The plus points of being in a relationship with somebody who also works in fashion is that you can easily wile away an evening discussing the finer points of how lad culture has permeated fashion. Wait, did I say that was a plus point? It might be a bore for some, but Steve’s piece for i-D about how “lad” streetstyle – or to those from outside of the UK, male youth armies decked out in head to toe sportswear brands like Fila, Nike and Reebok striding around with a sort of swagger that pejoratively gets labelled as “chavvy” (so many verbal equivalents – I can’t even list them all…) – made me think about a similar vein of “ladette” style inflecting womenswear. If the word “ladette” confuses the issue, think of Vicky Pollard from Little Britain or for an even more global reference, Mel C in those early Spice Girls days.
They’re not the only references of course but they are useful when trying to articulate “chavette” culture. The important difference being though that whilst Little Britain is mocking the chavette with satire, female British designers are instead thinking about the fashion of their youth – what they saw, what they idealised and what they wore. Just as menswear designers like Christopher Shannon, Nasir Mazhar and newest kids on the trackie block Cottweiler are using fashion as a way of reinterpreting their teenhood uniforms, so it is that three young labels are doing the same for womenswear. And they’re not simply putting girls in the menswear counterparts (which brings us back to the topic of agendering, which Selfridges has proposed). Ladettes and chavettes add feminine slants to their Kappa and Fila ensembles with gold jewellery, make-up and ruched up sleeves and trackie bottoms. These designers, having grown up with these uniforms, have the smarts to also add their own nuanced touches that make us think twice about what a tracksuit top and bottom can be.
And so we come to Jenna Young of This is the Uniform. Young hails from Blackpool and after completing a fine art textiles degree at Goldsmith in London, started her label with the aim of investigating social systems and our psychological relationship with clothing. It’s these lofty goals which make her A/W 15-6 collection so fun to read into. With a look book shot in a British caravan park “up North” and a teenage girl stomping around in crisp satin ensembles in a violent palette of black, red and white (like Arsenal footie kits made feminine), you can physically feel this fictional protagonist’s hopes and dreams reverberating in your average nan’s chintz-filled house amongst pleather sofas and doily covered surfaces. The tracksuit in this instance is made sheer and adorned with red ribbon sports stripes or organza constructed honeycomb. Bomber jackets and boxer briefs collide with the spare bedroom’s static-filled cheap satin sheets from Argos (remember when satin sheets came in every colour?) As a final touch the sexualisation of adolescents rears (pun intended) its head on a pair of frilly knickers, one of which reads “Vicky”. Of course one of Young’s girl is called Vicky! There’s also a Crystal too. Discontent and desires kick about in this collection and they feel heartfelt and genuine on Young’s part.
Caitlin Price‘s debut collection for the most recent Fashion East show also ran in a similar vein. It’s a continuation of her Central Saint Martins MA collection, which I wrote about before as she once again blends in mid-19th century ruffles and voluminous pomp with early noughties casualwear. It’s a juxtaposition that works because the familiar and the slouchy become elevated with hand finished applique work and in Price’s intent to juxtapose artificial silk polyesters with luxurious duchesse satin. The fake and the real – there’s a theme that has been doing the rounds for A/W 15-6, most potently seen at Prada this season. Price also pitches zany raspberry and aqua with more grounded navy and monochrome. In her bid to ramp up the contrasts between the tracksuit and the traditionally decorative, Price succeeds at going far and beyond the banal.
On a sidenote, I know Price’s show had people raging over what they perceived to be inappropriate cultural appropriation with regards to use deployment of baby hairs. Putting aside the fact that actually kiss curls and matted down baby hairs dates back to Western European hair styles in the 18th century, it seems to me that like her satin rosette-laden tracksuits, the slicked baby hair styles on the models were taken so far from their original cultural context, that it ceases to become a patronising coo of “Oh doesn’t this hair style look so cool on white girls?” At least that’s how I read it.
On a further sidenote, naysayers will also be ready to poo-poo what the likes of Price and Young are doing as faintly mocking the “chav” gear of the working class – i.e. the disenfranchised. But in both cases, what stands out is the fact that Price and Young readily identify with these clothes. There’s a respect for this distinctive street style tribe and what they wear and there’s a sensitivity to how their uniforms are recontextualised and that’s what makes their work so interesting.
London-based but Russian-born designer Dasha Selyanova is coming from different nostalgic and cultural touchpoints than Young or Price when it comes to her young-ish brand ZDDZ – which took part in the S/S 15 VFiles show line-up. But I wanted to bring ZDDZ into this conversation in that Selyanova is also a woman creating clothes for women that are inspired by different aspects of tomboyish attire or “lad” culture, observed perhaps in her native Russia. If what Price and Young do gently comments on the social make-up of Britain, then what Selyanova is doing is more pointedly loud especially when you have Russian-inspired politicised slogans and graphics. ZDDZ’s A/W 15-6 collection was presented as a domestic mise-en-scene during Moscow Fashion Week two weeks ago, inspired by Selyanova’s youth spent in St Petersburg as the only girl hanging around rappers in oversized silhouettes. Like Young’s girl hanging around her grandparent’s home, these creative “slackers” have hopes and dreams and express them openly on video as part of a ZDDZ’s digital campaign.
What ties all three of these designers despite differences of geography is certainly a truthful expression of the longing of youth and beauty seen in unexpected places.