On the eve of presenting the third collection of his eponymous line, John Alexander Skelton invites us on a family outing through the great British countryside.
"We wanted to utilize the landscape of where we grew up to transform the collection in an interesting way," John Alexander Skelton explains, as we walk through his busy East London studio. With one eye firmly fixed the future — the unveiling of "Collection III" is just hours away — his other reminisces on the past. While his designs are rooted in the shifting socio-political landscapes of his native Yorkshire, from the Mass-Observation Project of his debut to the divisive cotton trade of his last collection, it feels fitting to see them placed in one of the area's single constants, the protected countryside.
After finishing Collection II, John and his creative collaborator brother Ryan decided to escape from London and return to their shared memory of a summer walk through Malham Cove and James Ward's painting "Gordale Scar." "We both wanted to take the collection out of the context of its inspiration. I was interested in capturing still-lifes — much of my work is about the actual fabric, so it was an opportunity to capture the essence of it, rather than the silhouette on a specific model. I wanted to encompass the vision of that collection," John explains. "The power of photography is that you can look again at things, you can add a different context to what you're capturing," Ryan adds. "I enjoy shooting in my hometown because I've lived there for 18 years and it's so familiar but in an instant you can make it unfamiliar, just by the dynamic of the situation."
Stepping beyond their hometown of York, the brothers help us see deep into the Dales. "We wanted to highlight just how special the setting is as a place of nature," John begins. "That is often missing in shoots like this because the focus is solely on the clothes, or even the models, in that situation, rather than the landscape. Removing the model is quite important and when we do use one, I'm interested in seeing the ways in which someone who isn't a specified model carries the clothes. Without hair and make-up too, it's as natural as can be, there's no need to heighten it." Rather than being distracted by a face or a pose, the viewer's focus is on the garments. With each piece stitched with its own enthralling narrative, from repurposed PVC British Navy surplus submariners's coats to the rare hand-woven Khadi wool, such carefully-crafted clothing requires attention.
"It manages to make it much more personal too," Ryan adds. "We don't need to take anyone else with us, we can just do it ourselves. We went with our dad and we did it together. It was fun. There's an obvious element of escapism too. Removing ourselves from the city. It's something we will continue as a series for each collection now, we just do it for ourselves. We need to go on some more walks to discover future locations. That said, I have an idea as to where we'll take the next collection." With only their dad, Ryan's camera and a few interested hikers and tourists for company, the Skeltons invite us to take a deep breath of fresh country air and take a fresh look at the collection.
Text Steve Salter
Photography Ryan Skelton