how ed marler is bringing regal splendor back to london's fashion scene
We delve deep inside the impoverished baroque world of Ed Marler.
There aren't a lot of people who could get away with a two-tone tracksuit on a Friday evening, least of all paired with a large gold cross hanging from a choker in all its glorious, gilded fakeness. But Ed Marler can. "It's Christopher Shannon," he says in his creaky, nasal accent, part rural and part east London, pulling at the shiny satin. The swirly cross is his own creation, and has become an early trademark of the designer's since he graduated with a BA from Central Saint Martins in 2013. "I like things that are gaudy, because you get to try to make it look really nice. The real thing is beyond my means so I might as well try to make things look beautiful," Ed says. Rooted in the same contrast, his graduate collection was based on what he calls "delusions of grandeur", taking its cue from the designer's humble dwellings in east London at the time.
"I lived in, like, a bedsit — well, it wasn't a bedsit but the kitchen and the bedroom were all one room — on the first floor of an old Victorian pub conversion where all the functions would have been, so the ceilings were quite high and had all these big mouldings around them, but obviously the big function room had been split into ten little rooms that had all been split up in different ways," he says, describing how the stucco was interrupted by walls cutting into it. "So I thought, maybe 'she' lives somewhere like that and rips down all the moulds to make crowns; makes a dress. Things like that. She thinks she's this princess but she's not, really, because she has to create it for herself. In her head she looks like something different than what she does."
The collection, a kind of eighteenth century court attire via eccentric retired stage actress, paved the way for Marler's debut at London Fashion Week under the Fashion East umbrella where the designer got to flex his nostalgic muscles in a sex show of crowns, crosses, princely sleeves, ruffled skirts, lace-up trousers, and various other history teacher fetishes. "My friend came to my house the other day. He described it as 'impoverished baroque'," Ed notes, hinting at the autobiographical nature of his work. "When I look at the work I did when I got out of school - I didn't do A-levels or anything, just fashion straight away - and I look at my work now, it's not dissimilar at all. My final collection was just a mix of all the things I've done from when I was about thirteen or fourteen to when I graduated."
It was in High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire that Marler, now 25, drew his first fairytale crowns and crosses. The son of a doctor's secretary and a builder-turned-planner, he was keen on history ("Henry VIII and things like that") and had a penchant for religious artifacts, which, he insists, isn't directly connected to the church-going ways of his religious grandparents. "My mum's parents go to church every Sunday - like Church of England - but you wouldn't know. They don't make you pray before you eat dinner or anything like that. Every now and again I'd have to go to church on Sundays but I didn't like it," Ed recalls. "There's something about all that religious stuff that really appeals to me, though."
Having religion in the house, however, wasn't without its impacts, especially when you're the only gay in the village. "They don't know," he says, still on the subject of his grandparents. "Well, they obviously must know, but they don't know. My mum's a bit funny about it even now, still." Ed laughs. But in the Marler family they're used to a certain degree of contrasts. He ascribes the foundation of his aesthetics to his eccentric paternal grandparents, who brought his dad up in pubs before retiring to Spain.
"They like things that are really over the top. All their furniture is fake, like, baroque furniture: chandeliers and big paintings of tigers and stuff. But they've still got all this pub paraphernalia, like horse brasses and weird stuff," he laughs. It doesn't take a lot of imagination, then, to link Marler's childhood memories to his fascination of another icon of regal décor, one Michael Jackson, who played muse to his spring/summer 15 collection. "I probably first started liking him when Martin Bashir did that horrible documentary on him," Ed says, referring to Living with Michael Jackson from 2003. "When I saw his house and saw him go shopping and saw him speak, that's when I first started taking more notice."
For a provincial teenager with a passion for gold crowns, Jackson's inherent and unapologetic weirdness - and love of a baroques replica - was a type of epiphany. "It was something I could kind of relate to. I don't run around all day thinking I'm weird… it's not until someone tells me I'm eccentric. Because I don't think I am." And while Marler famously wears his own pieces around the streets of London - huge crowns and crosses in tow - he says he rarely gets accosted. "I think it's because I always look quite miserable. I think I'm quite intimidating to people in a way, because I always have a face on. When I was younger I got a lot of stick. I learned how to protect myself."
It's hard not to notice the parallels between Marler and some of the most illustrious designers to come out of England in the 80s and 90s. Next to their backgrounds, they share an certain grandeur and natural sense of showmanship, which - if managed profitably - could see Marler leading a new generation of more theatrical British designers. "I just want to give people something interesting and fun to look at, because I feel like things are boring. When I look at fashion now, I don't get excited," Ed says. "I want to give young people like me, when I was fifteen looking at fashion shows like McQueen and Galliano and Westwood and all of that stuff, something to be excited about."
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Brett Lloyd
Make-up Nami Yoshida at The Book Agency using Givenchy Mister Smooth, Mister Mat and Mister Light
Set design Thomas Petherick at Visual Artists
Photography assistance Ed Bourmier
Set assistance Sylvie McMillan
Model Ed Marler
All clothing Ed Marler