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Celebrating AnOther Magazine. All of the covers, all in one place.

AN40_COV4_1-HR

Issue 40

Spring/Summer 2021

Kiki Willems

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN40_COV2_1-HR

Issue 40

Spring/Summer 2021

Adwoa Aboah

Photography by Jack Davison, Styling by Nell Kalonji

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AN40_COV3_1-HR

Issue 40

Spring/Summer 2021

Lila Moss

Photography by Sharna Osborne, Styling by Robbie Spencer

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AN40_COV5_1-HR

Issue 40

Spring/Summer 2021

Ottawa Kwami

Photography by Paolo Roversi, Styling by Ibrahim Kamara

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AN40_COV1_1-HR

Issue 40

Spring/Summer 2021

Rianne Van Rompaey

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN40_COV6_1-HR

Issue 40

Spring/Summer 2021

Malick Bodian

Photography by Casper Sejersen, Styling by Ellie Grace Cumming

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AN40_COV7_1-HR

Issue 40

Spring/Summer 2021

Eliot Sumner

Photography by Alasdair McLellan, Styling by Alister Mackie

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AN39_COV1 SUSIE CAVE_2-HR

Issue 39

Autumn/Winter 2020

Susie Cave

Photography by Alasdair McLellan, Styling by Ellie Grace Cumming

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AN39_COV5 JANAYA_2-HR

Issue 39

Autumn/Winter 2020

Janaya Future Khan

Photography by Collier Schorr, Styling by Nell Kalonji

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AN39_COV2 MARGIELA_2-HR

Issue 39

Autumn/Winter 2020

Anok Yai

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN39_COV4_2-HR

Issue 39

Autumn/Winter 2020

Adut Akech

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN39_COV3 HUSEBY_2-HR

Issue 39

Autumn/Winter 2020

MJ Harper

Art and Fashion Direction by Katy England, Photography by Benjamin A Huseby

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AN39_COV6 ART PROJECT_2-HR

Issue 39

Autumn/Winter 2020

Kim Kardashian and Michèle Lamy

Concept and photographic direction by Paul Kooiker, Photography by Rick Owens and Kanye West

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Issue 38

Spring/Summer 2020

Laura Dern

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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Issue 38

Spring/Summer 2020

Lily James

Photography by Casper Sejersen, Styling by Katie Shillingford 

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Issue 38

Spring/Summer 2020

Kelsey Lu

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Nell Kalonji

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Issue 38

Spring/Summer 2020

Lola Nicon

Photography by Sam Rock, Styling by Katy England

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cov4web2

Issue 37

Autumn/Winter 2019

Indya Moore

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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cov4web6

Issue 37

Autumn/Winter 2019

Naomi Scott

Photography by Collier Schorr, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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cov4web5

Issue 37

Autumn/Winter 2019

Marte Mei Van Haaster

Photography by Viviane Sassen, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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cov4web4

Issue 37

Autumn/Winter 2019

Veronika Kunz

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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cov4web3

Issue 37

Autumn/Winter 2019

Jonas Gloër and Kiki Willems

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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Cov4web1

Issue 37

Autumn/Winter 2019

Medea Morton

Photography by Harley Weir, Styling by Jane How

AN36_COV1_LupitaNyongo

Issue 36

Spring/Summer 2019

Lupita Nyong’o

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN36_COV2-Burberry

Issue 36

Spring/Summer 2019

Rianne Van Rompaey

Photography by Theo Sion, Styling by Max Pearmain

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AN36_COV3-Comme

Issue 36

Spring/Summer 2019

Anok Yai

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN36_COV4-CroppedForWeb-Hires_Page_2

Issue 36

Spring/Summer 2019

Bo Gebruers

Photography by Paolo Roversi, Styling by Hannes Hetta

AN36_COV5-Brianna-Capozzi

Issue 36

Spring/Summer 2019

Fran Summers

Photography by Brianna Capozzi, Styling by Jane How

AN35_COV1_TildaSwinton

Issue 35

Autumn/Winter 2018

Tilda Swinton

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN35_COV2_DakotaJohnson

Issue 35

Autumn/Winter 2018

Dakota Johnson

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN35_COV3_MiaGoth

Issue 35

Autumn/Winter 2018

Mia Goth

Photography by Viviane Sassen, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN35_COV4_ChloeMoretz-180807

Issue 35

Autumn/Winter 2018

Chloë Grace Moretz

Photography by Collier Schorr, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN35_COV5_YohjiYamamoto

Issue 35

Autumn/Winter 2018

Martina Boaretto

Photography by David Sims, Styling by Katy England

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AN35_COV6_ColinxJane1

Issue 35

Autumn/Winter 2018

Laurien van der Holst

Photography by Colin Dodgson, Styling by Jane How

an34_cover_ig_vertical_1a_saoirse

Volume 2 Issue 7

Spring/Summer 2018

Saoirse Ronan

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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an34_cover_ig_vertical_1b_saoirse

Volume 2 Issue 7

Spring/Summer 2018

Saoirse Ronan

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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an34_cover_ig_vertical_2_saoirse

Volume 2 Issue 7

Spring/Summer 2018

Versace

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Katy England

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an34_cover_ig_vertical_3_saoirse

Volume 2 Issue 7

Spring/Summer 2018

Karolin Wolter

Photography by Zoe Ghertner, Styling by Jane How

an34_cover_ig_vertical_4_saoirse

Volume 2 Issue 7

Spring/Summer 2018

Rianne Van Rompaey

Photography by Paolo Roversi, Styling by Robbie Spencer

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Volume 2 Issue 6

Autumn/Winter 2017

Solange Knowles

Photography by Peter Lindbergh, Styling by Robbie Spencer

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Volume 2 Issue 6

Autumn/Winter 2017

Rooney Mara

Photography by Tim Walker, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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Volume 2 Issue 6

Autumn/Winter 2017

Saskia de Brauw

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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Volume 2 Issue 6

Autumn/Winter 2017

Dior Haute Couture

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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Volume 2 Issue 6

Autumn/Winter 2017

Dries Van Noten

Photography by Collier Schorr, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN32_COV-2_ruth

Volume 2 Issue 5

Spring/Summer 2017

Ruth Negga

Photography by Collier Schorr, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN32_COV1_prada

Volume 2 Issue 5

Spring/Summer 2017

Amanda Murphy

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN32_COV3_Mia-Goth

Volume 2 Issue 5

Spring/Summer 2017

Mia Goth

Photography by Paolo Roversi, Styling by Katy England

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AN32_COV4_cdg

Volume 2 Issue 5

Spring/Summer 2017

Raquel Zimmermann

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN32_COV5_LMTED

Volume 2 Issue 5

Spring/Summer 2017

Natalie Westling

Photography by Mario Sorrenti, Styling by Robbie Spencer

AnOther_AW2016_

Volume 2 Issue 4

Autumn/Winter 2016

Naomi Campbell

Photography by Alasdair McLellan, Styling by Katy England

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AnOther_AW2016_3

Volume 2 Issue 4

Autumn/Winter 2016

Vittoria Ceretti

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katy England

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AnOther_AW2016_2

Volume 2 Issue 4

Autumn/Winter 2016

Yasmin Wijnaldum

Photography by Alasdair McLellan, Styling by Katy England

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AN31_COV_4_WVP_postcard-(1)-(1)

Volume 2 Issue 4

Autumn/Winter 2016

Suzi Leenaars

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Katy England

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NEWAnother30_Cover_Karl-Lagerfeld-B

Volume 2 Issue 3

Spring/Summer 2016

Karl Lagerfeld

Self-portrait, in association with Rob Munday

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AN30_M1_COVER Kristen

Volume 2 Issue 3

Spring/Summer 2016

Kristen Stewart

Photography by Paolo Roversi, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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Another30_Cover_Bjork

Volume 2 Issue 3

Spring/Summer 2016

Björk 

Photography by Nick Knight, Styling by Katy England

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AN30_M3_COVER Grimes

Volume 2 Issue 3

Spring/Summer 2016

Grimes

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Alex White

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AN30_M4_COVER Kate

Volume 2 Issue 3

Spring/Summer 2016

Kate Moss

Photography by Alasdair McLellan, Styling by Alister Mackie

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AN29_Tilda

Volume 2 Issue 2

Autumn/Winter 2015

Marianne Lane

Photography by Glen Luchford, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN29_Dakota3

Volume 2 Issue 2

Autumn/Winter 2015

Dakota Johnson

Photography by Collier Schorr, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN29_Dakota2

Volume 2 Issue 2

Autumn/Winter 2015

Dakota Johnson

Photography by Collier Schorr, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN29_Dakota1

Volume 2 Issue 2

Autumn/Winter 2015

Dakota Johnson

Photography by Collier Schorr, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN28 Rihanna

Volume 2 Issue 1

Spring/Summer 2015

Rihanna

Photography by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Styling by Katy England

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AN28 McQueen

Volume 2 Issue 1

Spring/Summer 2015

Stella Lucia

Photography by Nick Knight, Styling by Katy England

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352100

Volume 2 Issue 1

Spring/Summer 2015

Léa Seydoux

Photography by Collier Schorr, Styling by Katie Shillingford

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AN27_CraigMcdean

Issue 27

Autumn/Winter 2014

Kate Moss

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN27_Collier

Issue 27

Autumn/Winter 2014

Kate Moss

Photography by Collier Schorr, Styling by Katy England

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AN27_AlasdairMcLellan

Issue 27

Autumn/Winter 2014

Kate Moss

Photography by Alasdair McLellan, Styling by Alister Mackie

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AN27_WillyVanderperre

Issue 27

Autumn/Winter 2014

Kate Moss

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN26

Issue 26

Spring/Summer 2014

Mia Wasikowska

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN25

Issue 25

Autumn/Winter 2013

Cate Blanchett

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN24

Issue 24

Spring/Summer 2013

Michelle Williams

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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352091

Issue 22

Spring/Summer 2012

Jessica Chastain

Photography by Willy Vanderperre, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN20_Lea Seydoux

Issue 20

Spring/Summer 2011

Léa Seydoux 

Photography by David Sims, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN20_Jennifer Lawrence

Issue 20

Spring/Summer 2011

Jennifer Lawrence

Photography by David Sims, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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352086

Issue 20

Spring/Summer 2011

Andrea Riseborough

Photography by David Sims, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN21

