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The Meadham Kirchhoff School of Design

We trace the enduring influence of Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff's dissolved label though their former interns and assistants – from Grace Wales Bonner to Molly Goddard

I had the privilege of going to a Meadham Kirchhoff show just once, and all I can remember was that it was like falling through a looking glass into someone else’s imagination; down a rabbit hole into an alternate dimension – one that was sugar sweet, slightly sinister and totally intoxicating. Unlike any other fashion show that I’d been to prior, or indeed have been to since, I felt like I had been transported into a different world. Like John Galliano, Tim Walker and Grace Coddington, this kind of fashion was one of pure, unadulterated fantasy and the completeness and romance of that fantasy remains with me to this day. “Fuck, it was so personal,” says Edward Meadham, reminiscing about those shows. “It sounds painfully earnest, but each collection comprised of a detailed self-portrait of my insides. My entire brain and everything I was went into making those collections, to an entirely unhealthy degree – it was all of me. I was, and did nothing else.”

“It sounds painfully earnest, but each collection comprised of a detailed self-portrait of my insides” – Edward Meadham

Last week marked a full year since Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff were forced to close their label due to financial reasons, in what has been widely considered a terrible loss to British fashion. While Meadham maintains that it wasn’t “anti-commercial” as such, the label represented a very pure expression of creative liberty: “My brain would do what it would do and I just had to go with it,” he remembers. What he and Ben created was “fashion” in its truest sense and so much more than mere “products”. “It was a sort of love letter to beautiful things, craft and subculture,” he continued. “It was for anyone who ever felt ugly and weird, or who didn’t fit into the expectations of the world that surrounded them. It was an invitation or encouragement for them to create their own world, their own ideas and their own voices.”

An invitation it was, and there were many who gladly accepted. We approached five creative talents who did – people who interned and assisted with Ben and Ed before becoming designers in their own right. It’s a group that includes some of fashion’s most feted rising stars, such as Grace Wales Bonner and Molly Goddard, Philip Ellis and Harry Evans. Here, these creators reflect on their time spent working with the two designers, the lessons they learned from them, and how those lessons continue to inform their respective approaches to fashion design. Throughout my time listening to them, it was impossible to ignore several recurring themes: the uncompromising nature of Ed and Ben’s vision, their unbridled devotion to their craft and the undeniable allure of the world they created. Meadham Kirchhoff may be gone but, as is clear from what these designers say, its legacy lives on.

Grace Wales Bonner, designer

“I interned with Ben and Ed in 2013. It was my dream place to go, and I was desperate to work there, so it was really amazing to be there. I was really into the clothes and the way that they presented things; their universe and their work were very vibrant. I worked on the Spring/Summer 2013 collection, which had a lot of big dresses and corsets, costume jewellery and a lot of white and yellow. Then, I worked on the following one, which was a bit more witchy. I mainly helped out in the studio; I remember cutting out a lot of lace whilst I was there, and I also helped do the casting. I’ve got fond memories of it and, looking back, I think that time was very formative. I learnt how to put collections together – how you get all the different elements and make it work together. They had a really great team and everyone was really invested in it. I think that kind of energy, that way of working, was really inspiring and it’s helped me a lot. I think they were really brave, visionary and had incredible attention to detail. It was a very pure expression of creativity, which was amazing and uncontrived. It was very refreshing and I’m sure they’ll both continue to do brilliant things.”

Philip Ellis, designer

“It was probably the best learning experience I had outside of school and, in many ways, was more informative than going to Central Saint Martins. I started as an intern and became their assistant, from Spring/Summer 2014 until the end. It was very educational. The environment of the studio was very hands on – it was very small. They were producing fashion that was the same calibre as couture houses, but all in the studio and with a very small team of people. It was a very creative environment. The walls of the studio were plastered with research, with images of bands, fashion designers – a really mixed assortment. Looking back, I think Ben and Ed taught me artistic integrity most of all, but they also taught me pattern cutting and about research, fashion and film. For instance, when I started my internship they were shocked about my knowledge of film – how few I’d seen – so they gave me a list to watch as homework, to educate myself. Like Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) which is now one of my favourite films. I think fundamentally, they’ve influenced me on an aesthetic level. Their amazing sense of ‘bad’ taste will inspire me forever; the combinations of colours and fabrics, and subcultural references – everything is so inspirational. For me, Meadham Kirchhoff represents creativity in its purest form and I’d like to thank them – I’m so grateful to them for the experience and for continuing to inspire me.”

Harry Evans, knitwear at Celine

"When I first started at Meadham Kirchhoff, I’d just finished my second year and it had been shit. But then I got this internship and it was the only place I wanted to be. I was a massive fan, so I was really excited to be there and recognised everything they had in the studio. I started just after the disco monster fur collection (Autumn/Winter 2012) and then worked on the Marie Antoinette collection (Spring/Summer 2013). It was really good because it was so small – you really got to do everything, and you got to see everything happening.

At first, I didn’t really know anything about anything. I did a lot of cutting stuff out, through that I got to see how the flat shape turns into an actual finished garment; I learnt how pattern-cutting works… In each collection, there were so many different things happening. I don’t remember them ever repeating a silhouette, or a shape, or a garment. Every single thing was totally different – and some of them were just so complicated. I remember that one season I did had these unbelievably complicated jackets that had loads and loads and loads of panels and they sort of fluted out. They were amazing. Everything in that season was embroidered and beaded as well, it was mad. I haven’t worked anywhere like it since. Ben and Ed’s attitude was totally uncompromising and as true as possible to their vision – no matter how difficult that was, which was really amazing. I can’t think of anybody who’s done that for a really long time. There’s nothing like that anymore and there might not be again."

Molly Goddard, designer

"I really wanted to work there because I really loved what they did and how they did it. They were very creative. It was just quite hard and I didn't want to finish work at ten o'clock every night and start at nine. But I learnt to be creative. They really got immersed in this collection bubble and the whole world in it. That was really phenomenal. And they always looked amazing, always wore amazing clothes. Ed always had an incredible full blown outfit on. He used to wear frilly shorts, bloomers under those, a cardigan, and a tiara and socks and sandals, and ribbons tied round his legs. So just amazing, really amazing. I love it when people make an effort. I don't, really. I'm always running around lifting boxes. So that’s something they taught me: to always make an effort with what you wear. Because they did. I didn't work on the show, I left before the show. I worked on production so I didn't see more that side of things. But I know they put attention into every little thing. I remember the shoes they did were amazing."

Lee Roach, designer and art director

"I worked at Meadham Kirchhoff as an intern about nine years ago, when I was in my first year at Central Saint Martins. I started working there because of their menswear, which obviously was quite a different aesthetic to what we associate them with now. I worked there on and off for a couple of seasons but we became friends and I spent quite a lot of time with them at their studio. At the beginning it was like entering into a new world for me, the original studio was a small house completely decorated and filled with their possessions. In each studio you always felt you were immersed in their world; each space was decorated and adorned with their items which created this amazing environment.

I learnt a lot from them, especially not to compromise. When you spent time with them or were in their space, you were very much in their kind of all-encompassing universe which was really fascinating. Their attention to detail was phenomenal – every piece involved so many techniques and incredible hand work. Everything was so meticulous. They also played a massive role in me starting Lee Roach. They helped me a great deal at the very beginning and were incredibly supportive. They were definitely a big influence in that respect. Even though what I did was different to them aesthetically, I think I shared their idea of being uncompromising and creating a world. There’s something very personal about it. For me, each collection was such a big outpouring of the feeling of that season, and that moment. There’s something about that, that was extremely personal."