symonds pearmain want you to question the whole fashion system

The who, what and wow of Symonds Pearmain autumn/winter 18.

by Felix Petty; photos by Charlotte O'Shea
19 February 2018, 10:45am

Symonds Pearmain, the fun-fashion-conceptual-art hybrid, project of designer Anthony Symonds and stylist Max Pearmain. Anthony had been pursuing his own creative goals outside the fashion schedule and system for over a decade now, exploring the places where fashion item and art object overlap. He’s been working with Vauxhall based Cabinet Gallery, treating his fashion creations as works of collectable art.

In 2016, he teamed up with Max Pearmain, formerly of Arena Homme + to launch a new project. They’ve shown two small salon shows at LFW, and once in Berlin, at Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie. Here, they piggy backed on the end of Fashion East for their first London catwalk show.

“We're opening it up a bit beyond just doing small runs of pieces via Cabinet Gallery,” Anthony explained, backstage, of their decision to move into the frenzied commercial meat market of Fashion Week. “There's interesting potential within the commercial area, and I don’t mean with money, but in more conceptual terms, the economic exchange of fashion. We're just very interested in trying to understand how fashion no longer works.”

Conceptually, Symonds Pearmain is an unanswerable dance around the idea of whether fashion is art, whether fashion as product is creative, and whether buying fashion as an art object is really fashion. This only works, and is only so enjoyable to argue about, because the fashion that Symonds Pearmain create is such an explosion of fun and feeling. Fashion, like all art forms, should be enjoyable as well as questioning, joyful and contemplative.

There was a delicate balance in all the different elements they sent down the runway -- stripes, checks, prints, embroidery, geometric shapes, splashes of lurid oranges and resplendent reds.

Malcolm McLaren’s Buffalo Girls was on the soundtrack, and it paid tongue-in-cheek homage to the original Supreme; NYC hip-hop crew The World Famous Supreme Team. The silhouettes -- the shape of the legs and cute little neckerchiefs -- recalled 80s NYC too, but it never felt like pastiche. Nor did it feel like it was harking back to a golden age; instead dragging the past up and making it alive.

It felt like a very Fashion Week collection. In an interesting way -- and not to get to pseud-y -- if it was by a young London designer caught in the dizzy hype headspin we’d all be hailing a new fashion genius amongst our midst. And it did feel a little like that, shown in the same arena of the Fashion East show. But it was more dedicated to the exploration of the products of fashion; stylish separates, cute pieces, fun accessories, covetable bags. Anthony’s background, and skill at design, pushed us to think more deeply -- if we wanted -- about what we saw. “I want fashion to be better, to have more intellectual reach, to have more conceptual reach,” Anthony said, “I want fashion to be layered, and complex, and ambiguous, and fun. I want to be asked interesting questions about fashion.”

“What we're doing is putting this product in this commercial space and now it's your problem,” he explained, of their almost-couture like approach might change. The way the brand works at the moment gives them a very personal relationship with each of their customers, essentially selling to who they want. The idea of the product and commerce, was being approached with an open uncertainty as to what it might hold, how their work might -- or should -- be understood. “It’s up to you to understand it! Within that question, lies the whole problem of fashion. That is the problem. The problem is to do with the form, and how the form is understood within cultural and economic terms. No one is even asking that question! I mean, I don't have an answer, but I'm not here to solve it, I'm not interested in solving it.”

The most interesting and exciting thing about Symonds Pearmain is that it feels like they’re the only ones asking these questions. London is pushed as such a young, exciting, fashion, city, bursting with talent; but it feels more and more like we’re merely asking formal questions of what fashion can be, or what can be shown on a runway, rather than questioning the actual apparatus of fashion itself.

The press release! A surprise choice, maybe, but after sifting through dozens of similar offerings a day during Fashion Week, Symonds Pearmain’s -- written by Ed Atkins -- offered something lovely in its difference. No bland thematic summations (just think about the clothes!) it instead offered zen-nonsense like: “Imagine a cabal of ad execs dry-humping in the dark? Ragging on one another to weft some meagre measure of I think rayon or ham.” Quite. It was a good read. The title of the collection was great too: Elitist Propaganda Draggy Gesture and Tribal Sumulacra. There was also some incredibly beautiful and wonderful and covetable embroidered bags. Which I would like to own and put things in and maybe even frame.

London Fashion Week
symonds pearmain