an inside joke that we had in the studio, because when we’re sourcing T-shirts, there are certain ones that you’ll find a plethora of. We could be at any sorting facility in the UK and we’d always find about 60 or 70 Hard Rock T-shirts. I personally have never been to the Hard Rock Cafe, but obviously a lot of people have, so I felt like we were speaking to some niche American capitalist structure.
“I always want these collections to be a cross section of pop culture, of my subconscious, of topical things that we’re all thinking about” – Conner Ives
“The collection is called Magnolia after the Paul Thomas Anderson movie. My collection titles aren’t ever informative of everything that you’re going to see, but you pick out little hints at the heart of it. I had this really visceral emotional reaction to watching that movie. It doesn’t feel exactly like a happy story, but it doesn’t feel exactly like a drama or a sad story either. I think it just showed all the dualities of humanity so beautifully. I always want these collections to be a cross section of pop culture, of my subconscious, of topical things that we’re all thinking about, and it just felt like such a poignant depiction of that, and done in such a beautiful, artistic way.
“I really wanted this collection to feel more grown up. I took a lot of inspiration from this amazing book called The Fashion Conspiracy by Nicholas Coleridge. It was written in the 1980s as an anthropological study of the world of fashion. I’ve always been a big fashion geek, so that book had a huge effect on me. There’s one chapter where he describes what he calls like the ‘shiny set’, who are this elite group of American socialites and women that buy couture: Nan Kempner, CZ Guest, Betsy Bloomingdale. I wanted to [celebrate] these women that, in the course of fashion history, have been – I wouldn’t say forgotten – but certainly aren’t as well known as Cher or Diana Ross. The clothes were just as incredible, and that was a huge source of inspiration for me this season.
“I went into this year thinking about sustainability and the longevity of the company. And I don’t just mean sustainability in the sense of, ‘Oh, we’re using old T-shirts to make new things.’ I mean, ‘How am I going to grow this business past making things from old T-shirts?’ It really came down to an exploration of materiality and looking for recyclable textiles. We also explored new categories [of design], like this technical sporty synthetic fabric that's made from 50 per cent recycled fibres. Everything that was a cut and sew fabric – so coming from a roll and being made into stuff – had to have a recycled element to it. And that was something that I was really insistent on.
“I always say this, but my friends are my toughest critics. The last show, I had friends that I invited thinking like, ‘Oh, my God, they’re gonna laugh me out of the room for this.’ But when they ran backstage and were in tears, it was a really special moment. That’s what I wanted to tap into this season: I wanted to stir up that emotion … What are we all doing here if it’s not for joy or something positive?”