exclusive: symonds pearmain and lily mcmenamy discuss their collaboration for autumn/winter 19

“You're a cannibal and you haven't eaten in four days and on the menu today is fashion buyers.”

by Felix Petty
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17 February 2019, 10:32pm

Some models effortlessly embody certain brands. For Symonds Pearmain that model is Lily McMenamy. They’ve worked together from the very beginning, their first show saw Lily embody a series of archetypes to bring their fashion to life. Few shows, or brands, or even models, have so successfully and interestingly meshed together and investigated that relationship beyond body/stereotype/garment, and explored the transformative joy of fashion (this coat will change your life!)

Having shown off-schedule and behind closed doors last season, they are making a welcome return to LFW this season with an intimate presentation. Lily is working as Movement Director for the brand now, the leader of the pack, a force of modelling nature. Last night at Matches’ 5 Carlos Place event space, Symonds Pearmain presented a roaringly fun and fierce show. Models gave it, and worked it, strutted in your face down a cramped runway to sounds of David Bowie’s Fashion and Blondie’s Rapture. A kind of original-cool stereotype in itself, the platonic ideal of the fashion show soundtrack.

The clothes themselves were another platonic ideal, channeling a past vision of British radical craft, from William Morris to Vivienne Westwood. The colour palette and fabrics were muted – a proper autumnal mix of khakis and cords, beiges and blacks, stiff leathers softened with ribbons and bows. It played off Britishishness, mixing the energy of the streets with bourgeois refinement and a satirical, investigate, witty edge, to complicate it all. The show notes were taken from French erotic-surrealist Georges Bataille 1949 work, The Accursed Share, Volume 1: Consumption. Apt for a show-in-a-shop – buy-now-think-later! That’s always been a part of the Symonds Pearmain ethos, this need to think a little deeper and investigate a little bit more into the structures that prop up the fashion industry. But what they do, most importantly, is fun, and joyful, and exciting.

Pre-show, we got Anthony Symonds, Max Pearmain and Lily McMenamy together to have a little chat and talk and fashion, modelling, cannibals, nostalgia and more…

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So let’s talk about Lily – she’s the life and soul of the brand.
Anthony Symonds: Lily is the physical embodiment of style. She has this incredible fashion pedigree, but also there's this whole other layer to her, she has an intellectual and physical understanding of movement and how you can express forms of glamour and fashion with the body. That is something that very few can do, or have the same level of insight and understanding about it that Lily does. It's something she can play with, something she can exploit, and do whatever she wants with, because she's got a total physical comfort in that range of movement. We've worked with Lily from the very beginning and the first thing we did was this kind of mad salon presentation and we put this incredible stress on her. We're invited all these hardcore fashion people and put some clothes on her and made it up to her to carry it. Then she just completely took it to some other level we didn’t think was possible. It was also the first time anyone really reached out to Lily, and instead of just trying to make her be like another model -- or dare I say, be like her mum -- instead said ‘You are incredible. Do the thing that you do, do whatever you want to do.’ I think for us, that was a turning point.
Max Pearmain: That show really set a precedent for what we do right at the beginning. We gave Lily these archetypes to perform – that idea of archetypes is kind of how we approach everything. So she was a cheerleader, a soldier, a nurse... You know, those are pretty basic things in themselves, but that literalism exists in fashion, and that's part of the joy of fashion, but what you need is a firecracker in there to make it modern, to make it about a play with identity, and Lily does that, and hopefully we do that. It's a really nice symbiosis.
Lily McMenamy: That show was the first time someone trusted me in that way. I think, in general we have a similar approach. We both love to blur the boundaries between art and fashion and whatever because those boundaries don’t matter anymore. I like to play with a live experience because people are actually coming to see you. It's not about having a nice basic photo on style.com, it should be an event! Models have things to say, models are people, and we can express ourselves in different ways in life. It's just such a shame, I feel lobotomised when I'm on the runway a lot of the time, it can be quite disheartening because I know these girls are actually quite sick.
AS: That really resonates with us, because we've always been really clear that these commercially constructed boundaries between artforms are collapsing and feel increasingly irrelevant. There's a constant commercial race to the bottom. We're very much about trying to understand the fashion show as a form that is not about commerce but as a kind of theatre. That is what Lily uncovered for us.

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How’s your relationship and collaboration grown over the years?
LM: It felt like we were in an 80s punk band in the beginning, and now it's like we're U2.

Lily is the Movement Director for this show. Can you say a little about that?
AS: The show is taking place in a very small venue so you immediately have this almost confrontational contact with the audience, and Lily was the obvious choice to bring it to life. Her job is to fire-up girls, show them how it’s done, lead the pack. Lily can share what you were planning to say to the girls?
LM: “You're a cannibal in the street and you haven't eaten in four days, on the menu today is fashion buyers.”
AS: I think that says it all really.

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Can we talk a bit about the clothes, the inspirations, the feeling of the fashion this season.
MP: We always have a woman in mind. This season she's older, potentially trying to recapture the things she was. There's a degree in the clothes that are both modern and old in that way, they have an echo in them. There’s a bit of nostalgia…
AS: But still having that kind of elegance and that sort of attitude in the way she is putting her clothes together.
MP: It's very King's Road, I think, and what that road symbolically means, and the variety of what it represents. So she's Kings Road, from a certain time, though, because you can go to the King's Road now and it's totally tragic. I like being able to reduce things down in context to the name of a street, whether that’s in London or Milan or Paris.
AS: Nostalgia is a currency in fashion, yet the reality of that is that most of the people who are exploiting that nostalgia weren't there, they don't know anything about it. They've googled something that happened and it’s been copied and copied and copied and doesn't really have any authentic connection to that past anymore. Nostalgia is a memory of a memory and I think that's a really interesting idea, in a way it’s a collection about nostalgia almost not for a specific moment in time, but an idea of nostalgia about clothing in general. It’s about trying to somehow construct that, to put some of those feelings and sense of how clothing used to feel together in a catwalk presentation.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.