Written by Isabella Burley
Photography Kate Cox
“We are trying to make a world, it is not enough of a statement for us just to make clothes” says Edward Meadham, one half of the Meadham Kirchhoff design duo. Since launching the brand in 2006, Benjamin Kirchhoff and Edward Meadham have enchanted us with their elaborate show presentations and bold collections. I met them at their studio in East London where they live and work together (along with three cats). Split into two, one half is a functioning studio filled with a small team of staff, whilst the other is something quite different.
Unlike many of their counterparts, the designers remain private and very reserved. They explain that they feel “quite uncomfortable around other people” and don’t believe they “belong in many contexts outside of (their) own world”. On the other hand, their designs are far from aloof. For the past few seasons we have witnessed multi-coloured hair, floor-length veils, extravagant sets and collections taken from a fantastical world. We spoke to the designers about the restraints of the industry, their collaborators and how their world emerges.
ISABELLA BURLEY — How did you first meet?
EDWARD MEADHAM We met at Central St. Martins in 2001. Benjamin was studying menswear and I doing womenswear. We worked on opposite ends of the same room for three years and never spoke to each other. When we were doing out graduate collections, we finally spoke to each other and that was it.
IB — Why did you decide to start working together?
EM — We didn’t decide, it just happened.
IB — Then following your separate graduate collections, you showed together as Meadham Kirchhoff at Fashion East…
EM — We had done one MAN show before, but Fashion East was our first womenswear show. We found it a little bit overwhelming because…
BENJAMIN KIRCHHOFF — …the was instantaneous. The reaction to the MAN show was a bit more scattered. Immediately after we did the Fashion East show, we had a lady from Barney’s coming back stage and Sophia Neophitou from 10 Magazine. We had instant attention, which was really good. Then this immediately disappeared. I think it gave us a good idea of the industry.
IB — Then…
EM — Then we had several seasons where we were not showing and we were just making these tiny collections. People weren’t doing presentations then, so we just shot look books and had a space in the glorious BFC tents that used to be in South Kensington. To be honest, it wasn’t great. It was basically an exhibition in little boxes. I think we found it quite depressing and pointless. It was really frustrating because nobody goes to those things.
BK — At the same time, during that experience we made the first womenswear collection that we were really happy with. In a way, it was the breaking point of where we are now and it enabled us to show with NEWGEN.
IB — You are best know for your elaborate show presentations where you really toy with the theatrical elements of your work. How do each of these elements come about?
EM — It was something that came with it, but we also felt it was really important. All of the elements come at the same time. I see an entire look before I see what the clothes really are.
BK — Everything about it is focused on understanding and creating a context for the clothes to exist in. That is always something that we have been trying to encourage.
EM — We are trying to make a world. It is not enough of a statement for us just to make clothes. Of course, that is the central point of what we do, but it is not all that we do.
IB — To do this you work with a series of collaborators…
BK — Yes, we have a regular team that we work with but they are also our best friends. We have been working with Nasir Mazhar for three seasons and Philip Wiegard for four seasons. These things happen by accident. With the hair and make-up we started working with them a long time ago. They were recommended to us and we loved working with them. Since then we have continued to work together and I think the relationship we have with them now is much more collaborative then it was when we first started.
EM — I don’t know if people normally do this, but I would bring them in half way through the season and say “I really want all of their hair to be multi-coloured, how do we go about that?” They then go away and figure it out. It is the same with the make-up.
BK — We communicate via visual references and it is really important for us to work in a collaborative process. With Philip Wiegard, who works on our sets, a mutual friend of ours introduced us to his work and we really loved the way he understood proportions and the way he defines space within his artwork. His idea of perspective is really important. We contacted him and said we wanted to work with him, his was enthusiastic and we have been working with him since.
EM — Nasir is a really good friend. I have always had a fear of hats or anything worn on the head. However, I have always had this obsession with tiaras. We just spent so much time with Nasir and we just talked and talked. It seemed pointless for us not to work together.
