For someone who’s first fashion foray was creating a Rocky Horror-inspired bin-bag basque, Charlotte Roden has come a long, long way. The recent Middlesex University graduate and post-punk fanatic utilises her complete obsession with fan culture and the avant-garde musical artistry of her favourite bands to create men’s clothing that explores fanboy subculture and questions what menswear is meant to be.
Believing that designers could benefit more from the support of a cult following than relying on buyers and press to help them make their mark, Roden interned with fashion rebels, Meadham Kirchhoff, Kit Neale and Hermione de Paula, giving her a priceless education in the realities of the fashion industry. Approaching her design process in a similar way to how her favourite artists would create a new record, Roden’s designs are expressions of her desire for more freedom and fluidity in menswear, in the most fanboy-ish way possible.
For her graduate collection – titled “For The Lads” – Roden looked towards the gender expressions (or lack thereof) in 90s bands Suede and Manic Street Preachers, and juxtaposed the realities of fanboy life with the fascinating appearances of Hollywood glamour icons. Crafted from linens, tweeds, feminine satins and velvets, Roden’s collection is an eclectic mish-mash of screen-printing details and pleating, with details such as the bra-like straps, super-tight tops and 70’s flares questioning the difference between “mens” and “womens” clothing. Her collaged prints on muted rose-gold lamé resemble the posters that adorn fanboy bedroom walls and give a nod to lad culture with slogans like “FOR THE LADS”; Roden’s designs give a shout out to all you fangirls/fanboys out there.
What’s your earliest fashion memory?
Being faced with a costume based project in high school. My first time sat at a sewing machine I stitched bin-bags and sellotape basques inspired by The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
What made you want to do menswear design?
Mens fashion is something that never occurred to interest me until being given a mens based ‘muse’ project in my second year of university. From this, I explored mens fashion with a light-hearted sense of humour, intrigued by ways of pushing boundaries in typical ways of men’s dress. I find that with menswear there is more field to explore character and the juxtaposition of how men are expected to dress and how they would like to dress.
Your graduate collection looked like it was made out of DIY poster collages and came straight from a teenager’s bedroom – what was the starting point for the collection and how did it develop?
From my excessive interest in fan culture, I built up a world around characters that I had imagined who were inspired by bands such as Suede and Manic Street Preachers from the 1990’s. The demonstration of a couldn’t-care-less attitude towards gender in the way that these bands presented themselves and their music. The collection took inspiration from the ‘Hollywood dream’ and teenage-bedroom fandom.
What was your teenage bedroom like?
As a teenage hoarder and collector, my bedroom, which I shared with my sister, was plastered with posters of boy bands and full of stacks and stacks of magazines, CDs and singles.
What was the most valuable lesson you learnt while creating your graduate collection?
To be able to have fun with what you’re creating was the most important. Freedom and fluidity in design allowed me to express myself with honesty and sincerity. Taking yourself too seriously is never going to communicate well to others.
What’s so fascinating about fangirls/fanboys?
Levels of dedication, passion and infatuation towards a complete stranger is a feeling that we have all developed at some point. The irrationality of thoughts/behaviour and the compulsion to act upon them is a mentality that when communicated through dress is remarkable.
Does your love of post-punk music inspire your aesthetic? What is it about post-punk that you love and who’s your post-punk pin-up?
Completely! I try to approach my way of design in the same way a post-punk musician would a new record. In what ways can I comment on social/political matter in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously and goes against the norm? Richey Edwards of The Manic Street Preachers was a pioneer of politicised and intellectual songwriting and of pushing the boundaries in gender and glamour in rock music.
What’s your design process like – do you like to plan everything or are you very spontaneous with your designs?
Thinking of a silhouette and mood of the overall look is my main starting point. The muse or boy I picture at the end is always key to the individual pieces I design. What would this boy want to pick up and wear? Each piece is then designed to fit the overall mood and intention of the expression.
A selection of your portfolio work will be included in the 3rd edition of The Fundamentals of Fashion Design! How did this come about?
One of my tutors at Middlesex is working on the new edition and had seen some of my portfolio work from my Pre-Collection which he thought communicated good portfolio skills. He asked to use it as part of the book which was, to me, a great achievement.
You’ve interned at Kit Neale and Hermione De Paula – how did all your internships differ? How valuable do you feel interning is to a young designer?
As both of these were print-based designers- I have developed an eye for the use of print (mostly digital) and ways of using placements and slogans to express an idea or statement. Working at Kit Neale for so long really opened my eyes up to the industry. I was able to gain experience in all areas of running a fashion label and producing a collection. I’m so grateful for the responsibilities he offered me which gave me great confidence as a designer to produce my graduate collection. For me, interning is crucial to building up a wider knowledge of the industry and also to meeting and socialising with new contacts.
You also interned at Meadham Kirchhoff – how do you feel about them dissolving the brand? What mark do you think they left on the fashion industry?
Being with Meadham Kirchhoff in what lead up to be their final ever show is a sentimental feeling. It showed to me that the industry can be cruel to creativity and that there seems to be so much more focus on wholesale and saleability than on passion, expression and fashion as art. Meadham Kirchhoff will always have a cult following and have left a lasting impact of what is possible to present in a fashion show when design, innovation and passion is at the forefront of what you do.
Do you think there are enough opportunities for graduate/up and coming designers to showcase their work, and if not, why?
I think the industry today is very over-populated with new designers who are falsely lead by the industry and most likely will not be able to keep their heads above water for many more seasons. The demands of wholesale fast-turnarounds and the idea of seasons and ‘fashion shows’ is expensively killing creativity in young design. I believe much more in a structure of a cult following. Designers should be able to build their own following rather than relying on buyers and press.
What’s next for you? Do you want to launch your own label?
I have been intrigued by the public’s response to my graduate collection. The reaction of the models who have worn my designs have inspired me to continue pushing what I envision for more freedom and fluidity in men’s dress. However, as much as I would love to pursue this right now- I think it would be more sensible to gain more industry experience to develop my knowledge and skills so that I can work out a better way of being able to survive as a designer in today’s industry.