Issue 21

Autumn/Winter 2011

Rachel Weisz

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN20_Mia Wasikowska

Issue 20

Spring/Summer 2011

Mia Wasikowska

Photography by David Sims, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN18_limited

Issue 18

Spring/Summer 2010

Marion Cotillard

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN19

Issue 19

Autumn/Winter 2010

Björk

Photography by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Styling by Camilla Nickerson

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AN18

Issue 18

Spring/Summer 2010

Marion Cotillard

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Olivier Rizzo

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AN17_Cover_03_UK copy

Issue 17

Autumn/Winter 2009

Vanessa Paradis

Photography by Hedi Slimane, Styling by Panos Yiapanis

AN17_Cover_02_UK copy

Issue 17

Autumn/Winter 2009

Kate Moss

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Panos Yiapanis

AN17

Issue 17

Autumn/Winter 2009

Katie Holmes

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Yanos Yiapanis

AN17_Cover_04_UK copy

Issue 17

Autumn/Winter 2009

Natalie Portman

Photography by Hedi Slimane, Styling by Panos Yiapanis

TILDA

Issue 16

Spring/Summer 2009

Tilda Swinton

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Panos Yiapanis

AN15

Issue 15

Autumn/Winter 2008

Scarlett Johansson

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Tabitha Simmons

AN14

Issue 14

Spring/Summer 2008

Uma Thurman

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Tabitha Simmons

AN13

Issue 13

Autumn/Winter 2007

Julianne Moore

Photography by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Styling by Beat Bolliger

AN12

Issue 12

Spring/Summer 2007

Christina Ricci

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Tabitha Simmons

Kirsten-Dunst-1

Issue 11

Autumn/Winter 2006

Kirsten Dunst

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Tabitha Simmons

AN010

Issue 10

Spring/Summer 2006

Winona Ryder

Photography by Mario Sorrenti, Styling by Katy England

352075

Issue 09

Autumn/Winter 2005

Jodie Foster

Photography by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Styling by Venetia Scott

drew

Issue 08

Spring/Summer 2005

Drew Barrymore

Photography by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Styling by Alister Mackie

352073

Issue 07

Autumn/Winter 2004

Natalie Portman

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Tabitha Simmons

kate

Issue 06

Spring/Summer 2004

Kate Moss

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Tabitha Simmons

352071

Issue 05

Autumn/Winter 2003

Gwyneth Paltrow

Photography by Mario Sorrenti, Styling by Katy England

352070

Issue 04

Spring/Summer 2003

Nicole Kidman

Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Tabitha Simmons

352069

Issue 03

Autumn/Winter 2002

Pamela Anderson

Photography by Mario Sorrenti, Styling by Alister Mackie

352068

Issue 02

Spring/Summer 2002

Seth and Jaclyn Hodes

Photography by Nick Knight, Styling by Katy England

352067

Issue 01

Autumn/Winter 01

Zora and Olivier

Photography by Nick Knight, Styling by Katy England

Kiki Willems Craig McDean AnOther Magazine cover 2021

Cover Story: Inside the World of Sarah Burton’s Alexander McQueen

Ten years after her first solo collection for Alexander McQueen was shown in Paris, the house’s creative director speaks on craft, community and the power of femininity

This article is taken from the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine. To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are making the issue free and available digitally for a limited time only to all our readers wherever you are in the world. Sign up here.

A little-appreciated fact: Sarah Burton first arrived at Alexander McQueen in 1996. She has been with the house for 25 years now, a quarter of a century and more than half her life. It remains the stuff of fashion legend that, back then, the Prestbury-raised, Saint Martins-educated designer – then named Sarah Heard – was on an internship, introduced to McQueen by Simon Ungless, her print tutor and his friend and collaborator. While she went back to finish her degree – she was diligent from the offset – she returned to McQueen in 1997. And never left.

Despite that background, this has undoubtedly been a formative decade for Burton. Her first solo collection for Alexander McQueen was shown during the Spring/Summer 2011 Paris season, exactly ten years before this one. Throughout that time, she has been widely celebrated – even loved – making the transition from first assistant to her mentor to creative director of an international fashion brand. She helms an awe-inspiring and closely guarded legacy that she helped to create, today perpetuating and reinventing it season after season. And she oversees absolutely everything – womenswear, menswear, accessories, campaigns, communications, retail concepts. Burton has created an educational studio space – home to presentations including Unlocking Stories and Roses – opening up the layered and complex process behind the creation of McQueen collections past and present on the top floor of the Bond Street flagship store. She conceived the design of that too, along with the architect Smiljan Radic, using a concept that has now been rolled out across the world to 65 McQueen stores. She has held workshops for students covering everything from research to sketching to draping. More recently, Burton has worked with young teenagers, producing smaller sizes of McQueen designs for them and giving them materials with which to customise their pieces, encouraging them to style themselves and be photographed with their contemporaries.

Burton does this because she is driven, and always has been, by a love of her work, by a dedication to her craft and a belief that a human being’s potential to create is vitally important. She says herself: “I think we are very lucky to have a creative way to express how we feel. Through our jobs, we say how we feel.” And there is great joy in that. And this despite any past sadness, though that was considerable too. She would like the act of creation to give children “a sense of release with no fear attached to it – and that’s a great thing”. She would like “to give something back”.

Burton’s Spring/Summer 2021 womenswear collection for Alexander McQueen marks something of a departure, both in its appearance and the way in which it was shown. In place of a catwalk presentation came a film, First Light – a collaboration with the director Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin, Sexy Beast). It was shot, as the rather beautiful name suggests, at dawn, on the banks of the River Thames, against the London skyline and pale autumnal skies: a backdrop that feels meaningful to this fashion name above all others. Glittering modernist structures jostle for position by the magnificent 18th-century dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. Rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the destruction caused by the Great Fire of London, it is a metaphor for the beauty that may come from tragedy. It feels apt today. In September 2010, St Paul’s was, of course, the location for a memorial service for the house’s founder, Lee Alexander McQueen, who died in February that same year. There are Victorian bridges in First Light, too: lovers embrace and picnickers recline beneath their heavy iron girders. McQueen himself and Burton with, and then after him, continuously looked to that era for inspiration. Victorian bodices, elaborate embroideries, savagely beautiful corsets and sharp gentlemen’s tailoring – for him, and for her – are constant McQueen references, all juxtaposed with modernity: experimental fabrication, proportion and cut. Like those skyscrapers next to Wren’s cupola, this evokes a sense of timeless beauty, a comforting familiarity alongside an arresting, exciting strangeness.

In First Light, a woman sits in the mud by the water dressed in a deconstructed corseted dress in softest pink with an asymmetric skirt in layer upon layer of raw-edged tulle. Said skirts are well and truly muddied, then, and this too is an image that evokes quintessential McQueen. The raw and the refined, the old and the new, the elemental and the urban, the fragile and the strong. Those contrasts – paradoxes – are central to the house’s handwriting.

A move forwards, perhaps, but Burton refers to this collection as “a homecoming” of kinds. That is at least partly a result of the circumstances in which it was created – McQueen himself famously started out with next to nothing in terms of resources – fabrics were sourced from anywhere and everywhere, often bought cheaply from market stalls, used to create magic. Alexander McQueen in 2021 is very different to Alexander McQueen in the early 1990s – yet this season, there were parallels. Certainly, Burton and her team had less immediately to hand than usual, in every sense. Without the initial inspirational research trip – Wales, Ireland, the cities and countryside of the north of England, the wilds of Cornwall and Wiltshire have all been visited in recent times – the McQueen team instead looked inwards. They made the collection’s initial toiles in their kitchens, dyed fabrics in their gardens, and cut, draped and sewed pieces from start to finish at home. Much of their work was done by hand.

Homecoming, at home. Sarah Burton was raised in the north of England, but home for the label means London. It has always been based in the city – though it usually shows as part of Paris’s biannual prêt-à-porter. That location emphasises the couture quality that characterises Burton’s work: by contrast, this is a collection inspired by the capital’s deserted streets, by the spirit of a city that is loved by all who work at Alexander McQueen. And it revealed hidden depths that may once have been taken for granted but that, at this point in its history in particular, shine. If Paris means the fantasy of couture, London means reality – not necessarily harsh, but with grit. Men’s City tailoring, workwear, denim, the leather jackets of punks, mods and rockers, the trench coats of the Great War – all, incidentally, modern wardrobe archetypes, ripe for study. Some are cross-bred, like Victorian botanical specimens: they become hybrids, that word is also a part of the McQueen vernacular.

Necessity became the mother of invention, but also intention. The result of this work was a collection more essential, less embellished, though far from straightforward. Aesthetically, there are none of the fairy-tale embroideries more recently associated with the label – exquisite for sure, yet to the woman behind them, not as central to the fashion conversation for now. But the core of McQueen – its heart and soul – is evident throughout, is seen in every garment. That soul is, of course, the cut: this refers back to McQueen in its nascency, at which point pattern-making drove it, whether that pattern was cut in Prince of Wales check or indeed rubber, metal or wood. Perhaps with that in mind, the aforementioned toiles themselves, the process of fashion, became part of the final result: couture silhouettes realised in humble fabrics, every detail of cut, proportion, finish and, most importantly, shape emphasised in their purity. Decoration was replaced with structure, garments turned inside out to expose the labour – and love – that went into them. Today, they seem more lovely than any embroidery.

For Burton, who learnt first-hand from McQueen, there was a sense of liberation in going back to this way of working, to “stripping back”. She told this magazine in 2012: “I realised almost immediately – pattern-cutting, that was what it was all about. As the stories go, you’d go home in the evening and come back the following morning and there would be these incredible things that Lee had stayed up all night to make. It was never just a job. And I never stopped learning.” She describes this collection as “a study of clothing and a study of character”. Garments frame the faces and hold the bodies of the people wearing them, empowering never overpowering, characterful and revealing character indeed. The only motifs, meanwhile, are doves – symbols of love, birds of peace – and a digital and photographic print of an archive McQueen boned tulle corset: a dress on a dress, a skirt, a T-shirt. It feels like the ghost of a garment.