IB — Is there anyone else you would like to collaborate with?
EM — I would really like to do something with Cindy Sherman.
IB — Moving on to your most recent collection, what were the references?
EM — There was the really obvious Chanel reference and lots of references to record artwork. There were no intentional references to anything folklore or Scandinavian. I understand why people have interpreted it like that, but it wasn’t intentional. The references for the collections always come from a million different places and it is really hard to pinpoint it. I always find that I end up mentioning the same things.
IB — How do you begin the research process?
EM — I work with thousands of reference images and spend six months thinking endlessly.
IB — There seems to be an ongoing exploration into fantasy and corrupted fantasy in many of your collections. Is that one of your trains of thought?
EM — Yes, I guess so. I want things to be fantastical. For me, the idea of fantasy makes me think of either dragons or fairies, but I defiantly want things to be fantastical. I don’t want things to have much resemblance to everyday life. I don’t want the real world. I want to make one.
IB — Is that something you have always wanted within your work?
EM — As an attitude, definitely.
BK — It is something that really comes from within us. I think the real world, especially within fashion is quite gross in the way that it addresses people. Particularly the way that everything that you do and your entire work becomes a trend, a garment, a copy and a defused version by someone else. The reason why our presentations and shows become so strong is because we want to create something that is entirely of our own. Also, something that is as far removed from the ordinary and the strange context of fashion that everything has to exist in. It is really disappointing that what you present ends up becoming a ‘how to wear it’ look or a fad. Our idea is that at the end of the day whatever happens our stuff exists for longer than that.
IB — Does it scare you that the industry is like that?
BK — I don’t like the fact that the industry is so faddish. I think it is really strange that it is a creative industry. However, it is the only creative industry that requires you to work your brains off twice or four times a year depending on how many collections you do. I think the reason why so many people approach it with such a “I’m going to do this dress, these pants and this shirt” notion is because they are so customer focused. This must become such a routine, and become exhausting creatively when you have to work that often. The reason why we want to create a world for our things to exist in is because I think it is safer that way. I’m not really interested in designing the perfect flattering dress. That is not what we do.
IB — Is that one of the reasons you are both so private?
EM — I think we are generally quite private people. It is quite difficult to explain. I don’t think we really belong in many contexts outside of our own world. I feel quite uncomfortable around other people, and I can quite clearly see that we make other people feel uncomfortable as well. That is partly why.
BK — It is never our intention.
EM — Also, there is this whole thing of avoiding the inevitable influence of things you come into contact with. So I try and be quite selective to avoid being influenced.
IB — Is that predominantly in terms of other designers?
EM — We only have a handful of friends and most of them are designers. It is also stuff that you hear and see. It all goes in and inevitably comes out. Sometimes it affects things even if you don’t want it to.
BK — Exactly, and I think with this strange psyche of fashion that if one designer sees one reference in a museum then it sort of diffuses down. This is one of the reasons why we don’t go and see exhibitions or travel a lot. I want to see a lot of the world, that’s not what I am saying. If you look at Berlin for example, a few years ago it was where everyone was going. It had a ripple effect in the way everyone dressed and behaved. It commercialised the aesthetic of David Bowie and the whole Hedi Slimane for Dior Homme attitude. Suddenly it affected the way people approached their lifestyle and everyone wanted to live in a warehouse. Then everyone wanted to become an artist, but they would do fuck all. It became so glamorized and it is something we are not really interested in. We are also trying to promote that it is much more important for people to develop their own taste and take on things, rather than simply listening to whatever magazines are telling them to do. Of course, information is important.
EM — I think from a creative point of view, research is very important in finding those images that speak to you and don’t have a literal connection to one another. At the moment, I am far more interested in being inspired from an introspective point of view and looking at where I come from and who I am. That is how I have approached things for the past four seasons, and it has really come from this specific point of my life.
