Art School SS21 is the therapy session you need
Ahead of tomorrow's debut of Therapy, we get the lowdown on the London brand's latest collection from creative director Eden Loweth.
Courtesy Art School
With the year we’ve had, couldn’t we all do with some therapy? Well, given that it’s the title of Art School’s SS21 collection, which premieres tomorrow, the fashion brand’s creative director Eden Loweth certainly thinks so. “It's been an interesting period of time professionally; lockdown gave me some space to really think about the next year of Art School and how we want to evolve things,” he says, reflecting on one of the most daunting aspects that this season has brought: the prospect of going it alone. This is, after all, the first collection he’ll be presenting solo, after his creative partner Tom Barratt took his final bow as co-designer at the AW20 show.
Certain doors have closed in the Art School studio — but many more have opened. Recently, the brand was revealed as part of Matches Fashion’s Innovators programme, which “has given us the ability to really invest in what we're doing,” Eden says. In an effort “to show that we're at a point now where the label can hold its own,” proving its ‘graduation’ from the ‘emerging category’, Art School will be presenting their largest collection to date — a total of 54 looks, with a sneak peek at four of them offered exclusively to i-D.
The breadth of the collection owes much to its status as “a massive closing of many chapters for the brand, but also the opening of new ones” — a period of self-reflection. Eden says that he found creating it to be “quite a cathartic experience and a literal act of therapy, both personally and also for the brand”.
But it’s not just a personal meditation — it’s a show of solidarity with the community that Art School is a key part of. “I wanted it to be a beacon of hope for the community of people I come from, that have been hit the hardest during this time. It's been very isolating for queer people globally during the pandemic and the current political climate, so I wanted to do something that really resonated,” Eden says. “It can sometimes take a larger body of work to really explain what you want to say, and it really feels for the first time that there's nothing in there for the sake of it. Each person that walked in the show represents a part of our world.”
As ever with Art School, the importance of the cast can’t be understated, and there are few brands operating at the moment to which diversity is as holistic and integrated a value. More than just call in models of different ages, body types, races, gender identities and abilities to serve as walking coat hangers, Eden designs with each individual in mind. “Right at the start of the season, I'll do an initial casting board, which is normally, give or take a few people, who end up walking in the show,” he says. “There are obviously themes for a collection, but I'd say the biggest thing that leads the whole process of design is those initial casting boards.”
Tomorrow, you’ll see them walking a runway in the grounds of Waterlow Park in North London as Celeste performs a specially-produced song, wearing garments that suggest a militaristic grit, darted through with a severe glamour — you’ll see boxy tailored outerwear in earthy vegetable-tanned leather and slashed bias-cut satin dresses; fitted matador trousers and floor-sweeping strapless gowns; jewellery and artefacts produced in partnership with long-time collaborator Richard Porter.
In a season where much of the talk is about how designers will grapple with fashion film, Eden’s decision to stage (an albeit audience-less) show stands out. “As a queer person, the physical act of having that moment on a stage is so powerful. We work with a lot of sidelined and underrepresented groups of individuals and the physical power they get from being elevated into that kind of setting really gets the best out of them,” he says. “That’s what I think makes Art School very special — within our shows, we're able to really put these people in a setting where the viewer sees them like any other supermodel.”