Today, Burton makes more than a few incredible things of her own. Working with a still relatively small and close-knit team of people – she calls it a creative community, and if she is proud of anything, she is of that – she cuts, sews and weaves her form of magic. Hers are instantly recognisable pieces, intense and exceptionally special – individual. Increasingly there is a reality to her designs that perhaps belies the workmanship that goes into them: even the most apparently simple garment may be toiled four or five times to ensure it fits precisely how its creator wishes. These are garments inspired by a belief in the value of handwork, in the emotional power of clothing and an unwavering conviction to keep going: “to perfect and perfect and perfect”. Burton is a shy and modest person, which, given her profession, might be considered unusual. She is brave too, though, and perhaps more McQueen in her sense of purpose and ability to make the seemingly impossible happen than she has ever given herself credit for. There is a sense of freedom in her more recent work that makes that all the more evident, a feeling of her own personality in the work that she does. While she is entirely sensitive to the foundations this modern, British house is built on – indeed she has long been pivotal to it – Alexander McQueen, the man, thrived on beautiful chaos and hers is a quieter, gentler universe. Still, “I’m a woman, but that doesn’t make me a fluffy romantic,” she says.

Burton’s allegiance to the house of Alexander McQueen runs deeper than mere respect for a world-renowned brand or excitement at the opportunity to examine and recode its meaning. Creating in her central-London studio – where at least some members of the team have been with McQueen as long as she has or “since he was here” – she produces work for the label that is a labour of love, inspired by craft, community and the power of femininity in every incarnation.

AnOther Magazine: Rather than talking to the press after you showed Jonathan Glazer’s film of your collection, you wanted people to make up their own minds, to have feelings this season. That was interesting because that’s how it used to be. People who wrote about and edited fashion didn’t talk to designers after each show. It all felt more remote in some ways, but freer in others. Do you think that the time we are living in – the distance created by the pandemic and the lockdowns – almost gives us more space to think in that way again. To have feelings.

Sarah Burton: I think this has been a year when there has been so much noise and so much constant media, 24 hours a day, that it felt to me like information overload. I felt numbed by it. I wanted to do a film that moved people and therefore wanted them to have their own opinion, to know what they really thought. Sometimes I think the system undermines that, undermines brilliant writers by telling them what to think. Lee always used to say he didn’t care what people thought as long as they felt something. It was important to me that people felt something this time.

AM: How was the process of shooting the film? How did it compare to staging a show?

SB: I loved working with Jonathan Glazer. I’ve always been a huge fan of his work and he has such a clear vision. It was very exciting, inspiring and creative, in the purest sense, to do something different in a year when everything changed. Making a film instead of a show made it somehow very important to talk about human connection, it was about a series of intimate moments and people coming together. It made me think about characters and clothes more, and how those characters moved in the clothes, who those characters were. It opened up a whole world of McQueen women and men.

AM: You talked about coming home, shooting in London, against the London skyline. Perhaps part of the reason for shooting here was practical, but it seemed to mean more to you than that.

SB: Pretty much the first thing that Jonathan and I discussed when I showed him the line-up was that we wanted to shoot the film in London. It was much more than just a practicality. It would have been easier to shoot in any park or in nature. Because I knew hardly anyone was going to be able to see the clothes in the flesh, it was more important than ever to give them a three-dimensional appearance. They had to look like a silhouette. I didn’t design them for a flat screen, they had to move. We always design like that. The clothes have to work from every angle.

AM: It’s a cliché maybe, but perhaps having so many things taken away from us makes us appreciate the things we do have more than ever.

SB: The whole situation with Covid-19 made me really appreciate my brilliant team and how amazing working in London is. Everything was shut and, even though I have lived here for years – for most of my life, in fact – I noticed things I hadn’t noticed before. It was as if an amazing peace had descended on London. Lee was born in London and the city is so integral to what the house is about that it felt like the right place to be. It has such spirit. We also went back to designing in the way we did when we very first started out, looking at the essentials of what we really needed to make something work. We made the film very early in the morning. It was magical. The sun was rising, which made everything look more sharp, more intense. The Thames is a part of London that has never changed, it’s a place where the old and the new come together, where St Paul’s is next to very modern structures but the overall effect is somehow timeless. It’s not perfect but there’s beauty in that too. Whatever else has happened, the Thames remains the same. It’s like a lifeline, a vein – it breathes. It makes you think of paintings and poems. And because it was so empty, everything seemed more intense – amplified.

AM: The idea of the old and the new coming together is also very much at the heart of Alexander McQueen, the past informing the present and the future, and a sense of history being embedded in the clothes has always been part of the storytelling process.

SB: I think it’s exactly that. We always look back to go forward, whether it’s looking back at a period in history or looking back at McQueen’s own history, looking back at a show or a technique or even a pleat or a dart ... The important thing is that it then twists and becomes relevant to people now. Especially at the moment, you want to understand that there are things you can rely on, things that are familiar. The whole world is in chaos, so you want a sense of stability. So, taking a trench coat and subverting it, or taking a white shirt and changing it to the point where it becomes McQueen enough to be a piece in itself.

AM: You showed menswear and womenswear together in the film. Why?

SB: The process of designing the collections was very much linked. It was about characters and the way they interact, about how characters – and people – relate to one another. Increasingly we are bringing McQueen womenswear and menswear closer together, there is an ongoing conversation between the two. There are references to women’s in the men’s and vice versa. We’ve been doing that for some time now.

“Making this collection was pretty much the one thing that I wasn’t worried about when we first went into lockdown. Then, once we finally came back into the studio, these characters appeared. The clothes themselves were almost like characters – individual. Maybe because people had more time to work on one piece, they almost became more special. You had to be more decisive about what you wanted, about what you really wanted to say” – Sarah Burton, January 2021

AM: In some ways the collection marks a return to the spirit of early McQueen – the relatively humble fabrics, the stripping of embellishment, the idea of London, inspiration from street culture and British tradition. Did you feel that?

SB: It was about stripping back. It felt right to do something very pure in silhouette, something about form and construction. For me, this is not the right time for ostentation or fantasy in clothes. You want something that is very human, very real. It’s like, this is where we are, this is our reality, and you can’t escape from that. It felt wrong to flee. We still had access to incredible fabrics but it felt really good to use more straightforward materials – polyfaille, denim, cotton poplin. And upcycled fabrics – parts of some garments were made in stock fabric, others were made out of remnants of lace and tulle from past collections. And the way we saw it develop wasn’t about a girl in a field but in a studio, against a plain white background, with no one on the streets outside. It’s actually much harder to make things that aren’t embellished look beautiful, because there’s nothing to hide behind – you are reliant on pattern-cutting, you can see every single detail, every single mistake. We had to perfect and perfect and perfect.

AM: You began the collection during the first lockdown. How do you think that affected the end result?

SB: During lockdown, when we were all working separately from home, I saw the team’s ability to cut patterns and make beautiful things on the stand. Lee was always about pattern-cutting and I learnt how to do that from him. Lee very much taught me how to pattern-cut and how to sew. There was something refreshing about going back to the way we worked at the beginning, about working with things that we already had. It was like, OK, we’ve all got a mannequin at home, we can all talk to each other. Let’s drape. It was very three-dimensional in approach.

AM: There is something about this moment, in a wider sense, that harks back to the early days of McQueen, to the Hoxton Square era. You were, of course, very much part of that. Do you remember that time fondly?

SB: I remember it very fondly. And the situation now heightens the fact that that was a very special time, heightens the sense of creative freedom that time represents. We were in a basement in Hoxton Square, the fabrics and looks were made on the stand with what you had to hand. Lee could make something out of what appeared to be nothing – a piece of wood, rubber, metal, inexpensive lace. We couldn’t afford to make endless toiles. We made one, draping fabric on the stand, and then the garment in the real fabric. It made you think outside the box – made you focus on pattern, shape. I remembered being part of that when we went into lockdown and felt very lucky to be used to making clothes and creating, just making things that we really believed in. I learnt so much from being in the studio with Lee. I don’t even know if those jobs exist any more, it was so hands-on. You got to touch the clothes, touch the fabric, and it’s easy to forget how rare that is.

AM: There’s an engineered tulle toile print of a McQueen dress in the collection, almost as if the ghost of a dress is printed onto another dress.

SB: I always have the feeling that clothes should be timeless and, if they’re beautifully made, stripped to the bare bones and essential, that will hopefully be the case. It’s also nice to look at the insides of clothes, which are often as beautiful as the outsides, and at how to make clothes feel relevant for today. How do we make clothes that are more considerate to the wearer, more emotionally resonant? With London feeling completely deserted – bereft – I wanted people to be able to relate to the clothes. I also wanted the collection to be bolder and stronger. I wanted to say, “It’s OK – we are carrying on.” I wanted to be brave, to make things I love and to challenge myself.

AM: You have opened up the processes behind your work in the educational space at Bond Street to students in particular. Why is that important to you?

SB: I was fortunate enough to be a student when Lee took me on and Simon Ungless, my tutor at Saint Martins, introduced me to him. I had an amazing opportunity to work as a team, as part of a creative community. It was very much like that at Hoxton Square. I wanted to show students that there are so many roles you can play within a team that are important, I wanted to demystify the idea of fashion being unapproachable as an industry. Sometimes, to work in fashion can be challenging, but I want young people to feel that anything is possible.

AM: You also work with younger communities who maybe aren’t used to being immersed in fashion. I’m thinking about your recent project in Wales in connection with your Autumn/Winter 2020 collection. You sent young teenagers looks from the collection in smaller sizes and your team travelled there and held workshops to help and inspire them, sent them packs of embroidery so they could customise their clothes, style themselves and then take pictures.

SB: I felt like we’d been to Wales and been inspired by their culture, their history and their narrative and, in the first instance, we wanted to invite some of the schoolchildren there to the show. By the time it happened, Covid-19 had kicked in so it wasn’t possible. We had already made and sent them the clothes. They customised them and styled themselves and each other and we worked with Clémentine Schneidermann and Charlotte James, who had been photographing them for a while, to document this project with us. I think we are very lucky to have a creative way to express how we feel. Through our jobs, we say how we feel. We wanted to help children understand that you don’t have to go into fashion or art but you can be creative, you can draw a picture, you can take a picture, you can style your friend. You don’t have to want to be a fashion designer, it’s a way of being heard without having to be literal. It’s a sense of release with no fear attached to it, and that’s a great thing. I also think that by the time you get to college you are already in a position of privilege and you want to be a fashion designer, but it’s not just about my job, the designer, that hierarchy. I wanted to reach out to younger children to show them what’s possible, to show children who might not otherwise understand that there are lots of different roles in fashion – whether that’s in embroidery, styling, photography. It’s not just about being a designer.

