get lost in aries’ world of streetwear, anti-fashion and trash culture
As unisex streetwear brand Aries launches its new site, we speak with the brand’s creator Sofia Prantera about working with Palace’s Fergus Purcell and loving Phoebe Philo.
As a youth in Rome, Sofia Prantera remembers the day her English mom came back from scoping out London's Central Saint Martins (for Sofia's sister) with a bunch of copies of The Face magazine. "I just saw this vision that was completely different," she explains. "I collected them for years and still have most of the old issues of i-D and The Face. It was definitely the inspiration behind me starting fashion."
Sofia went on to work on a variety of brands, most famously Silas, before setting up Aries in 2012 to reconcile her love for "fashion, beautifully made and cut clothes, and sartorial experimentation with the love for streetwear, anti-fashion youth movements and trash culture." In many ways, the label pre-empted a return to exciting early 90s-era influences and experimentalism that can be seen at houses like Vêtements. At Aries, you're as likely to get a raw-edged silk dress as you are a skater logo t-shirt, with cartoon graphics courtesy of her friend and collaborator, Fergus Purcell.
The new site is an opportunity for Sofia to show the kind of ideas that inspire her collections. She says Aries is a subtle brand, so "it's really important to have a window on our world, especially with so many layers and references."
How do you think streetwear has changed over the years?
Steetwear used to be fashion. That movement in the mid-80s -- that gave us designers like Galliano and Westwood -- was streetwear. Streetwear was about being anarchic and pushing fashion boundaries, but then it became skatewear, or something -- packaging youth culture and selling it for as much as you can. That's when I became pissed off with it. Streetwear had become a dirty word in a way. That was when fashion started pushing the boundaries and people got into high fashion, because they were the ones experimenting. But now it's gone full circle again.
Silas was quite an iconic label. What did it represent?
I was working at Slam in the 90s and I started to do an in-house label that didn't last long. Then me and Russell, who I did Silas with, started this label called Holmes, and that's when Fergus came in. It was all menswear and I was designing it. That was the time of X Large and Fuct and it was all rebellious and American, and we were doing it from England. I thought, "No-one's going to believe this brand coming from this small Italian fashion girl." I didn't believe I could be the face of it, so we invented this guy and he was called "Silas Holmes." My passion has always been in womenswear, even though I've done a lot of menswear, and even though the womenswear is menswear inspired. What was slightly upsetting when the women's skatewear companies were turning it into this cutesy packaged bubblegum sexy thing, which wasn't at all where my vision was. I wanted to be a skater -- I didn't want to be one of those girls that hangs around with them. My womenswear has already had that harder edge. I always looked up to the skate style. It's a shame that youth culture is always driven by the menswear, especially in the UK. I was interested in punk and the way skinheads dressed, but it was always linked to menswear.
Would you ever do menswear for Aries?
It would probably be more successful if I did men's! But it would take something away. And the original concept of the brand was for it to be unisex -- that's how me and Fergus conceived it at the beginning. The sweatshirts and jeans are for men too. It would be very easy to be sucked into the menswear and streetwear world.
It feels naturally gender neutral or tomboyish anyway.
Most womenswear that is menswear-based is quite intellectual and stark and unsexy, whereas what I do has sexuality to it. The girls are quite sexual to me. I have a problem with make-up and nail polish; for me, beauty is quite pure. That translates into my taste -- how the clothes are deconstructed, for example. The raw edges, the raw cut stuff needs that lightness. In Italian, it's called posticcio, which translates as "false", but it's not false. It's like when you see theater and film and it's amazing, but you see the reality of it and it's falling apart.
Can you talk about how you work with Fergus Purcell from Palace?
We did the original concept together, but then he got busier with Palace. In 2010 when we started, he wasn't busy at all, and no one wanted streetwear. I remember showing my distributor my first collection and he was like, "Who's going to wear this?" Everyone wanted a heritage look! It was that time. Fergus worked with me, then slowly worked more with Palace. We have a relationship where he'll give me a load of graphics, but I pretty much can use them however I want.
I get quite annoyed when I think the heritage trend robbed me of good streetwear between 2005 and 2010.
Yeah, like "Why didn't I wear a tracksuit the whole time!?" There was a time when anything to do with streetwear was a dirty word when Fergus and I started doing this. Now there are a lot of people who were brought up with a Silas style streetwear aesthetic who are bringing it back.
Can you tell us about some of your other fashion influences?
Fiorucci was the first label I bought. My dad would take me to buy comics in Fiorucci and that's what shaped my taste in fashion. Which is a weird clash. I like very elegant clothes. I love Céline; I think Phoebe is amazing. Yet I do like some really quite trashy things. Phoebe really designs for women. I think there's a lot of high fashion designed by men with different ideas of beauty. She has a similar idea of beauty to me, and she's from a similar generation. We were brought up looking at those 90s photos shot by David Sims and styled by Jane How and I think that's the way we look at beauty. I can see it in her references. To me, she's one of the people I look at all the time and think, "Oh my god, that's amazing. How does she get that in?"
Which other people in fashion do you respect?
I always really respected Vivienne Westwood. It's different now, but at the time it was really inspiring. People are still ripping it off. And I really love Martin Margiela's purer days. I think it's probably got too Italian for my taste now! I don't like fashion when it's too dressy, but I can still appreciate Versace, like the safety-pin dress Liz Hurley wore. Amazing! Genius in so many ways!
You're influenced by youth culture -- how do you keep a connection to that?
I've got kids now! I can go to the skate park with the kids! I'm still really influenced by music. The other day I discovered a couple of new bands. Frau, this punk band, they're doing things for themselves and are really interesting looking.
I wonder if losing touch is what used to happen, and I don't know if it's going to happen nowadays because of the internet. You don't need to go clubbing because you can engage with everything through the internet, so maybe age has become less important. You go to the smallest place in Italy and everyone seems to dress like they do in Hoxton.
Can you talk us through some of your processes?
We make a lot of it here. We test and dye here, print and screen here and then send it into production as a ready-made thing to copy by the factory. The production process brings more to the garment, so understanding the way that garment is processed and the way you can make it look by doing it yourself, you can instruct the factory to follow your steps and you can break new boundaries. If you rely on the factory to experiment with the prototype, you're relying on routes that other designers might have already done, or how good your factories are, especially with washes. The results you get when you actually do the first sample yourself -- ripping or ageing or dyeing -- are much better. We work with a washer/dyer that works with all the high-end brands, and they can do anything.
Why are the Italian factories so much more experimental than the English ones?
I think there's a different history. Italy has a history of making casualwear that England doesn't. England is very good at making traditional garments and that's probably why traditional clothing came back around 2007 because at that point, the pound had got quite weak and a lot of the British factories were doing really well abroad. In Italy, their experience is in experimentation. The problem with not making your first product is you're relying on someone's taste to stop bleaching something, for example. Whereas if you give someone something to copy, it's your taste. Here, we do a lot of tests and they're amazing at copying it.
What's your secret weapon in your studio? The washing machine!?
Yeah, Hotpoint! When we moved office. I was like, "We're only moving office if we get a washing machine!" From the other office I was going back and forth all the time with clothes to wash. I was like, "Today everything is black. Today everything is tie-dye red." My kids were tie-dyeing -- talk about child labor! My husband too -- the whole family. So it's nice to have everything here now.
Text Stuart Brumfitt