exclusive: how john alexander skelton brought his new collection to life
We premiere a new film from the exciting young menswear designer, showing the delicate and intricate processes that make up his bold creative vision.
John Alexander Skelton is one of the brightest, boldest, and most strikingly original talents to come out of London's fashion scene in recent years. His clothes feel like they exist in a world and time apart; there's a dreamy quality to them — a stillness and delicateness that transports you into another realm.
His collections are research-led and reference-heavy, but they're light on their feet. The clothes wearing their learning with charm, poise and grace. His fashion vision is rooted in the changing sociopolitical landscapes of his native Yorkshire; he uses textiles as a way of exploring that history. There's a rawness to the clothes's softness — a poetry to the way they re-envision tradition into something timeless.
For Collection II — presented at London boutique Hostem during Frieze London, and his first since graduating from his MA at Central Saint Martins — John took Cottonopolis, the Lancashire mill towns that powered Britain throughout the 19th century, and the Industrial Revolution as his starting points. But Collection II isn't an insular nod to a parochial Arcadian past. John's world is built upon the towns's relationship with the outside world, specifically India, finding echoes of this history in modern multicultural Britain.
One major touchpoint that neatly explores the duality between past and present is found in the Swadeshi movement. Swadeshi was made famous by Gandhi in the 20s but had been rumbling in India since the 1850s and the Indian Mutiny. Gandhi promoted cotton weaving in India as a way of resisting British rule; fashion as anti-imperialism in small-scale production.
It's something that finds a parallel in John's own ideals of sustainability and recycling. His graduate collection used many pieces of reclaimed fabrics to build his clothes. For Collection II he used hemp grown in Yorkshire, hand-spun and crocheted into knitwear — something not likely done since before the Industrial Revolution. Even the title, Collection II, hints towards something more permanent in the way it rejects seasonal markers.
Behind all these ideas is a labor-intensive method that makes each piece in the collection totally unique. This is what's revealed in the new film we're proud to premiere, directed by Saskia Dixie and shot in part by Sharna Osbourne. The film, John explains, shows the processes that make a collection happen. From the happy mistakes to the chance experimentations, the film details the love that goes into creating a garment that John puts together.
With the film, John wanted to give a different spin to the glamour of traditional fashion film, which usually focuses simply on the finished products. Continuing the Indian influences, John found a Konnokol singer in Birmingham to provide the soundtrack. Konnokol is a kind of Indian percussive chanting used to measure rhythm. It sounds totally different and otherworldly to Western music. The aim, John says, of the whole film, is the show the "beauty within the process" that goes into making the collection.
John Alexander Skleton is available exclusively at Hostem
Text Felix Petty
Photography Ryan Skelton
Hats in collaboration with Stephen Jones
Film Saskia Dixie with additional footage by Sharna Osborne