“Lee could make something out of what appeared to be nothing – a piece of wood, rubber, metal, inexpensive lace. We couldn’t afford to make endless toiles ... It made you think outside the box” – Sarah Burton

AM: You also work with specialists in highly specific techniques – many of them have been in their fields for generations. William Clark, one of the last linen beetlers in the world, for example, who treated the linen in your Spring/Summer 2020 collection.

SB: What was really great with William Clark and the work we did with linen was finding an old tradition and making it new. We asked them to beetle whole garments, which they hadn’t done before, taking the technique a step further. We produced so many of the black beetled linen jackets that they bought a new beetling machine especially for us. These crafts are becoming extinct and it’s so important to keep them alive.

AM: You often talk about community and creative community in particular. What does the word mean to you?

SB: It means my team and working together. We are a community.

AM: I’m interested in the idea of the character of women – or men – and the character of clothing, which seems to be the way you are thinking when designing collections now. Can we talk more about that?

SB: At the beginning of this process, I thought about how it is not just one woman or man we are dressing. There are all these different characters, in the studio and in the collection. The garments become these characters. They needed to live and breathe, which goes back to the idea of making a film. Each garment is an individual. The fact that people are so complex, their vulnerabilities and strengths, brings clothes to life.

AM: This collection is about wardrobe archetypes too – a trench coat, a trouser suit, a shirt dress, a pink party dress, a lace dress, a denim jacket ...

SB: It’s a study of character and a study of clothing. McQueen is always about taking something and subverting it, and I hope there’s always a sense of beauty in what we do too, a sense of reinvention and beauty in the unexpected. We are designing hybrid garments but it’s not just about two things – two familiar garments – being forced together, but about things we can immediately understand and relate to becoming something else.

AM: You often talk about the McQueen woman – your McQueen woman – being grounded. Is that part of the same conversation or something different?

SB: As a woman you have to be able to do so many things. I love that and the layers of complexity it involves. I always want to empower women, not in the obvious ways, but in ways that speak to all sides of them.

AM: Over the past decade you have done so much. You have completely rethought the collections and how they relate to each other, the campaigns, the retail concept, the social media platforms. I know that you have your team, but you are personally involved in absolutely everything, in every last stitch in a garment, every last image in a lookbook, every last comma in any written communication. When you look at what you have achieved at Alexander McQueen, how do you feel?

SB: McQueen is like my family and my life. It is like my home. People really care about each other here. My team is incredible, they’re all such different, strong personalities. Throughout this whole situation, I’ve felt that I am so fortunate to work with people I really love and respect and it’s a conversation, a conversation about making things that mean something. It is a community and quite a lot of people have been part of it since Lee was here. And that also goes back to the whole thing about not throwing away the past. It’s about constantly evolving, not discarding. It’s not about changing things as much as finding my voice in them.

Hair: Christian Eberhard at Management Artists using ORIBE. Make-up: Hannah Murray at Art and Commerce. Model: Kiki Willems at Viva London. Casting: Noah Shelley at Streeters. Manicure: Laura Forget at Artlist. Digital tech: Nicolas Fallet. Photographic assistants: Paul Jedwab, Loc Boyle and Margaux Jouanneau. Styling assistants: George Pistachio and Christelle Owona Nisin. Tailor: Sebastien Pleus. Production: Julie Sanchez at Works Production. Production assistants: Julie Rondeau, Bertrand d’Amiens and David Smit. Post-production: D-Factory

This article originally featured in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine which will be on sale from 8 April, 2021. Pre-order a copy here and sign up for free access to the issue here.

Adwoa Aboah Jack Davison AnOther Magazine cover 2021

Cover Story: Adwoa Aboah & Jeremy O Harris In Conversation

AnOther Magazine brings the model and playwright together over Zoom, where they discuss shifting gears, seeking pleasure and finding community

This article is taken from the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine. To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are making the issue free and available digitally for a limited time only to all our readers wherever you are in the world. Sign up here.

As her one million Instagram followers know, there are few subjects Adwoa Aboah won’t talk about. Her candour and willingness to be openly fragile have fuelled an outpouring of overdue conversations – about mental health, social justice, sexuality and more. Her platform, Gurls Talk, founded in 2016 following Aboah’s own struggles with depression and drug addiction, is a taboo-busting, judgment-free space for young people to grapple honestly with issues large and small, both online and – pre-pandemic – in the all-welcome forums she has held around the world.

It’s a sign of Aboah’s increasing reach with her Gurls Talk mission that, these days, mention of her phenomenally successful modelling career sometimes runs a close second to her activism. A born and bred west-Londoner (albeit with an unhappy stretch spent at a Somerset boarding school), Aboah grew up around fashion – both her parents work in the industry. She signed to a model agency at the age of 16 and, a decade later, was immortalised in plastic as a Barbie, complete with her now-unmistakable freckled skin, tattoos and shaved head. It was partly that liberating buzz cut – a rebellion against the looks-driven world she was working in, and a venting of frustration after years of feeling she had to tame her ginger Afro for the camera – that catapulted Aboah onto magazine covers and into campaigns for the likes of Chanel, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs and Dior. She has used her position in the public eye to hold her industry to account, campaigning for safer spaces, greater inclusivity and body positivity. (She will happily swerve the filter and post a bad-skin day.) But there’s an equally important flipside to Aboah’s vocal advocacy: her ability to listen. That skill is frequently put to use in her raw and intimate Gurls Talk podcasts, during which she guides guests such as the Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo and Black Lives Matter international ambassador Janaya Future Khan through a kaleidoscope of topics with empathy and humour.

Aboah finds an unguarded, kindred spirit in Virginia-raised, New York-based playwright Jeremy O Harris. Around the same time the seeds of Gurls Talk were planted in London, Harris was writing Slave Play while still a student on Yale School of Drama’s MFA playwriting programme. The ferocious, funny and profoundly uncomfortable interrogation of the ghosts of white supremacy that resulted from his fevered late-night writing sessions found its way well beyond Harris’s classroom and even the intellectual circles of the New York theatre world – towards the end of its sold-out run off-Broadway, the likes of Rihanna, Madonna, Anna Wintour and Jake Gyllenhaal could be spotted in the audience. A few months later, his play Daddy – an exploration of the relationship between a young Black artist and an older white collector that unfolds beside a Bel Air infinity pool – also opened off-Broadway, while Harris commuted back to Yale for classes. In 2020, Slave Play caused a small cultural earthquake when it transferred to Broadway and was nominated for 12 Tonys, the most received by a non-musical play in the awards’ 74-year history.

Much like Aboah, Harris immediately set about sharing the spotlight, using his success (including a handsome deal with HBO) to support grants for young Black playwrights and donating works by Black writers to libraries across the US. He has an indefatigable way of persuading others to support his causes – he once challenged the talk-show host Seth Meyers in front of a live audience to buy and distribute 20 tickets to Slave Play; Meyers duly coughed up.

Aboah and Harris had never met in person before AnOther Magazine brought them together over Zoom, but Aboah had already identified a like-minded soul. “What I’m always wanting in a conversation is someone completely unfiltered and unafraid, and I see that not just in Jeremy’s work, but also his Instagram and the way he presents himself,” says Aboah. “I just knew our conversation would flow in a different direction.”

Jeremy O Harris: I’m so excited you asked me to do this, because I try to do things where I’m following pleasure, and from everything I know about you, you also seem to be a pleasure-seeker. It’s also wild, because I’ve been on two shoots with your sister. What is it like to be in a family that is celebrated for its beauty? That feels like an interesting family to grow up in. Did you guys always know?

Adwoa Aboah: That’s such a good question. I think you do know, because you hear grown-ups say things like, “Your daughters are so pretty.” But the way I looked at myself was so blurred and confusing I didn’t link that to, “I feel pretty and beautiful.” So I was aware that was a conversation going on around me, but it wasn’t how I felt at all.

JOH: Also, growing up anywhere in the west, it’s going to be difficult for a Black person to feel completely beautiful all the time.

AA: It was when I moved to boarding school that I felt, “I need to start dressing like that,” or, “I need to relax my hair.” Before that I don’t remember caring. But this idea of beauty has taken me a long time. Now I’m like, “Yeah, I’m fit!” It’s not even the modelling, it’s a feeling now.

JOH: You’re about the same age as me – late twenties, early thirties?

AA: I’ll be 29 this year.

JOH: I think that’s the moment you start to feel, “This is the face I have and either I’m going to love it or not.” And choosing to love it is the thing that took me into my thirties.

AA: You’re so right, it’s a choice. I have an acceptance there’s never going to be a week where, every day, I feel gassed about myself. But more often, as I’ve got older, I’m happier to be myself. Don’t get me wrong, I can be trailing through my phone and say, “Fuck, I wish I looked like that.” But there’s something reassuring about deciding that this is what I have to work with.

“The most important thing for young artists is to stay sensitive and open and vulnerable, even in a dark time. It can be very alluring to be closed off right now” – Jeremy O Harris

JOH: I’ve started collecting photographs of writers I’m obsessed with at the same age as I am now, and other pictures of them older. And I’m getting excited about leaning into the fact of being a writer, and less into the worlds I’ve also been a part of, like acting or modelling. I’m really starting to appreciate the idea of ageing gracefully as an artist. My biggest insecurity is the bags under my eyes, which are evidence of the fact that I live a life where I stay up for close to 18 hours a day. If I got rid of those, the evidence would be gone, I wouldn’t look like a writer any more!

AA: I love that idea. It’s the same with smile lines. When I see them on other people, I think it’s so sexy – I think they’re a happy, fulfilled, expressive person.

JOH: So what have you been doing during quarantine to keep up? I know this is the question everyone asks, but I’ve become obsessed with my friends who got new hobbies or really engaged with reading again. What did you do?

AA: I’ve gone through different phases. I tried to paint by numbers. I tried arts and crafts, but I didn’t like it at school and I don’t like it now. Reading, I’ve always been obsessed with, so I’ve thrown myself into that. I’m such a night owl, I’d much prefer to stay up all night and sleep half the day. Having three-hour phone calls with friends has been nice, because I never had the time to do that before. And cooking – I cooked an amazing curried crab soup the other day.

JOH: I feel like a 1950s housewife when I go food shopping. I’ll be in the aisle and get overwhelmed by all the choices and my heart will start beating really quickly – I feel like I’m in a Todd Haynes movie with a camera coming down the aisle at me. I’d rather go to a restaurant and have someone do that for me. I spent the first lockdown in London, so I got to imagine I was some writer with agoraphobia in a new city. But I had a secret, small birthday party where someone came and cooked for me. That was the ideal gift in the pandemic because I hadn’t eaten food I hadn’t made in seven months. 

