the magical miscommunication of stefan cooke
In a new series, 1 Granary profile six of their favourite young designers for you to look out for in 2018. First was Charlotte Knowles. Next up, Stefan Cooke.
Stefan Cooke just got back from a family reunion. It was a big affair: he’s one of eight siblings. “It’s such a brilliant environment to grow up in,” the menswear designer grins. “I feel like I am so lucky because there are people that have one brother or sister and they hate them, whereas I have eight and we all get on so well!” It’s hard to imagine anyone not getting along with Stefan. He has blonde teddy bear curls, and an infectious laugh which he emits often.
To be fair, the 25-year-old does have a lot to be jolly about. This year he graduated from the MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins, bagging himself the L’Oréal Professionnel prize in the process, and has been hailed by Sarah Mower for creating “surely the coolest masculine body-con look which has ever walked a runway.” What’s more, he’s still found the time to intern for the likes of Walter Van Beirendonck and Craig Green – walking in both of their shows as a result – and fly to Paris to personally assist John Galliano pre-Margiela. “That was unreal!” Cooke exclaims half in disbelief. “John has so much referential knowledge. It was just so good to talk to him.”
It’s not hard to see why these good things keep on happening. Not only is Cooke likeable, but he’s talented too. His designs will do your head in – in a good way, of course. From afar, they look like the pieces we’ve seen time and time again – argyle jumpers, jeans, trench coats, biker jackets – but up close, they reveal themselves to be images of those well-known garments printed as trompe-l'oeil onto elastane leggings and semi-sheer synthetic tops. Even more tactile methods see a knitted tank recreated from perspex chainmail and the same hard plastic used to encase a ladylike Hermes Kelly bag, which appears as if it is floating rather than being held.
By photographing items that are so defined by their drape, texture and shape, Cooke was able to rewrite them with body conscious silhouettes. “I wanted that total miscommunication of messages between the senses. 90% of the clothes are made from elastic, so they’re no longer really anything that they’re meant to be,” he says. In theory, his designs work by disrupting our memory of these menswear mainstays. “A lot of people said it was like athleisure wear, but I totally didn’t think of that at any point. I don’t get how you would ever wear it to the gym,” he laughs.
It was, in fact, inspired by the idea of a staple wardrobe, which is appropriate since Stefan actually exercises this concept himself, wearing a mere seven pieces on rotation. The jeans he selected are the same ones he wears nearly every day, and his old secondary school trousers also feature in the line-up. What makes the concept so distinctive is that it’s both simple and complex at the same time. “It was quite an internal look at what I wanted from menswear, and what I thought other people would want,” he tells me. “Because at the end of the day I do realise this is a business. They always say, ‘men don’t want to have something they don’t know.’ This is something that they know, but also don’t know at all.”
By thinking creatively Stefan doesn’t have to engage in the constant conquest for newness. “Even though everything is so over designed now, there are always variations of something. You can make it original and you can make it new.” He’s not afraid to embrace influences from his favourite brands, including Undercover, Maison Margiela and Comme des Garçons. “I totally understand there should be legitimacy in what you’re doing and it should be original, but I’m also totally all for just being like: ‘I referenced this and you know what, fuck it, of course I did. No shit, it’s a great thing.’”
Not that originality is an issue for the experimental designer: he’s shaking up menswear with his medium alone. And it’s not that sublimation hasn’t been used before – “You see it all the time in Primark,” he laughs – it’s just that you won’t normally see it in a high fashion context. And of course, there’s scope for newness simply by entering into the foray of digital design; his visions are now more easily achieved. “If I couldn’t find what I was looking for in charity shops, I made it. The V-neck of the sweater wasn’t quite right, so I stretched it digitally to make sure it was what I wanted from that piece.”
Some may call this perfectionism, but when it comes to Cooke, it’s more like a modest sense of positivity and determination. He shot his makeshift lookbook himself because of a lack of funds, but the unique result only reinforced his concept further. The clothes are seen hanging from rails, not models, cementing the idea of the staple wardrobe. “I didn’t put it on anyone because it wasn’t designed for anyone. They were just basic pieces that everyone knows,” he explains. “As soon as you make a choice on casting, as soon as you make a choice on anything, it really reflects back on you. I wanted it to be just clothes.”
From here on, the plan is clear. Stefan is working collaboratively with ex-classmates in the new print studio of Richard Quinn, who graduated from the MA Fashion course last year. “Quite a few of my friends are starting their own things at the same time and it feels like we’re a community, which is so exciting because I can’t imagine doing it alone.” The pursuit of his dreams is grounded with a smattering of freelance work. “That’s where I’m hopefully going to gain experience from without dedicating myself to a nine to five.”
Not that nine to five is anyone’s reality anyway – that’s both the blessing and the curse of the creative industries. “There is never an off button,” Stefan admits. “Honestly, I don’t think I have switched off since I started. I hope I don’t run dry!” He’s being modest; it’s obvious he’s got plenty more to give. The beauty of Cooke’s label is in its originality, and he intends to make sublimation his signature, developing with printed knits next season and going on to experiment even further with the technique. We can’t wait to see what’s next: “Yoga pants coming soon,” he jokes with a knowing smile.