grab your slogans, katharine hamnett is back with a brand new collection
Unsurprisingly, it’s brilliant.
14 years is a long time to be away -- in the world of fashion it feels like an eternity. From the astronomical rise of social media to the farce that is British politics, things have changed irrevocably since 2003, when British designer Katharine Hamnett last officially released a collection. Indeed, for the woman who revolutionised the slogan T-shirt from a light-hearted statement piece into something politically charged, there is much to catch up on.
In 1984, the Kent-born designer became a fashion icon when she famously wore a slogan T-shirt to No. 10 Downing Street, addressing then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a top emblazoned with the words: "58% DON'T WANT PERSHING" -- a reference to America's unwanted deployment of Pershing II missiles in West Germany. "When you look at somebody wearing a slogan T-shirt, it's one of the first things you see," Katharine explains. "You can't not read it. You can't pretend you haven't seen it. So, hopefully, it makes you think."
Katharine credits her heightened political sensibilities and confrontational creativity to a combination of a father who worked as a Defence Attaché in Stockholm, the simmering threat of nuclear war, and the barren reality of the Thatcher years. "Democracy was slipping through our fingers," she recalls. And what better way for a fashion student to spread her message, than through the language of clothes?
She was first introduced to fashion through her "madly fashion conscious" mother, and a friend's suggestion that she enrol at Saint Martins. On graduating she and her fellow students would sustain themselves on crisps and 16-hour days. Her early collections were influenced by utility wear and men's jackets, with one particular bomber being "inspired by an old military jacket that belonged to a boyfriend I had at the time, who I thought was a god". In 1984, she was awarded the first Womenswear Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Awards.
Fast-forward to today, and the political landscape bears many similarities with the context of Hamnett's first collection. As the fashion community moves to align itself with politics and current affairs, it's tempting to deem this a passing trend, or a sinister attempt to appeal to younger, more socially-aware customers. But people aren't stupid. Kids today are becoming increasingly able to discern which brands actually care and which merely seek to capitalise and commodify things like feminism or political activism. Katharine clearly stands out from the crowd. She's been loudly rejecting the status quo for a while now. Who can forget when she used her 2003 catwalk show to voice her dissent for the Iraq war, by dressing models in T-shirts that screamed: 'STOP WAR, BLAIR OUT'?
"I think marching is fine, T-shirts are great, but you haven't actually done anything until you've threatened your elected representative that you won't vote for them next time unless they represent your views," she argues. Talking like a politician on a campaign trail, impassioned and full of promise, nearly every move Katharine makes feels political, premeditated, and with every possible outcome carefully considered to ensure she acts both ethically and morally. Her latest collection is a testament to that.
Although it's much subtler than her T-shirts, her latest collection was made with the same principles in mind: "Fairness, not destroying the planet, making clothes that you want and need that are going to be great now but that you never throw out of your wardrobe."
Marrying chic tailoring with billowy, shiny, silky fabrics, there's something for everyone: boiler suits, silk jogging bottoms, tight white T-shirts, bomber jackets, and one particular dressing gown-cum-oversized coat you could roll around in, whilst knowing how glamorous it made you look. The clothes are unpretentious and although they feel effortlessly modern in their design, there are clear references to previous collections. There is an homage to the 1984 Peter Lindbergh 'line-up' photograph within the new collection; a celebration of all people.
"We started working on it in March, but we were looking through the archive last September working out what we should be digging out and what was still relevant," she explains. "A big inspiration was working with Kanye and seeing how he was obsessed with the old stuff -- I had another look at it and realised it was still relevant." Keeping in line with her ethos, only sustainable fabrics like organic cotton, silk, and recycled polyester were used for the collection.
Without pretence, nor for the mere sake of publicity alone, Katharine Hamnett epitomises the values we so badly need today: she stands against war, prioritising equality, promoting ethical and sustainable practice, environmentalism, and a government that works for us, for the benefit of all. She is rare in the world of fashion and the world beyond, for vehemently honouring her beliefs without compromise. This is important. And after a 14-year hiatus, she is now more relevant than ever.
On Saturday September 9th, Katharine Hamnett will be speaking at The People's March for Europe, join her or show your support by protesting in front of your MPs' surgeries across the country.