BK — For us it has never been about outsourcing materials, but it is about looking in and thinking about who you are as a person and what it is that is attractive for you. It is about how you put that together. It is also interesting for us to see how the collection ends up being worn. All we are trying to say to the world is that the most important thing is to think about who you are. I would hate to see a hoard of girls dressing head-to-toe in our show looks. I would find it really amusing. Since our spring/summer 11 show I have seen tons of girls with our show hair.
EM — I don’t think that is embarrassing. I think it is delightful
BK — But I find it amusing because it gets taken as a literal message.
EM — Its inevitable and I don’t think it is the same thing as taking a literal show look because they have taken one element and that is the hair. I kind of like it when I see things having an effect.
IB — Do you find it strange?
EM — It is weird but at least it means there is some relevance to what we are doing. I’d feel the same if we ever came across our things being ripped off by the high-street stores. It happens once in a blue moon and I should be really pissed off about it, but our clothes are only available in a small number of places and to a certain amount of people. It makes us relevant and I think it is a good thing really.
IB — Do you ever find it difficult working together?
EM — Yes, sometimes.
IB — I suppose you must be very used to it…
EM — Yes we are very used to it but obviously sometimes it is hard.
IB — Do you think there is a reason you work well together?
EM — IB — Do you think there is a reason you work well together?
IB — Did you find it difficult working on the line for Topshop?
EM — No.
IB — Do you see it as a different entity to your mainline collections?
EM — No I see it as the same thing actually. The only difference is that we don’t physically make the clothes and we have less of a say in the fabrics. I still research and then design it, then I give them the drawings. We do fittings and fabric research. The only difference is instead of me making the pattern, I give it to them and they have someone that makes it. We then go to fittings and alter it, and it goes backwards and forwards until it is right. Obviously there is a difference in the way the garments are made but I don’t really see it as a huge difference. In fact, I try not to. These collaborations have existed for a long time and I was always frustrated by many of them in the past. Just because it is for Topshop designers can still think about the collections. These designers are not incapable of making clothes that is what they actually do. We try and approach it in a much more personal way.
IB — You will also be stocking at Dover Street Market for next season…
EM — Yes. I am really pleased as it took a long time. They had it in their minds that we didn’t want to sell to them, which is ridiculous. Of course we want to. I hope it does well in there. Also, it is another form of validation.
IB — What is the most interesting part of the design process for you?
EM — It is very difficult to select one element because at various points I hate everything. It drives me mad.
BK — At times it feels like torture. I think it is much more enjoyable when you think about things than when you visualise things. That is the driving force; you strive to achieve the thing in your head. It pushes you forward.
EM — Each collection comes in a very different way.
BK — We have done collections that have been really enjoyable the entire way through and ones that have felt like torture.
EM — The Autumn/Winter 12 collection was the most painful experience.
BK — For me the most painful one was Spring/Summer 10 with the glittery t-shirts. That was the biggest stress.
EM — Also in the summer there is so much more time, so we end up starting earlier than necessary. It can get so painful.
IB — Do you find it exhausting?
EM — Yes. When we are making the collections we don’t stop at all.
IB — You live and work in the same space; do you ever find it hard to separate the two?
BK — Well for the first time in how ever many years we have lived here, we are thinking about having a separate living space.
EM — At the moment there is no separation and because it is such a personal thing that we do it might be nice to have a physical separation sometimes. At the same time, we always wanted it this way. I could never grasp the concept of having a studio somewhere else.
IB — Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
EM — I feel like I am doing nothing but it is the quietest part of the year so we try and make the most of it. There is production happening. Ben is working on a floral display for Topshop, which will be launching in May. I am thinking about a couple of projects, a few of which I am not allowed to speak about. I wont physically start making the next spring/summer 12 collection until July.
IB — So you work on separate projects from one another?
EM — Not really, but we work on separate things for the brand. I don’t relate to flowers so much and that project was really invented for Benjamin.
By Isabella Burley
15 de noviembre de 2015