Ed Curtis’ kaleidoscopic debut collection is the ode to joy we need now
The London-based designer blends references to his own paintings and his quirky sense of humour to create the perfect fashion antidote to current times.
Photography Joseph Echenique
“There’s a lightness to my work,” says Ed Curtis over the phone from his parents’ house in Hereford, where he’s taking a well-deserved break following the release of his debut collection earlier this month. It’s a welcome antithesis to the apocalyptic mood that has loomed over 2020, filled with bright, trippy prints that bring a sense of wackiness and fun to fashion at a time when it's most needed.
Many have opined that the coronavirus pandemic has given us all time to slow down, take stock. Ed, however, was having none of that, working tirelessly throughout lockdown to create his new body of work. “I do not want to slow down,” he says. “I want to speed up. There’s so much stuff I want to do.” While he didn’t set himself any deadlines, when he realised it would be ready in time for his birthday, he titled it ‘Happy Birthday’ -- fitting, given the celebratory tone of its striking spectrum of prints and colours that wouldn’t look out of place at a children’s birthday party.
As a teenager, Ed already knew he wanted to be a fashion designer. In fact, he was so convinced of the path that lay ahead for him that he would routinely ask his French teacher to teach him how to say, ‘I love fashion’. “It’s so lame and stereotypical,” he laughs. “I was a little village kid who just knew he wanted to be a fashion designer.” His dream soon turned to reality, and by the age of 19, he was working at Marc Jacobs in New York while on the placement year of his BA at London College of Fashion. After graduating, he went straight into the industry and has spent most of his career until now working for other people, including a five-year stint at Hillier Bartley. While he’s grateful for the experience, he’s now ready to break away and forge his own path. “When I started working on my own stuff it was such a great feeling, I really didn’t think it was going to happen,” he reflects. “I said to myself that I was always going to be working for other people, following their dreams. I was working for Calvin Klein when Raf Simons was there and I loved that whole corporate side of fashion. It was fab, but taking the step to start my own brand has been my biggest career highlight.”
Despite his experience and dedication, fashion has never been Ed’s sole creative interest: he’s an accomplished painter, too, and his own high energy abstract works serve as the visual references for his prints. “The painting is like the research,” he explains. “It's also part of the development. It's what I look at when I'm making a collection. Traditionally, fashion designers are always looking at other people's artwork for inspiration but I was quite conscious that I didn't want to do that.”
“Sometimes my ideas go beyond the body,” he continues, explaining his interdisciplinary approach to creating. “It’s nice to escape from just making clothes. You have to build a whole world as a designer: Who are you going to present the clothes to? What kind of physical environment do you want them to be seen in? It stretches to much more than just the clothes.” Ed’s collection exemplifies this broad-minded sensibility. Standout pieces include silhouette-shattering optical illusion bodysuits; t-shirts with screen printed kooky faces, half-smiling, half-sneering; imitation leather ‘bean bags’ -- baguette bags shaped like beans, that is, a witty visual pun that epitomises both the collection’s tongue-in-cheek joy and the personality of the man behind it all. Ed is fully present in every facet of his brand, even shooting and modelling his work himself. “I’ve found it funny reading about designers shooting themselves for their lookbooks because of the pandemic -- that's just something I've been doing the whole time,” he says. “The whole process was very personal. I’m the one telling the story and reading the book.”
Rather than work in line with fashion’s dominant wholesale model, Ed’s pieces are either produced as a limited run or are made to order -- an environmentally and financially sustainable way of working that limits the generation of dead stock and gives him more freedom to focus on new projects knowing that nothing he’s making will go to waste. As is increasingly the trend among young London-based designers -- Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY and Matty Bovan as cases in point -- Ed sells his work directly to customers via his own website. He’s also recently started working with APOC STORE, a new online platform offering designers a place to showcase their work without having to subscribe to the flawed, old ways for designers to bring their product to market. “It's nice to know I'm only making what people want to exact numbers,” he says. “I like to leave things down to the moment. That’s my process.”
Ed thrives on spontaneity, experimenting with the infinite print ideas buzzing about his mind. Put simply, he makes it up as he goes along. The less planning, the better. “When you plan too much it zaps the energy out of it,” he explains. It’s an approach that’s fitting for these times -- perhaps the only way of working in such a period of uncertainty is to just relinquish control and go with your gut. And perhaps the only way to consume fashion when things are so glum is to reacquaint ourselves with the brightness and joy it can colour our lives with, whether that’s in a splash of colour, a dizzying print, or a bag shaped like a kidney bean. For that reason, and for so many more, Ed’s debut collection is nothing short of pure delight.