The emerging designer making subversive menswear for life in London
From five-to-a-bathroom flatshares to finding yourself and falling in love, Aaron Esh offers a wardrobe for coming of age in the British capital.
Photography Ivan Ruberto
What does it mean to be young in London today? Well, a designer who’s set about unearthing the answer to that question is Aaron Esh. Born and raised in Islington, north London, the CSM graduate’s designs are about real life – from going out, being broke, and living in flat shares with five other people, to falling in love and finding yourself. While so much fashion today escapes to themes of fantasy, Aaron’s designs don’t shy away from the struggles of young people living in post-Brexit, Tory Britain; making their way through a crushing cost of living crisis, rising rents and a two-year pandemic. Vitally though, his work also seeks out real joy and beauty to be discovered in London, too. “My mum’s Polish and my dad’s Cypriot, so with my background I don't really feel patriotic, but I do feel I am London,” Aaron says. “My work takes influence from being in your 20s in the city and an elevated, chic wardrobe.”
Aaron started out with a brief stint studying graphic design, but he quickly dropped out to enrol on a BA menswear course at London College of Fashion, and then went on to receive the Alexander McQueen scholarship for Central Saint Martins’ prestigious MA Fashion programme, from which he graduated earlier this year. It was at LCF that he crafted his subversive BA collection, which channelled the frustration he felt towards an unaffordable London. “Between Brexit, the vote, and Tory Britain I was broke and making clothes on a domestic machine in my house with five flatmates,” he remembers of the collection, which melded tailoring held together with massive safety pins, sexy low-slung leather trousers, and disintegrating dress shoes.
Shown in February of this year, his MA collection spoke to a new stage in the designer’s life. “It’s about being in your late 20s and early 30s, falling in love and romance,” says Aaron of the sustainably-crafted outing, which has just launched on SSENSE. “I watched loads of old French Alain Delon films, read his letters to Romy Schneider, and listened to a lot of Amy Winehouse. I took these romantic elements and put them into a story that existed in my world.”
Marrying the allure of 1970s French cinema with the flare of a modern east London boy, the collection presents Aaron’s personal vision of “love, desire and chic”. He used digital scans of the human body to perfectly shape his designs to the wearer, and employed a variety of unusual techniques to create the pieces, such as 3D printing, leather manipulation and metal casting. One standout piece sees a twisted copper shape form the glistening clasp of a skin-baring tank top, while another sees a 3D-printed cast moulded into the shoulders of a leather bomber to create a dramatic, hunched silhouette. Elsewhere, beautiful tailoring and body-hugging hoodies crafted in a subdued palette of teal, lilac, and deep grey conjure a moody sort of romance that only a city like London could inspire.
As with his BA collection, the story the MA outing tells is a deeply personal one, down to the most minute details. The sculptural elements of the collection are tributes to his mother, who is an artist, and much of the spirit of the collection is borrowed from the lives and wardrobes of his mates. One pair of tailored trousers, for example, is tied at the back with a stringy leather bow inspired by seeing a friend use a shoelace as a makeshift belt.
With their attention to the body and sensual moulded shapes, Esh’s clothes are designed to make you feel confident, sexy and completely yourself. “I think it's forgotten that you wear clothes to feel fit,” he says. “But I don’t think it's so much about clothes that are designed to shag someone on a night out; I thought a lot about date night clothes, and the clothes that you want to wear to go for dinner. I'm 31 now, and I want to go out and feel really chic and really handsome.”
The designer hopes this feeling of grown-up sensuality, paired with the painstaking craft of his work, will make his pieces special to the people who buy them, too. “I think it's this feeling of confidence from wearing beautifully made clothes that are perfectly cut,” he explains. “These are two things that are really important to me; we fit things three, four times so that they cut perfectly. And that's where sustainability comes in as well – it's not just about the product being made from organic cotton, it's making a piece that someone will want to want to have forever.”
Aaron is currently working with a small studio team on a new collection which is set to be revealed in September. As his brand begins to take off, he says this moment is about staying true to himself and growing his identity as a designer. “If you're authentic then you survive, because that's what's the most engaging,” he says. “I want to present a new body of work that is exciting, has stories behind it, and is poignant and authentic. I care about the Britain that we live in and what's happening around the world; the UK, the Conservatives, Brexit and trade unions. These things really matter to me whether they fall directly into the work or not, but I think it's much more about finding positivity than rebellion.”
Photography Ivan Ruberto