We take you on a whistle-stop tour of the inspirations behind up-and-coming menswear designer Rachel James’ first collection for SS15
Since the London Collections: Men fashion week launched in 2012, trend-led menswear has become an increasingly important part of the British fashion scene. With more and more men now starting to experiment with their sartorial style, we needed something – or should that be someone… – to add a bit of colour to the sea of greyscale suits.
Enter Rachel James: the antidote to menswear monotony! After seeing the Westminster Fashion Design graduate’s pastel-hued, flower power-inspired collection troop down the runway for her graduate show in May, we knew it wouldn’t be the last we’d see of her eclectic, modern menswear. True to form, James is going to fully launch her clothing into the fashion world this September in the only way she knows how: with a BANG. We caught up with the designer to talk art, travel and inspiration.
You recently graduated from the University of Westminster with a BA in Fashion Design. Tell us a bit about your journey up to that point…
Although I didn’t necessarily used to think in terms of fashion, I’d always loved fine art. But I never really wanted to pursue fine art because it wasn’t exciting enough for me. Then I became more and more interested in fashion and thought that I liked the pace of it. I get bored quite quickly and I knew that I loved working with people, so it kind of came together like that. Then after finishing school I decided to go and travel the world to get a bit more inspired and that was fab. I matured a little bit as well which was needed before university! I do work very, very hard, but, equally, when I was younger I did like to party very hard too. And I just thought that I’d go out and have a good time. So, I did all that, and I think that made me really focused to come back and start my studies. I went to Manchester Met. for my Foundation Art and again had a great time. But I couldn’t even sew at this point! I was just interested and keen and was still always drawing actually. So then I applied to various universities, and I went to Westminster and just loved it. I definitely wanted to be in London; I love London! And Westminster have the year out in industry option, which a lot of other universities don’t do on a fashion design course. Everyone knows that fashion’s the kind of industry where you have to have a lot of hands on experience, as with a lot of industries, but lots of courses only offered a term.
So had you ever lived in London before?
When I was eighteen actually I interned at Dior for three months, which was the first time I moved to London. I worked in the Sales department so that I could still be working in high-end fashion. That was my first placement and that was the place that really toughened me up, which, I think, was necessary. I just learnt so much about high-end fashion and the kind of customers you need. I didn’t really appreciate it that much at the time, but now I’m doing my own label so much of it is sort of bubbling up and I am so pleased that I’ve actually worked for a luxury brand. I learnt a huge amount, but I learnt by far the most in my year out, which I’m so pleased I did.
You interned at Todd Lynn, Acne and Josh Goot during your time at university. What was that like?
Todd Lynn was my placement in second year. That was my first proper design placement and that was fab. In my year out I was very fortunate to be snatched up by Acne almost immediately. So I moved out of my house, said goodbye to all my friends got on a flight to Sweden. I had nowhere to live; I just flew out with my backpack! But I had a wonderful time. By three weeks in they’d already said to me “Rachel, we love you, can you please stay? Can you please do six months?”. So I lived in Sweden for almost seven months, which was amazing. It was just the best of both worlds because I love travelling so much, but then I learnt so much working for a global brand as well. Halfway through that I fell in love with my current man and he persuaded me once I’d finished my placement at Acne to move to Australia, because he was living in Australia at the time. But that’s a whole other story! So, once I’d finished in the March I flew out and moved in with him in Sydney. Then that’s when I interned for Josh Goot. So I interned with that company in Sydney for four months.
Wow! So did you know you wanted to be a menswear designer from the very beginning?
Up until my fourth year I was actually still doing womenswear, so I’ve only recently changed to menswear. I guess I hadn’t really worked out what my calling was. At university, cliché as it is, you really are trying to find out who you are, and to find out what you’re good at. Obviously I wanted to be a designer, but I came back from my year out having done so much hands on construction that I realised how much I care about the fit of garments and that I really love things fitting beautifully and looking functional. I could spend so much time obsessing over pocket placements and the type of zips I use!
In your work in particular, playing with and perfecting the form of a garment does seem to stand out as a common theme.
Thank you, that’s honestly so nice to hear from someone who’s just seen the collection. It wasn’t until after I’d met my boyfriend – because he’s so interested in fashion – that I realised that men actually appreciated this stuff. Men appreciate beautifully crafted clothing and pocket placements and zip trims! So I went straight into final year being like: “I’m a menswear student now”. There’s not enough exciting menswear; I’m gonna bring it. I have all of these ideas and now I can channel them into producing menswear clothing. Pow!
So who are your clothes aimed at then?
That’s quite a big question! I mean, I want the kind of man who wears my clothes to be excited about what he’s wearing. Not just someone who dresses himself because he has to. I want the kind of man who really takes care in what he looks like. He’s prepared to pay a little bit more for beautiful fabrics and beautiful fits knowing that the T-shirt’s not going to shrink in the wash. I want men to look at something and feel like it’s exciting; I want them to look at it as a concept. My garments might be a bit crazy in terms of colours and prints, but they’re still ultimately real clothing and that’s really important to me. I don’t just want to focus on the kind of garment that you’d see in a museum somewhere. I want to bring a bit more exciting menswear to the table.
What can we expect for Spring/Summer 2015?
Spring/Summer 2015 is an expansion on my graduate collection, because since I finished I’ve had so many emails with people saying “love the concept, love the colours. Do you do T-shirts? Do you do sweatshirts? Do you do shorts?” and I’m like “yes”! So we’re going to be launching a pop-up store in September which is very exciting. We’re still looking into several locations, so dates are to be confirmed, but it will be announced on my Twitter account. I’m doing it in collaboration with my friend Robbie Anson Duncan who’s a 3D installation illustrator. It’s going to be super fab!
So you’re now evolving your initial look into a fully functioning collection?
A commercial and more exciting collection, yes. And it’s going to be on sale from September when we have the pop-up store.
Can you talk us through it?
I went to an exhibition at the Science Museum for the photography of Tony Ray-Jones and I just loved how there are all these grumpy English men in the photographs, just at the seaside or with their families in their homes and they were all from seventies, working class Britain. There were all these crazy wallpapers and the women were wearing these frumpy floral frocks and there was just so much clashing of colours and prints and florals all around. But then all the guys were in suits and just looking quite severe. So I really wanted to get the men involved in the fun! That’s kind of where it started. I wanted to do a casual collection for men, because I didn’t want guys to feel too restricted in my clothing. I started looking at all these floral wallpapers, and I thought ‘I want to do my own take on that’. So by digging through my grandma’s florals from her house I found all these pressed flowers that looked beautiful. So I pinched them and scanned them in and I actually used Granny’s pressed flowers for my prints! All my prints are pressed flowers that I scanned in at a crazy resolution, changed all of the colours on Photoshop and then built the prints from that.
And apart from the pop-up shop, have you got any other plans for the future?
I’m so excited for the future. I’m just so excited to be doing my own label! So I’m doing the pop-up, called Creative Space, and that will be really fun and really colourful. I don’t really want to say too much yet, because I want it to be a bit of a surprise. But that’s definitely going to be for one week in September. And then after that we will be starting our collection for London Collections: Men in January. Fingers crossed! So I’m basically trying to push forward and do something new and totally different. Not florals! Something different…
Words: Samantha Southern