When I wrote about Copenhagen-based designer Wali Mohammed Barrech’s latest SS15 collection shown under terse and rousing circumstances, I wrote about the diminishing strand of fashion that seeks to comment, provoke and perhaps even disturb. That conversation has shifted to editorials (often crossing the boundary from contemplative to crass) and at present only a handful of designers at the top of their game, dare to put out a creative statement that actually rocks the boat politically and socially. Ok, perhaps clothes on a runway don’t actually incite political/social change. But even merely passing comment on what is going on in the world around us (as opposed to an obscure abstract artist, 1960s swinging London or Game of Thrones-esque fantasy – nothing wrong with those inspiration points of course…) can seem too like too onerous a task for the majority. Weirdly, another fellow Dane, menswear designer Trine Lindegaard, who happened to be at CIFF in Copenhagen has slowly but surely been ticking the social conscious box, without shouting it out loud from a morally-aloft soapbox. Let’s call it “social design” to put it in a category. And her collections are all the better aesthetically because they happen to be meaningful in a social context.
Doubly weird that, Lindegaard’s most recent collections – S/S 15 and A/W 14-5 reminded me of two exhibits in London, which I saw a fortnight ago. I came away from a fruitful Saturday, having seen artist Lucy Sparrow‘s impossibly kitsch The Cornershop installation near Columbia Road, Lorenzo Vitturi’s Dalston Anatomy exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery and I also dropped by Alex Noble’s EMG (Everything Must Go) initiative where remnants of Kit Neale, Giles Deacon, Louise Gray, Agi & Sam and more were made up into “Salvage T-shirts” with proceeds going to TRAID and Childhope. Conscience. Community. Social awareness. An appreciation for tradition. These were my main takeaway points from the day. They’re the things that increasingly whir around my fashion brain, despite the fact that fashion at large tries to wriggle its way out of these “responsibilities”.
One artist that doesn’t look upon being socially aware as a responsibility but a motivation is Lorenzo Vitturi. Through photographs fused with prop installation, Ridley Road Market in Dalston, where Vitturi lives, is brought to life. I don’t mean the trendy bars, concept shops and designer studios but the ethnically diverse community, who come together to buy everything from tupperware to plantain to super cheap joints of meat. It’s the Dalston that I remember from my youth, when my mum would come here to get real deal boiling chickens (essential for Chinese soup). Vitturi makes comment on the process of gentrification that isn’t just applicable to East London (love that he encountered people in Dalston asking him where the nearest Prada was.) He freeze-frames a colourful moment in Dalston, which will soon become extinct – for better or for worse. As someone living in an area of London, which has yet to undergo gentrification, it seemed particularly relevant. The exhibition is on at The Photographer’s Gallery until October 19th. Go if you can. And then take the 243 to Ridley Road – the market, as opposed to the fashion-y bits.
Behind Columbia Road, artist Lucy Sparrow has found a gentler way of passing comment on the spirit of community. Sparrow believes in “sewing for the soul” and so devoted hours to create 4,000 corner shop products entirely made out of felt – a material often associated with childish primary school craft. Everything from a pack of Rich Tea biccies to a copy of The Guardian to the frozen peas in the freezer were lovingly sewn and stuffed. When we went, there were also two “chav” girls hanging outside, asking us to buy cans of squishy Stella for them. It’s a complete experience-based installation that will send waves of nostalgia crashing over you as well as instilling you with a new found appreciation for hand sewing. Sparrow maintains that she created it for the pure fact that it’s so bonkers as an idea, but on a serious level, The Corner Shop is a “fluffy shopping experience” that is a quintessentially British slice of life and perhaps one that requires preservation and appreciation on some level. It’s on until the end of August if you want to get tactile with these wooly treats.
It was hard not to draw parallels between the two exhibitions and what Trine Lindegaard has been doing over the past few seasons. The appreciation of the African community in Vitturi’s work and the use of African textiles within his installations chimes in nicely with Lindegaard’s ongoing work with Venusmerc, run by the Kuevi family in Akkra, Ghana, who hand weave beautiful kente fabrics, native to the Akan ethnic group . She’s gone to the primary and authentic source of these oft-referenced designs as opposed to reproducing them elsewhere on the cheap. It’s also the repeat commission on Lindegaard’s part that is admirable – that she’s not just going a bit “Africana” one season but instead she has worked with this family repeatedly to create evolving designs so that their business can be sustained. Her latest A/W 14 collection combines kente fabric weaving with Scandinavian patterns – a cultural dialogue that carries this craft on and exposes it to new audiences. Lindegaard mixes up her specially commissioned kente with sportswear fabrics too that propels the aesthetic and ensures Africana isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan seasonal trend.
Sparrow’s tagline “Sew Your Soul” comes to mind when we then turn to Lindegaard’s second socially conscious mode of production. She has once again worked with Fine Cell Work, a UK social enterprise that trains a network of prisoners across the country in paid, skilled and creative needlework undertaken whilst they’re in prison to help foster hope, discipline and self-esteem. The headline quote says it all. “I am learning a new skill, which I did not think possible. I now believe what others think about me makes a real difference to how I conduct myself,” says one prisoner in Wandsworth. So far so idealistic. The picture of burly prisoners deftly cross-stitching might be a stretch but the work is for everyone to see and purchase – finely stitched cushions, bags and quilts. Initially Lindegaard worked with the prisoners of Fine Cell Work on producing designs that she had come up with but seeing some of the inmates’ artwork was also an inspiring process. She learned that some of the prisoners were former tattoo artists that could apply their illustration skills to embroidery. For S/S 15, which I got a sneak peek of at CIFF, Lindegaard asked the prisoners to create embroideries depicting their idea of happiness. They’re mostly quite naive and childlike but those are the qualities, which appealed to Lindegaard and so she transferred some of them to neoprene patchwork sweatshirts. Lindegaard has also slowly segued into womenswear as her brand of #SocialDesign is hardly gender specific. These pictures are touching when you realise they convey their desires, hopes and dreams when they’re released. Without questioning what prisoners have done in the past, Lindegaard together with Fine Cell Work, instead focus on the future and eventual rehabilitation into society.
What Lindegaard is doing is commendable on all fronts and the resulting clothes? Joyful, uplifting and yes, still fun – despite having ticked that social responsibility box.
Photographs from Confessions of a Design Geek
Original artwork by an inmate who works for Fine Cell Works, used in Trine Lindegaard’s AW13 collection