AA: I’ve been spending a lot of the day dancing, from the moment I get up to the moment I go to sleep, with really, really loud music.

JOH: That’s something I miss the most – being in a nightclub, cooped up in the corner, drinking and gossiping, but having that energy of being around other people dancing.

AA: I hope we can do that soon. I also rewatched Game of Thrones for the second time.

JOH: I watched the first season begrudgingly. Then I got hit by a car walking through West Hollywood –

AA: What?!

JOH: Yeah, someone hit me, left me for dead and kept driving. This was how I found out my body rejects OxyContin – I’m really allergic to opioids. So I had to take ridiculous amounts of weed gummies instead. And being as high as I was, in a cast from my knee down, the Game of Thrones universe made sense to me all of a sudden. But I don’t think I could watch that final season again. Speaking of weird endings, how are you feeling about the fact that, this year, everything in your job – the filmmaking, the modelling – has slowed down? Have you started to think, “Maybe this could be a graceful exit for me. I could say goodbye to that and do something else when the world picks back up.”

AA: In the beginning, I needed the break. I felt quite poisonous in my body, and I had no sense of reality because I’d been on a plane and hadn’t stopped for so long. So it was a moment of calm and clarity. But it was quite uncomfortable because I haven’t known me without work for a long time. I had to start rethinking who I was without being busy. And now it’s not necessarily an exit, it’s more that I know what parts of my job I enjoy and I know I need to give space to other things. If I want to pursue acting, I have to say no to more modelling jobs and not let my ego get in the way by thinking I won’t be ‘relevant’ any more. It’s a compromise I’m willing to make. I don’t want my life to only be work any more. I need to have room for my personal life.

JOH: You mentioned ‘relevance’ – I wonder what relevance means to you? Because I had to have a big confrontation with that in the midst of Covid-19. The pandemic started right when I was supposed to have the London premiere of Daddy, which was going to lead into me announcing that Slave Play was coming to London. Then I was going to do a brand new, experimental play in New York that I thought was going to continue elevating some sense of me being ‘the voice of new, exciting theatre’. And in lockdown I was forced to think about myself and my work, and I started to realise that all the ideas I was having weren’t coming from that same, free place that Slave Play or Daddy came from. They were coming from a place of, “What else can I do to freak everyone out? Or stay in front of the conversation?” I realised relevance was the thing I was actually addicted to. What does relevance, or a lack of relevance, look like for you?

AA: In the fashion industry, and definitely being a model, relevance is quite warped and a bit poisonous. The moment when you get your break happens so fast, you’re straight on that hamster wheel. And because it’s so quick, you’re completely terrified that if you don’t say yes every single time, you’re going to lose it. Relevance to me is definitely associated with ego. Recently I’ve said no to things so I can do my acting classes, or my American-accent classes, or things related to Gurls Talk. But then ego gets in the way. I go online and watch a show I’ve said no to and think, “I should have been in that! People will think I’m not relevant any more!” I think relevance is also related to having an opinion. But it got to a point in lockdown where I didn’t necessarily have anything to say. With the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, I felt I should speak, but I was processing so much I didn’t even know how to articulate it all from a personal position.

JOH: My ears pricked up when you talked about your personal life. This year my partner moved in with me, so this relationship that could have fallen apart during Covid-19 got really close, really quickly. But because I was an ocean away from my family, my personal life as a son, as a brother, as an uncle, took a hit. And I felt that even deeper with Black Lives Matter. I felt, if Black lives really mattered, why the hell am I not living in Virginia with my family and my cousins and helping them build their lives differently? Do you think taking a moment to make sense of these questions around Black Lives Matter also brought you to thinking about your family in different ways?

AA: Oh, 100 per cent. It was definitely a much-needed conversation with myself, and one I have a lot with my sister and my dad. But it was really uncomfortable. I had let a lot of things slide for too long and I felt my soul had been chipped away. I had to look at people around me, and it was like the blinkers had been taken off. I was looking at what it meant to be both Black and white, and I was feeling quite alien. There were days when I felt, “I have no idea who I am.” Situations came up where I didn’t feel Black enough and I didn’t feel white enough. Having to look at my identity in that way was really painful and uncomfortable. But it was good, actually, because I took a step back. And going back to relevance, I think relevance is the thing that keeps you trapped. So when life slowed down, I had the time to say, “I don’t need to test myself.” I’m quite an overachiever and I love a challenge, but I thought, “We’re all in fragile states and I don’t need to test myself right now.”

“Keep that empathy. I think we’re allowed to feel what we feel right now. There is so much uncertainty for all of us and it comes in many different shapes, so sit with that and don’t push it away. Be frank with yourself and don’t feel like you’re not justified in feeling whatever emotions you’re feeling” – Adwoa Aboah

JOH: I’m trying to shift gears and figure out how I can make this year different for myself. I have this space where I come every day for five hours straight to journal, read and write whatever the fuck I want to write. Do you have any plans?

AA: That thought didn’t even cross my mind until February. January was dire – I was binge-watching, not sleeping, I overdid the exercise and fucked my knee. I was not in a great place, isolated and living by myself. But now I feel more willing to figure it out. I have daily talks with myself – I say, “It’s OK if today wasn’t good, tomorrow will be better.” There are little things I can do – I’ve been mood-boarding projects, going on Pinterest and creating a jewellery collection or a made-up fashion brand or a documentary idea, just putting things together. Because what I’ve found hard is I always felt like I had lots to talk about. But in January I felt I didn’t have anything to offer – “Today I stared out the window, I have nothing to report back on.” So now I’m just trying to be curious.

JOH: I was so negative at the top of this year. I could go into deep detail about how everything anyone liked had no worth. But I thought, “Jeremy, you were gifted with a critical mind, don’t waste that criticality on negativity.” I realised so much of that was about me feeling upset about the work I wasn’t doing or wasn’t able to do. And shifting those paradigms in my mind helped me feel better. My chest lifted, but it was really dark for a while. And it’s a darkness I was seeing a lot on Twitter.

AA: Really? What were the conversations about?

JOH: Every week it was, “The worst film ever came out and these actors should know better.” And a lot of it was about Black work, which really enraged me. Because I want us to feel excited about people being able to fail publicly again. The most important thing for young artists is to stay sensitive and open and vulnerable, even in a dark time. It can be very alluring to be closed off right now. Finding those people in your community who can be an extra arm to lift you up, and you can be that for them, is the most important thing. That’s what Gurls Talk is about too, right? One of the things that social media and the search for relevance does to a young artist is make it feel like this is a one-sum game, and a game you can only win by yourself. But I know that if I hadn’t had the committed friendships I’ve had for the past decade, none of the stuff that’s happened with me would have happened. It seems so lame to say, but make good friends, cut out the ones who don’t matter.

AA: I think so. Keep that empathy. I think we’re allowed to feel what we feel right now. There is so much uncertainty for all of us and it comes in many different shapes, so sit with that and don’t push it away. Be frank with yourself and don’t feel like you’re not justified in feeling whatever emotions you’re feeling.

JOH: Adwoa, I could Zoom with you all day.

AA: I could with you too. This is exactly what I thought would happen – we went nowhere and everywhere.

Hair: Virginie Moreira at Management Artists. Make-up: Celia Burton at JAQ Management using Rouge Allure Laque and Le Lift Lotion by CHANEL. Model: Adwoa Aboah at Tess Management. Casting: Noah Shelley at Streeters. Set design: Alice Kirkpatrick at Streeters. Styling assistant: Rebecca Perlmutar. Production: Mini Title

This article originally featured in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine which will be on sale from 8 April, 2021. Pre-order a copy hereand sign up for free access to the issue here.

Lila Moss Sharna Osborne AnOther Magazine cover 2021

Cover Story: A Portrait of Lila Moss

In a story titled Moonage Daydream, the artist and filmmaker Sharna Osborne and the stylist Robbie Spencer capture the model in Miu Miu’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection

This story is taken from the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine. To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are making the issue free and available digitally for a limited time only to all our readers wherever you are in the world. Sign up here.

This story originally featured in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine which will be on sale from 8 April, 2021. Pre-order a copy hereand sign up for free access to the issue here.

Ottawa Kwami Paolo Roversi AnOther Magazine cover 2021

Cover Story: Virgil Abloh & Shayne Oliver In Conversation

The designers – and longtime friends – discuss risk-taking, representation and a future renaissance, alongside visuals of Abloh’s Autumn/Winter 2021 collection for Louis Vuitton created by Paolo Roversi and Ibrahim Kamara

This article is taken from the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine. To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are making the issue free and available digitally for a limited time only to all our readers wherever you are in the world. Sign up here.

It was a T-shirt that predicted fashion’s future.

That T-shirt was an off-the-cuff collaboration in 2012 between upstart New York label Hood by Air, founded in 2006 by Shayne Oliver and Raul Lopez, and Been Trill, the art and DJ collective that included Virgil Abloh (then best known for his label Pyrex Vision), Heron Preston, who launched his eponymous brand in 2017, and Matthew Williams, who founded 1017 Alyx 9SM in 2015 and, last year, became creative director of Givenchy.

Black and emblazoned both with Been Trill’s dripping Rocky Horror-font branding and HBA’s logo, it had an effect that, spurred on by still-fledgling social media and it being seen on Kanye West, soon snowballed beyond the garment’s intended audience, placing its creators firmly in the spotlight. An expression of downtown New York’s melting pot of music, culture, clothing and nightlife that was the backdrop for its creators, its hype-generating design foreshadowed what was to come in fashion, both literally and figuratively.

In a matter of years, graphic-driven ‘streetwear’ would dominate the industry, with luxury houses running to keep up. Oliver would win acclaim for HBA’s collections, showcased at New York Fashion Week, while Abloh would go on to found Off-White and lead Louis Vuitton’s menswear.

Despite establishment approval – Oliver has taken home the LVMH Special Jury Prize and a CFDA award, and Abloh’s Off-White, bolstered by partnerships with the likes of Nike, has become one of the most coveted brands of the past decade – the two designers, both Black and American, struggled to have their work taken seriously at first, let alone understood. Oliver’s output – a confrontational blend of conceptual high fashion, hip-hop, club world and ballroom culture that resulted in voguers, Pornhub logos and double-footed cowboy boots appearing on his label’s runways – was often categorised simply as disruptive. Comments directed at Abloh, meanwhile, centred on his perceived unoriginality, or snidely accused him of not being a ‘real designer’.

