Matty Bovan sets sail for AW21
The York-based designer’s latest collection brought a bit of storytelling back to fashion, centering on a cast of characters stranded at sea.
Courtesy of Matty Bovan Studio
On the phone from his home-turned-studio in rainy York, Matty Bovan is explaining the story behind his AW21 collection, titled Odyssey. "It’s about these three worlds that exist as one story, set in these extreme elements and that terrifying feeling of being stranded at sea,” explains the designer. A crew of characters, in other words, are shipwrecked by a dramatic storm, falling into a dizzying state, before eventually emerging on the shores as dishevelled and utilitarian. As his show notes put it, the collection is “ultimately about humanity’s constant survival against external forces, and a battle with reality. The characters are swept away in a cycle of extreme events, and whether this cycle ever ends or just continues, is unknown.” Sound familiar? Even before the isolation of lockdown, we knew the world was ending. Matty’s collection could be the perfect allegory for the cyclonic storm we’re currently drowning in, if not solely because of the pandemic, then quite literally due to rising water levels around the world.
However, Matty insists that the collection wasn’t an explicit response to the climate crisis, instead it seeped into his subconscious as he spent more time in nature, visiting the coast with his parents, and diving into an ocean of naval research. The three parts to the collection — the Fall, the Void and the Light — each have sartorial plot devices to help the story along, beginning with the windswept characters glittering in thousands of upcycled Swarovski crystals and handmade sustainable sequins before falling beneath the waves during a storm. Their colours become saturated on merino wool fisherman sweaters, and their jewellery intensified by an altered state. It ends with them in utilitarian waders, hand-painted skirts and coats wrapped around the body like billowing sails.
As always with Matty’s colourful, quixotic collections, there’s a lot to look at — Chinoiserie jacquards! Psychedelic crochets! `Denim naval coats! Crystal-strewn fishnets! — but at its heart is a heartfelt emphasis on handcraft and illustrative hand-painted surfaces, made as locally as possible. The designer is a finalist in this year’s International Woolmark Prize, which enabled him access to incredible wool suppliers and manufacturers across the country. Where most of the population was taking up crafts as hobbies to pass the time during lockdown, Matty continued his celebration of DIY in his studio and searched for local craftspeople to work with. “It’s always exciting to see what people can do, especially with their hands,” he says. “Even before lockdown, we never had a big studio or lots of people around, so there wasn’t a big shift in how we made things.”
Many of the materials are upcycled, like the ISKO denim made in Wales, and the offcuts of merino wool from a factory in Pudsey. He even found some knitters in York and Leicester who helped with the crochet and fisherman’s cable-knits, and his mum, Plum, chimed in, too, making some of the chains threaded into belts becoming skirts and tops. “It makes sense to practise what you preach,” he says. “I think every season, it’s like cooking a huge banquet with lots of things on the go and a lot of it, for me, is instinct.”