Images courtesy of A-Cold-Wall*

A-Cold-Wall* enters a new conceptual era for SS22

After focusing on "making really great ready-to-wear" for the last few seasons, Samuel Ross discusses the fresh direction he's taking his brand in.

by Mahoro Seward
|
22 June 2021, 9:13am

Images courtesy of A-Cold-Wall*

In the six years since Samuel Ross founded A-Cold-Wall*, the London-based label has established a sturdy reputation for a few things: a contemplative, sculpturally-informed approach to menswear; high-concept spectacles that merge the worlds of fashion and performance art; and, at the heart of it all, really good, functional ready-to-wear. Two things it’s been perhaps less known for, though, are zingy pops of colour and swooning drapes — until its SS22 collection, presented yesterday during Milan Fashion Week, that is.

Indeed, while these may not be things we’ve come to expect from Samuel, that’s the very reason why it makes sense he’s chosen to place them in focus now. It’s a natural progression of the trajectory he’s established over the past half-decade, expanding beyond the territory of conceptually-minded streetwear — of which he was, and still is, an effective prince — into tailoring, casualwear and reassuring knits in muted, earthy tones.

A model wearing a full look from A-Cold-Wall* SS22

Through the consistent diversification of its design language, A-Cold-Wall* has essentially reached a point where it appeals to a diverse audience that want different things. It’s something Samuel became acutely aware of last week when he released the lookbook for his SS22 pre-collection. While one segment of his audience was thrilled to see the collection of wearable technical jackets, shorts and jerseys in rugged, sombre washes and bright citrus hues, another was left wanting for another side of the brand.

“It's funny,” says Samuel, “I was reading some comments from people saying things like, 'Argh, the pre-collection is too wearable! We want crazy conceptual forms back!'“, mostly from people who perhaps don’t quite understand that pre-collections are typically more commercially-skewed than more concept driven mainline collections.

Fortunately for them, though, that was just what Samuel was in the mood to deliver this season. “I've spent the last two and a half years focusing on making really great ready-to-wear,” he says, “and I'm ready to start bringing back that conceptual spirit now that the ready to wear signatures are in place,” resulting in an SS22 collection that hybridised the various approaches he’s pioneered over the years. Presented in a cinematic short on the Milan Fashion Week Men’s schedule, it deftly fused the label’s technical poise with a more emotionally-driven aesthetic sensibility, yielding carapace-like vests, tulip-shaped ponchos, and skin-cladding balaclavas and base layers — garments that implied a sense of protection against the harshness of the world in its current state. The sense of foreboding they conveyed, though, was undercut by Samuel’s palette -- think volt greens, citrus yellows, cobalt blue, traffic cone oranges -- imbuing the collection with a sense of optimism that burst through the screen.

“These rich neon greens and yellows are almost the opposite of what you think of when you hear A-Cold-Wall,*” Samuel says, noting his eagerness to continue reshuffling his approach in order to maintain the dynamism with which he first made his name. “It's about this idea of re-contorting and breaking down the expectations of the brand. It's now in its sixth year, and I think you need to think about how you can deconstruct and move forward.” Here, Samuel tells us exactly how he’s doing just that.

A model wearing a full look from A-Cold-Wall* SS22

Let's start with the four terms that serve as the collection’s conceptual focus: ‘motion’, ‘form’, ‘oscillate’ and ‘converge’. I think when it comes down to having four words that set the tone for the collection, it's really been about looking at the wider thoughts and themes that have influenced it, and boiling them down to key moments that can be picked out. 'Form' and 'converge' really come down to the idea of how cocooning, concealing and covering the body can also be forms of expression in the context of a global pandemic. It's about shifting the focus away from the more utilitarian or militaristic tones and forms that have been associated with A-Cold-Wall*, and moving towards much more ergonomic, forgiving and comfortable shapes. ‘Motion’ really speaks to the overlay of an athletic focus on technical materials with the more conceptual shapes that are proposed here. And overall, there's been this attempt to create a sense of buoyancy between a deep expression and saturation of colour, which conveys a very definite optimism, and the idea of concealing the body, which has typically carried more negative connotations – protecting the wearer from war, injury or disease, for example. It’s been an exercise in adding a layer of colour and tonality to these forms to create space for positive expression when we're living through such a difficult time.