While Abloh has blazed a trail at Louis Vuitton, Oliver has partnered with brands including Helmut Lang and Diesel, and has just relaunched HBA, which he had put on hiatus in spring 2017. He’s also been working on Leech, a shapeshifting concept that simultaneously combines and transcends music, art, fashion and performance, and Anonymous Club, the multidisciplinary creative studio and talent incubator that develops all of HBA’s visuals and content – as well as collaborating with resident artists and other partners. But all Abloh and Oliver’s work is a continuation of the conversations they started years ago, when discussions of race and identity remained conspicuously off the fashion industry’s radar.

Through it all, they have stayed friends. And when AnOther Magazine asked Abloh who he would like to be in conversation with for this issue, he had just one suggestion.

Virgil Abloh: Legitimately, when this came through, I was like, there’s only one person I can talk to [Laughs.].

Shayne Oliver: That’s what I was thinking too. Obviously, we’ve known each other for so long.

VA: We’ve been at this exact space – let’s not call it fashion, let’s just call it people producing ideas – for the past ten years. And now there’s been value placed on ‘fashion’, placed on ‘Black’, and there’s been value placed on what we identify ourselves with, and we’ve just been outputting, consistently true to ourselves, when no one was watching, all the way until now. Any questions people would have asked us ten years ago, we would answer the same now – the only thing is now it’s recorded on Zoom.

SO: We met at a time in New York when everyone was crossing paths. Through meeting Matt [Williams], and really just being in the arena where ideas usually flourish, which is downtown. Not because of the cachet of downtown, but because of people just being open to each other’s ideas – everyone was sort of figuring out what they wanted to interact with, and what made sense for their worlds. With fashion, you enter it and it’s like, all for fashion. I think that was what was intriguing about that space – we had ideas to bring to fashion, but not specifically for fashion.

“For 2021 the pressure’s off. There’s nothing more satisfying than instead of looking for acceptance, or looking for a fairy-tale existence, all of a sudden realising there’s no gatekeeper” – Virgil Abloh

VA: When we both started, we were kind of the outsiders making noise. And then the industry started paying close attention to it. We were telling our own stories. And when people find things viable in that, they’ll call it a word, they’ll take control of it, they’ll try to make a trend.

SO: And in the beginning, everyone thought it was gimmicky because no one really understood what the reference points were. Fashion likes to have pop words and things they can grab onto, to feel like they’re building a moment. So people can link adjectives to clothing, you know what I mean?

VA: Right. Obviously, we’re both Black and American, which are characteristics that are important to our story, as that transcends time. It could be trendy in a moment, it could be at the forefront, then there could be an attempt to unravel it by calling it streetwear or whatever, and the cycle keeps on going. In a year like 2020, when the outside world was trying to say, “Hey, we want to be inclusive, we want to be diverse,” you could forget about the existence of the narratives that we were telling. These talents were coming through in the years before 2020, and we’re still here, we’re still creating.

SO: A lot of times, fashion has dealt with Black conversations only through trend conversations. But the conversation that a Black person is having is not a one-time conversation.

VA: Right.

SO: It’s like, we’re here, we’re creatives, we’re not going to be here and then go away. There are multitudes of European designers and there are multitudes of Black conversations. These conversations are valid because they’re continuous, actually, and we’ve been here for a while, trying to create that landscape for those kinds of things to be taken seriously.

VA: What you see, between you and me, is two of a multitude of approaches to bearing the weight of, “You’re the trend for the moment,” or, “You’re the outlier,” or, “We’ll let you in to occupy this space.” Or, “We’ll try and trend-ify your movement.” Or, “We won’t really count it next to the European canon, but we’ll let it live just to spice it up.” What people fail to realise is that we’re often not understood. We have a huge weight to bear for our own community and our own sets of minorities that we represent. But also, on the other hand, we are often slighted, or not given the proper space to just have the idea sit.

SO: That’s partially why I took a hiatus, because I want to be able to create a space for myself so that people can have a chance to speak about the world of what I represent in a more serious way than season by season ... I think that, now, I’ll be able to have more of a language and conversation via my work, because people will be educated on it.

VA: We could sit here all day and recap on the nuances of what the media or the critique [of our work] misses, or just its bias. The right mind can see the adjacency between myself, Kanye, Jerry [Lorenzo, of the label Fear of God], or [rising label] Bstroy, these kids in Atlanta. It’s like, we see Air Force 1s as a Tabi boot, do you know what I mean?

SO: [Laughs.] Yes!

VA: We see the barbershop, we see kids get shot, we see police, we were born with a different eye to the world. And then we each individually – Kanye to his, you to yours – packaged up our DNA of design. There’s a lineage between us that maybe a journalist just hasn’t put the categorical term on, but we can’t be preoccupied with that.

SO: What’s so funny is, even when it comes to design, it’s a physical feat, like a struggle, in a sense, where within the production routes you’re working with, no one even understands the things that you’re inspired by. So there’s this uphill battle of, “Why is this important? Why is this being made?”

VA: Arthur Jafa broke it down in a very simplistic way. He was like, Black people are born conceptual artists.

SO: Yeah. Mmm.

VA: He was like, pressure creates diamonds, right? So when you’re born, you just hop on Earth at a young age and don’t understand, you don’t know, the systemic rules of the world. You only feel those when you go to school and some kid says, “You must behave like this, you must talk like this, you’re a different human being.” And then that pressure, as you grow older, it just keeps crushing down and it creates diamonds. So when we output, we conceptually do this calculation that inherently comes through our skin and our perception of our skin. So for me, instead of being hardened or pessimistic, driving myself crazy, as a profession like this can make you, that idea just sort of reorganised my operating system.

“There are multitudes of European designers and there are multitudes of Black conversations. These conversations are valid because they’re continuous, actually, and we’ve been here for a while, trying to create that landscape for those kinds of things to be taken seriously” – Shayne Oliver

VA: Now I always want to centralise this conversation about the missing documentation of a new voice within fashion that predominantly comes from Black culture, from pop culture, that has never been documented in a profound way. I never went to school and found a book that taught me about that in the same way I know about Leonardo da Vinci, or Yves Saint Laurent, or the way I know about Margiela. In January, I started making this sort of oracle book – it’s a figurative book, not a literal one – called Black Canon, a textbook that no one has ever made, or read, to understand why Black culture is fascinating in an artistic-production sense.

SO: It’s also this idea that there is a line of people who are using the same modes of communication, and every time [one] gets broken, that research library gets erased. So we always have to redo that library and, right now, it’s about keeping that library consistent. So when kids are coming up who aren’t surrounded by those same influences, they understand that there’s...

VA: ...A bible that you can’t erase. Not an Instagram video, right? Like, shit happens and then it disappears. And then someone can say it didn’t actually happen, because it’s not there any more. When we were teenagers, we obsessed about shit on the internet, music videos, websites, and you realise if you type in those URLs now, they’re not there.

SO: Totally.

VA: If it’s not frozen on the internet for 30 years, people will just rewrite it. So that’s what really woke me up. It’s not about what’s popping today. It’s that our archives are strong, that they are built, printed, verbalised and contextualised – that they can't be erased. It’s like, shit, I’m at Louis Vuitton. I’m not gonna make it to Louis Vuitton and be like, “I’m not gonna come out at the end of the runway because I just don’t want that pressure.” I’m gonna do that because I want other people to see that we’re active and given the opportunity. There’s a responsibility that I have to my whole community.

SO Where we’re coming from, you produce so young – the diamond pressing. We get so used to that high level of producing. Because anything that we present has to be stellar, you know what I mean? What you’re saying with this book is, whether it’s physical or not, it’s very, very important.

VA: And when you zoom out, you’ll see that I was making this book this whole damn time, right? All of a sudden HBA is linked to Ye, is linked to the countless soldiers from all the parties, you know, from Total Freedom, Arca to Venus X, everything. It’s this web. People think my career might be just me, I’m just scribing in other people’s books, it’s graffiti. It’s like, we have to write graffiti on every wall. That’s the learning of a steep ten years of understanding.

SO: But if it’s not documented well, the next person will have to start over, regardless of where we’re at. Period.

VA: I talked to Dapper Dan and it disheartened me. This man is still alive and there’s a 14-year-old in Chicago who doesn’t know who he is. I go to Instagram, and I say, “How many kids have read this Willi Smith book [Willi Smith: Street Couture]?” They’ll be like, “What are you talking about? Show me the Raf book!”

SO: In this hiatus, I was like, I need to make this moment work for me. What do I need to know about myself? Back in the day, I would be like, “Oh, it would be great if I can work with this artist.” Now, with this new phase I’m moving into, I can’t wait on that person to exist – I have to be that artist, I have to be that musician. Those years [at HBA] were my youth. People didn’t understand that that was actually my twenties. And I didn’t realise that I was the artist at the time. It took me until this year to understand that.

VA: When you don’t have access to production, everything is a ready-made. I know the canon of HBA, so I know that there’s a platform Air Force 1. I’ve said it 30 times but the Air Force 1 is a Duchamp urinal. It’s a loaded object and we know what it means. We know what it means in Harlem, we know what it means downtown, we know what it means all white, we know what it means all black. We know what it means. What we’re saying is that streetwear, as a collective consciousness of production, has already run its course – it’s on its hero’s journey. I said streetwear was dead for a reason. To give me space. But also to give space to those of us who are sitting in our studios, seeing a scene that we partook in ten years ago now evolving into a multibillion-dollar business – seeing fashion houses that were trying to say that we weren’t fashion adopting our DNA. Now we’re slipping into our 2.0 mode of production.

SO: Mmm.

VA: Now we realise that we can tap into the furthest extremities of our creative brains. It doesn’t need the wow factor of 2020, which is, “Oh shit, he collaborated with, you know, ‘legend brand’, or something we didn’t think of,” because that shit is tired.

SO: [Laughs.] Yes!

VA: That came from when we had no access and needed those ready-made modes of production. That’s passé now. And what I’m excited for is Leech, seeing what that is, because I have no reference for it. Or Anonymous Club, which is like mutual aid, it’s community service to the highest degree. So that younger kids don’t feel like they have to go through the gauntlet to express themselves.

