stefan cooke is recreating 15th-century techniques on a 20p budget
Inspired by drama students and costume department theatrical trickery, the LVMH Prize 2019 finalist made an impressive standalone debut at London Fashion Week Men’s.
After graduating from London’s greatest incubator of design talent Fashion East, Stefan Cooke and Jake Burt used their first standalone show to explore everyday performances, blur the line between fantasy and reality, and demonstrate just how far they’ve pushed their craft and developed their business in 15 transformative months.
Throughout their rise, from Stefan’s Central Saint Martins MA collection receiving the L’Oréal Professional Creative Award to the pair picking up last year’s H&M Design Award and making the final of this year’s LVMH Prize, the pair have had to be more than fashion designers. They’ve learned how to become managers, accountants, strategists and everything else they don’t teach you at fashion school -- but it was only a recent trip to New York, in which they became obsessed with drama students, that they realised just how many roles they’ve had to play.
“It goes back to costume, to acting, and to us learning how to be multiple versions of ourselves over the last 15 months,” Jake explained. “There was something about the casualness of the drama students while wearing something so ornate,” Stefan told us backstage post-show. “There was this beautiful play between reality and costume.” Inspired, the NEWGEN recipients delved deep into costume archives and ideas of Americana.
The resulting collection is stitched together by the craft and sheer DIY ingenuity of the duo, using this to tell a story of off-duty drama student dress exploring the haphazard whimsy of the wardrobe department: a world where the familiar is given an unexpected twist, and couture craft is collaged with wardrobe staples. From corset detailing across shirts and jackets, to a reinvention of the brand’s signature trompe l’oeil that saw original costume pieces printed onto jersey, theatrical flourishes were continually revised in new and wearable ways. Can you tell the difference between the real thing and a photo of the real thing? Does it even matter? In Stefan Cooke’s eyes, even fakery is fabulous.
“It’s this idea of replicating something from the 1500s but only having 20p to make it,” Stefan explained, with a smile. “A trick of making people think something is one thing while being another,” he added. “Costume is something we’ve been doing from the beginning,” Jake added. With this collection, they also pushed their negative space Argyle knits further than they have done in previous seasons. “We found a part of an archive that was just described as 1920s daywear and there was a dress with this detail, of net that’s cut and individually hand tied,” Stefan told us. “We were able to replicate it more or less as it was,” Jake added. “It could have worked as trompe l'oeil but we wanted this feature to be real.”
“Something might look like a corset from the 15th century but you open it up and it’s calico patched together with someone’s name scrawled across it. There’s something beautiful about that. It’s something we felt we’ve had to do in our personal lives these past 15 months. You have to project this idea of a certain person but at the end of the day, we’re still sharing a flat with two mates. It was about putting that into the clothes.” Whichever role they’re playing, Stefan Cooke and Jake Burt have hit a sweet spot between technical ambition and supreme wearability that marks them out as one of London’s most exciting emerging menswear brands -- and with a collection like this on their hands, we can safely say they’ve graduated with flying colours.