There’s a really strong focus on drape this season, which is something we haven’t seen much of before from you. What motivated you to take this direction?  
It was really important to make sure that the spirit of A-Cold-Wall* continued to move forward, especially now that we've developed such a strong understanding of ready-to-wear garments. This idea of looser, softer forms, that completely transform how material works on the body, was really of interest this season. The time we’ve all spent concealing our faces and our bodies has really made me think about how there are elements of the body that aren’t usually highlighted, but that can also yield incredibly interesting shapes and forms. In look one, for example, you can see how the forearms elope out of that tulip-shaped closure just beneath the bicep, and placing an opening at the chest just felt more natural and cocoon-like; more and organic. There’s a much more emotional texture to them to these more draped shapes compared to forms that were perhaps slightly more abrasive before.

A model wearing a full look from A-Cold-Wall* SS22

You mentioned the importance of ergonomics, and even looking at it on a screen, it seems to be a really tactile collection. What governed your choice of textiles and textures? There was definitely a focus on weight, and how different weights of material can actually oscillate and co-exist – from really fine sustainable lycra composites for base layer garments all the way to a Dyneema-backed eco-leather. It was also about making sure there was still a layer of sustainability to the fabrics and techniques we worked with without losing the sense of innovation and material development that we're known for. We were also thinking about what people need now in terms of wearability. I love nylons, so they still feature prominently,  but there's also more of a push into knitwear, wovens and athletic loungewear. I’ve also inputted a lot more of my personal preferences, for example, by thinking about colour theory and how that could be used for the brand. Up till this season, we've only really done muted, industrial tones, but what you see here is almost like a sort of postmodern optimism -- it’s just like after World War Two, when there was this massive flurry of artistic expression. That’s kind of how I'm treating this collection.

In the video, you've presented both your pre-collection and mainline SS22 collection together. What's behind that decision? This is the first time that I had enough time to really think about how I want A-Cold-Wall* to exist in a video format, beyond runway. The benefit of a runway is that you have 25 to 30 models who can present your clothes to a fixed audience in a fixed space. Here, though, the idea of bringing the two collections together was almost to project this what A-Cold-Wall* looks like from 9am in the office all the way up to 7pm. It was about still having this commentary on the themes of movement and commuting, by shooting from these bird's eye angles and almost painting pictures of people kind of coalescing, overlapping and oscillating. Another key objective was to really give the impression of a whole wardrobe -- we had about 12 models on set, and we had the mixed looks overlapping to illustrate the relationship between both collections -- to mediate on those two spaces as separate entities, while bringing these worlds together.

A model wearing a full look from A-Cold-Wall* SS22

**What emotional atmosphere were you trying to create with the film?
**It wasn't necessarily about a particular emotion; it was more a feeling of cinema. I was saying to some of the team that this collection is the close cousin of our SS19 show, in terms of the feeling of when that naked red body burst from the pool and pushed that frame out of the door. I've really been thinking about how to create that simultaneously create that heavy feeling of surveillance alongside a spirit of optimism, and how to bring that into 2021 – because we can’t just repeat what we did in 2019. We wanted to do that while also ensuring that elements of performance, or a particular emotional state, didn’t detract from the clothes. It was really about making sure there was enough space for the clothes to breathe.

A model wearing a full look from A-Cold-Wall* SS22
A model wearing a full look from A-Cold-Wall* SS22
A model wearing a full look from A-Cold-Wall* SS22
A model wearing a full look from A-Cold-Wall* SS22
A model wearing a full look from A-Cold-Wall* SS22
Tagged:
Menswear
Milan Fashion Week
A–COLD–WALL*
fashion review
SS22