“I want to see this as a renaissance. I want to see some non-genre-defining amazingness, because I believe that our generation has that. I can’t wait to see what the pressure from 2020 built” – Virgil Abloh

SO: What I’m hoping for with Anonymous – and speaking openly about that process – is that the kids can become more comfortable with making mistakes. I think that, right now, with Instagram, it’s just about perfection. Meanwhile, the people they look up to have flip-flopped all over the place throughout their careers. Me doing fashion concepts and all that stuff in the club world allowed me to learn about myself and learn my practice, so that I could then formalise it and do it in more of a fashion context.

VA And in our ecosystem, there is no sort of discipline, and that’s what makes it unique. As long as there’s space for these ideas to exist – your music project, whatever I do – I’m happy and confident, you know? For 2021 the pressure’s off. There’s nothing more satisfying than instead of looking for acceptance, or looking for a fairy-tale existence, all of a sudden realising there’s no gatekeeper. I know what I need to create with my time.

SO: It sounds so backwards to say, but you have to break a lot of disciplines in order to create a new version of a discipline.

VA: Like if you have a modern car, you don’t put the key in to turn the engine on. You just push a button. Fashion is still trying to start the car with a key.

SO: To me, that wonky old key is taste, right? And it’s this idea of, “Oh, no, that couldn’t work because it doesn’t look like this key that’s in our hands, so it couldn’t be the way to turn it on!” But fashion needs to make what might be considered ‘distasteful’ moves. When conglomerates first began to invite younger designers in, it was very, “Whoa, what is that decision?”

VA: What fashion before this era had was real renegades, whether that’s Gaultier or Alaïa, Galliano or Marc Jacobs, who is the forefather for me – they’re exuberant, plus, “Hey, I can do the conglomerate thing.” Those young talents are here today. You are one of them.

SO: Take Margiela at Hermès. For me, that’s what started these conversations that are now so mainstay, you know, and no one’s taking those risks.

VA: I think if fashion becomes a hotbed for the conversation, rather than the consumer and the trend centres dictating what’s cool, it can make those risky moves and find avant-garde, true talent that’s in the shadows. You know, there are amazing kids coming out of London, I’m sure – RCA, Central Saint Martins. But there are also kids coming from Atlanta. There are kids coming from New York, Brooklyn, the Bronx, who are Black kids, maybe with no formal training.

SO: When things are running amuck, people tend to go traditional, and it’s weird to see when people take that route. We have to reflect the times. We have to create that renaissance.

VA: What I’m excited about is the non-judgmental space. I don’t believe in genres, or disciplines of creativity, I like when they blur. I want to see this as a renaissance. I want to see some non-genre-defining amazingness, because I believe that our generation has that. I can’t wait to see what the pressure from 2020 built.

Hair: Odile Gilbert at Atelier68. Make-up: Hiromi Ueda at Art and Commerce. Models: Cheikh Dia at Models 1, Djily Kamara at Bananas Models, Ottawa Kwami at Premium Models, Rayan Lazac and Ismael Savane at 16Men, and Kestelmann Toussaint at Success. Casting: Mischa Notcutt at 11c Casting. Set design: Jean-Hugues de Chatillon. Manicure: Alexandra Janowski at Artlist. Digital tech: Matteo Miani at Dtouch. Photographic assistants: Clara Belleville, Chiara Vittorini and Carolina Beccari. Styling assistants: Felix Paradza and Mark Mutyambizi. Hair assistants: Taan Pham and Hugo Raiah. Make-up assistants: Miki Mastunaga and Camille Basson. Production: Studio Demi. Post-production: Dtouch

This article originally featured in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine which will be on sale from 8 April, 2021. Pre-order a copy hereand sign up for free access to the issue here.

Rianne Van Rompaey Willy Vanderperre AnOther Magazine cover

Cover Story: Rei Kawakubo on Anger, Passion and Dissonance

The Comme des Garçons designer and mother of all fashion disruptors discusses working throughout lockdown, digital media and her new collection

This article is taken from the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine. To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are making the issue free and available digitally for a limited time only to all our readers wherever you are in the world. Sign up here.

In September last year, a new prime minister was elected in Japan for the first time in almost eight years. The Tokyo Olympics, planned for summer 2020, were postponed: while they are scheduled to take place in July, even now no one is quite sure whether that will happen and, at time of writing, no singing or cheering will be allowed. Japan was among the first countries struck by the global pandemic – a state of emergency was declared there in April 2020. At a profoundly unstable moment in the history of that country – and the world at large – it feels important to listen to the voice of one of its great creators, a woman who has followed her own, highly unconventional path, without compromise. And if Japan is compelled to listen to Rei Kawakubo, so too is fashion. Her business, founded in 1969, is 52 years old, and there are few, if any, names that are as universally respected – even revered. In 2017, she became only the second living designer to be honoured with a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute in New York, following Yves Saint Laurent in 1983. Both names have fundamentally altered the way we look at fashion: Saint Laurent revolutionising women’s wardrobes, Kawakubo reconfiguring our perceptions of our own bodies in clothing, notions of status and, again, the way we choose to dress. So much do we take that for granted that we may no longer even be aware that our boiled-wool sweaters, our oversized dresses, our unlined, deconstructed jackets and even our wearing of head-to-toe black, other than for periods of mourning, started life here. The collective fashion memory is a short-term one but it is testimony to Kawakubo’s courage as a designer that, for many years, while she preached to a small audience (the converted), she ruffled the feathers of the establishment to the point where people left her shows confused and even disturbed. Other commentators simply ignored them: the shock of the new indeed.

The first time I met Kawakubo was at the Comme des Garçons showroom in Paris’s Place Vendôme in October 1996, a few days after she had shown one of her most famous – and controversial – collections. Featuring padded lozenges of fabric placed everywhere from the shoulder blades to the buttocks and hips, it was explained, in a statement from the label at the time, as Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body and has been ever since. For years the collection was described in more mainstream circles, and none too poetically, as ‘lumps and bumps’. And – inevitably – more than a few wondered: did their bums look big in this? Here is Amy Spindler, then fashion critic of the New York Times reviewing the show in that paper: “At one point, as a model emerged, her shoulders stuffed, a photographer yelled out ‘Quasimodo’ into the deathly silent presentation, with no music and certainly no chatting.” While there is often still no music or chatting at Comme des Garçons, no one would be as gratuitously ill-mannered today. It is all too easy to forget, though, how hard Kawakubo has fought to express her point of view. When I, meanwhile, asked the designer in person what the thinking behind this collection might be – and I have since repeated the anecdote many times – she picked up a pencil, drew a circle on a scrap of white paper and walked away. Perfect. I have been lucky enough to communicate with Kawakubo on several occasions over the two decades since then. While she is not shy – or certainly reclusive – she does insist that the clothes she designs speak for themselves. Or as she herself once said: “In normal everyday circumstances, of course I’m not reclusive, but this fascination with every nosy detail is so astonishing. It would be much better to know someone through that person’s work. With a singer, the best way is to listen to his song. For me, the best way to know me is to look at my clothing.”

In the autumn of last year, however, so affected was Kawakubo by the global crisis, she felt driven to vocalise her thoughts maybe more than ever before. In October, immediately following the showing of her Comme des Garçons collection in Tokyo at the company’s headquarters – it is the first time she has staged the show for her main line in her native country since the early eighties – she agreed to be filmed for the Japanese television programme News23. This, as far as we know, while clearly not intended as Kawakubo’s answer to Keeping Up with the Kardashians, is unprecedented. Previously, her voice has been recorded in interview – notably in a little-known and remarkable four-part documentary from 1998 called Un-Dressed: Fashion in the Twentieth Century, written and conceived by Sally Brampton, in which she talks over images of clouds moving across a blue sky – but she rarely agrees to appear in person. The conversation for the monograph that accompanied the aforementioned Costume Institute show begins: “I hate interviews.” (If Kawakubo is a woman of few words, no one would ever accuse her of mincing them.) Now though, speaking through a mask, her delicate features belying her resolve: “I wanted people to see how important the power of creation is at such a difficult time like this.” The term she used to describe the collection in question, meanwhile, was fukyo-waon. It translates as dissonance. Kawakubo continues to keep any discussion of inspiration to a minimum, preferring people to make up their minds for themselves. But, from her hands, and out of dissonance, for more than half a century, unparalleled creativity has come.

If the prevailing mood in fashion decrees that eased collections (lovely, maybe, but aimed squarely at the endlessly expanding market described as athleisurewear) are the order of the day – for the most obvious reasons – Kawakubo was never likely to follow that route. Instead, hers was a courageously iconoclastic collection and one that, despite any apparent discord, resulted in something extraordinary, as the designer herself says. Kawakubo was also intent on “disrupting the spirit of couture” – given that this is the mother of all fashion disruptors, that was something of an understatement. In fact, she turned that spirit on its head. Kawakubo speaks of anger, of difficulty, of fear, but her clothes are transportive, enchanting. Hugely generous in their depth of content, craft, ideas and often extreme beauty, they are a sight for Zoomed-out eyes.

In a small space flooded with crimson light (a bordello? Hell?) and to an audience smaller even than that in Paris – Kawakubo famously shows to no more than a few hundred guests – out came the voluminous, abstracted silhouettes that Comme des Garçons is known for. A whisper of an 18th-century pannier or a bustle, a fairy-tale cloak, over-blown dresses and skirts decorated with lace, knots and bows: festooned. But where, in the haute couture atelier, these would be cut in silks and satins, in Kawakubo’s hands they are padded, unapologetically acrylic and in places more rope than ribbon-like. At least some of these designs were wrapped in plastic. Imagine a vacuum-packed, punked- and popped-up Madame de Pompadour for this messed-up modern age.

Mickey Mouse was among the stars of the show this time, perhaps significant because Kawakubo went to school while the American army still occupied Japan. In his 1990 monograph on Comme des Garçons, the first extensive English-language text on the label, the writer and curator Deyan Sudjic observes: “By the time [Kawakubo] graduated, the country had decisively emerged from the ranks of the developing world. The ferment of those years provided unique opportunities for the members of a generation that was ready to make the most of them. They enjoyed the fruits of an economic success story which enabled Japan to look at the outside world in objective terms, to make its own creative contribution and, in the process, to assert its own identity as a mature, modern state.” Among the names that went on to do just that are the architects Tadao Ando and Arata Isozaki and Tokyo-based fashion designers Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo.

Like Coca-Cola, Disney’s Mickey Mouse is among the most instantly recognisable symbols of American culture. In the Spring/Summer 2021 collection, the clothes were teamed with snub-toed platform-soled shoes, not dissimilar to those he wears, and he appears as prints, repeated and overlapping to the point of abstraction, scribbled across surfaces like graffiti. Kawakubo has used this reference – and the childlike innocence it expresses – before. For her Autumn/Winter 2007 women’s collection, models wore candyfloss pink and parma violet dresses and Mickey Mouse ears, their bodies hugged by padded gloves reminiscent of Mickey’s embedded in the clothes. When asked about that particular collection, which appeared to concern itself with a young woman’s rites of passage, Kawakubo said simply that it was about “curiosity”. Kawakubo’s own curiosity is inspiring. She continues to ask questions – endlessly interrogating herself, questioning the world. Such restlessness drives her. Alongside the Disney character in last October’s show was Bearbrick, a collectible toy designed and produced by the Japanese company MediCom Toy Incorporated and ubiquitous in Japan, the Mickey of Tokyo. For Spring/Summer 2018, Kawakubo juxtaposed that other great Japanese toy – Hello Kitty – and blonde, blue-eyed manga princesses with digital prints of works by the 16th-century Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, painter of unsettling portraits made out of vegetables and fruit. Dissonance there too, then, not to mention a deep-rooted irreverence that decrees high culture and low culture are equally important and that Kawakubo takes such apparently separate worlds and makes the most beautiful sense of them.

Of course, fashion has changed immeasurably since Kawakubo started out, for better and for worse, but this great designer remains unswervingly committed to her craft. From small beginnings, she today heads up a fashion empire that includes not only many Comme des Garçons lines but the labels of Junya Watanabe and Noir Kei Ninomiya. In recent years she has been more willing to speak to a broader audience, not least with that 2017 retrospective. If, as she continues to argue, anger motivates her, so too does passion. And that passion to create and to communicate via creation has rarely felt as meaningful as it does now.

AnOther Magazine: I understand you worked non-stop throughout lockdown. Is that right?

Rei Kawakubo: I am afraid I won’t be able to create any more unless I keep going. Once I stop, that would be it. It is that fear that keeps me moving forward.

AM: While many people are showing collections digitally, you are filming live presentations, if necessarily shown to a small audience. What is the thinking behind that?

RK: I always want people to look at the clothes themselves and for the audience to see clothes on real people. Clothes deliver our messages better when they are worn. It is difficult to explain in words, but once the clothes are put on people, all their elements come into harmony and start showing their strength. That is because people and clothes step closer to each other, I think.

AM: So there are things digital media just can’t convey?

RK: Digital media would not be able to convey half the things I want to express. At a live show, you are able to feel things – the power of the clothes and the effort that has gone into making them, the atmosphere and the presence of people wearing them in front of you. Some people may believe otherwise, but for me to express something digitally would be a different thing – a deviation.

AM: This is the first time you have shown the Comme des Garçons main line in Tokyo for decades. How did you find that? How was it different and did you feel there was anything positive about it?

RK: To travel to Paris is physically very difficult right now. For business, however, we must do a show one way or another, and I feel strongly that I must constantly keep putting out new things too. So we must cope with this situation somehow. In Paris, people come from all over the world to see our show and they do not always say good things. They make negative comments sometimes. Also, in Paris, there is invisible competition with other designers. Tokyo certainly isn’t that kind of place, but all our staff work hard and the clothes we make and the process of making them are exactly the same as when we show in Paris. The only difference is that while, for Paris, you put the clothes on the aeroplane, in Tokyo you carry them up to the seventh floor.

AM: You have a big company. How does that responsibility affect you?

RK: Closing the stores for about a month last year caused a lot of damage to our business. It was not something I could solve no matter how much I struggled thinking about it. There were no customers from overseas either. There were things I could do during the 2008 financial crisis but this time everything was closed, including the factories. The question is how we recover from the loss now.

“The human brain always looks for harmony and logic. When harmony is denied, where there is no logic, when there is dissonance ... a powerful moment is created which leads you to feel an inner turmoil and a tension ... that can lead to finding positive change and progress” – Rei Kawakubo, October 2020 

AM: What are the particular difficulties that the pandemic has caused you personally and how would you say that has affected you creatively?

RK: Like I said, what made this crisis different is that there was nothing I could do about it. Before, there were a few things I could do to hold out. Today, there are many agendas to tackle in order to solve the problem. Our work is to make clothes, we have the next collections, exhibitions coming up, and we cannot stop that. Telecommunications are suggested as an alternative way forward but there are things that cannot be done that way. Manufacturing in particular. Not everything can be done with computers. There are things it is only possible to make by touching and feeling and using all the five senses. Human beings are creatures with sensibilities. I value the things people make with their hearts more than digitally fabricated things. There are obstacles and uncertainties under these circumstances, but as long as we can make things, there will always be a future.

AM: Your new collection features plastic wrap, Mickey Mouse and Bearbrick, as well as perhaps more familiar oversized and sculptural black designs. Can we talk about that a little?

RK: It is about dissonance, things that don’t match very well, but that feel good. I’m interested in dissonance because I believe good things come out of it, something curious, unexpected, something that feels new and that could lead us to the next step. In classical music, too, early works composed with dissonance were often heavily criticised but that invention is still valid today. Some people may find it repulsive when things of a contrasting nature crash into each other, but there is a chance we may find something different there. If things are neatly put together and positioned in a regular way all the time, there won’t be progress.

AM: And why did that interest you now?

RK: As the pandemic is interfering with our lives, the spirit of moving forward is also fading. And that very thing, I am afraid, may become an excuse for not challenging ourselves, reaching higher goals and making new creations – taking risks to move forward. The economy is down and life is hard but we must bear the hardship and look forward. There is no easy solution. I believe we should never stop.

AM: Do you feel that people are maybe less passionate now than they once were? And how has that affected fashion?

RK: Maybe not to feel and think is easier. People maybe don’t understand what there is to gain by struggling hard. They have less and less desire to be themselves and would rather be comfortable and blend in, wear safe clothes.

AM You neither wear nor design safe clothes. Is your drive to design intended to make the world a better place – or a more interesting place, certainly?

RK: I feel anxious I may lose that power any time soon. But for me, to live is to work, to create. Nothing else. I can only do what I can. I direct my anger to creation. I am happy if I can make something that inspires some people. If you want to make something you must make an effort and never stop. I believe that is true for other kinds of work too. Comme des Garçons owes what it is now to those who have dedicated their lives to manufacturing, at times at a cost to their personal lives. It is their work and efforts that form the foundation upon which we have built what we have today. We must carry on to advance further. What I am afraid of is that if this situation continues, people might start to feel like giving up, they may stop expressing themselves and vocalising their presence. In that case, a mood for being the same as everybody else would prevail and then the world becomes infertile.

Hair: Anthony Turner at Streeters. Make-up: Kathinka Gernant at Unspoken. Model: Rianne Van Rompaey at Viva London. Casting: DM Casting. Manicure: Lynn Meyer. Lighting technician: Romain Dubus. Digital operator: Henri Coutant. Photographic assistant: Samir Dari. Styling assistants: Louise Pollet, Jasmien Van Loo and Niccolo Torelli. Hair assistant: Claire Grech. Producer to Willy Vanderperre: Lieze Rubbrecht. Production: Mindbox. Producer: Isabelle Verreyke. Project manager: Lise Luyckx. Post-production: Triplelutz Paris

This article originally featured in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine which will be on sale from 8 April, 2021. Pre-order a copy here and sign up for free access to the issue here..

Malick Bodian Casper Sejersen AnOther Magazine cover 2021

Cover Story: The Modern Beauty of Malick Bodian

The Senegalese-Italian model stars in a story by Casper Sejersen and Ellie Grace Cumming, wearing Dunhill’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection

This story is taken from the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine. To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are making the issue free and available digitally for a limited time only to all our readers wherever you are in the world. Sign up here.

Hair: Yuji Okuda at Artlist. Make-up: Mathias van Hooff at Management Artists using BYREDO. Model: Malick Bodian at Success Models. Casting: Jess Hallett at Streeters. Set design: Jabez Bartlett at Streeters. Digital tech: Niklas Bergstrand. Lighting assistants: Dani Bastidas, Etienne Oliveau and Iris Guillaume della Roca. Styling assistants: Jordan Duddy, Isabella Kavanagh and Christelle Owona Nisin. Set-design assistants: Camila Perna and Sati Faulks. Production: Western Promises for Artistry Paris. Post-production: Freddie Heide at She Pos

This story originally featured in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine which will be on sale from 8 April, 2021. Pre-order a copy hereand sign up for free access to the issue here.

Eliot Sumner Alasdair McLellan AnOther Magazine cover 2021

Cover Story: Kim Jones’s Debut at Fendi Couture

Alasdair McLellan and Alister Mackie join forces once more to capture the British designer’s first collection as artistic director of women’s collections at Fendi

This story is taken from the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine. To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are making the issue free and available digitally for a limited time only to all our readers wherever you are in the world. Sign up here.

Hair: Anthony Turner at Streeters. Make-up: Anne Sophie Costa at Streeters using Forever Foundation and Capture Totale Super Potent Serum by DIOR. Models: Ivan Ogilvie-Grant at Supa Model Management and Eliot Sumner. Casting: Piotr Chamier at Streeters. Manicure: Lorraine Griffin. Photographic assistants: Simon Mackinlay and Matt Healy. Styling assistants: Vincent Pons and Edward Frith. Hair assistant: Claire Grech. Make-up assistant: Chiharu Wakabayashi. Casting assistants: Benedikt Hetz and Nico Cormandaye. Production: Ragi Dholakia. Production manager: Claire Huish. Production assistant: May Powell

This story originally featured in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine which will be on sale from 8 April, 2021. Pre-order a copy hereand sign up for free access to the issue here.

2021
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2020
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2018
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2015
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Kiki Willems Craig McDean AnOther Magazine cover 2021
Adwoa Aboah Jack Davison AnOther Magazine cover 2021
Lila Moss Sharna Osborne AnOther Magazine cover 2021
Ottawa Kwami Paolo Roversi AnOther Magazine cover 2021
Rianne Van Rompaey Willy Vanderperre AnOther Magazine cover
Malick Bodian Casper Sejersen AnOther Magazine cover 2021
Eliot Sumner Alasdair McLellan AnOther Magazine cover 2021