It’s a rare moment when fashion editors are moved to tears at a fashion show. Of course, there are stories of audiences weeping at the hands of Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela, but that was over two decades ago, way before the industry reached the apex of corporate capacity and widespread cynicism ensued. Imagine the sense of palpable optimism and sincerity that filled the Bloomsbury basement in 2014 where Craig Green would present Silent Protest, his first solo show since graduating from Central Saint Martins. It ended with a substantial part of the audience speechless and somewhat embarrassed by the glistening beads rolling down their cheeks. To use one of the industry’s favourite phrases, it was a fashion moment.
“It wasn’t a protest about anything specifically,” says Green, recalling the moment that struck a chord with his audience. “I just thought there was something really beautiful about that idea. It doesn’t start from a statement, like, ‘I’ve got something to say’. It starts with blocks of colour and fabric and thinking, isn’t there something beautiful about that? Or how can we make tarpaulin fabric look spiritual? It’s what’s used on construction sites, but we quilted it and deconstructed it, and mixed with sails and flags felt right in a weird futuristic way.” Green is being modest and like many designers, he is reticent when it comes to imbuing his work with meaning or intent. “I think the work should start conversation and discussion, but I can’t tell people what to think,” he reasons in his warm estuary twang. “I was thinking about this in relation to art … And the difference between what the artist says it is about, and what people view it as. Which is the truth and which is more important?”
Green’s collections get better every season, partly thanks to the stoic focus on his own evergreen interests: romantic and pragmatic variations of functionality through the looking glass of Ruskinian handcraft. On one hand, there’s the muslin trailing monastic sensuality in the form of intricate low-fi construction and barefoot styling—knotted together judo strings, billowing loosely slung trousers and ritualistically swathed washed silk straps and wraps travelling around the body. On the other, a consideration of functionality and workwear with much harder edged sensibility—quilted and padded cricketing panels akin to bullet proof vests, plasticised weather resistant fabrics and severely-strapped hooded hazmat suits. It’s no wonder that his work has already been acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and The Design Museum in London, as well as winning best British Menswear Designer at the 2016 Fashion Awards.
“I’ve always been fascinated with that idea of a communal way of dress and it being a way of grouping people together,” he offers as an explanation to his self-proclaimed cult like vision. “My MA collection was about the relationship between workwear and religious wear, and how one was for function and one was for spiritual or imagined function. They have such similarities between them in terms of their utilitarian, simple nature.” Green insists that uniformity is at the heart of his work. His shows are increasingly split into distinct chapters of four or five looks that explore a singular idea, technique or aesthetic. “It has uniformity from the beginning—even before there’s clothing. I want it to look like an army, or march, or groups of people.”
For his Autumn/Winter 2016 show, Green sent down one of his best collections to date. The show opened with models wrapped, strapped and tied up in tailored hazmat suits, which unfolded into hypochondriacally protective wear. Hoods were drawn tightly around the face, with added straps to hold them in place. “They’re to keep out germs,” Green clarified. What appeared at first to be a message of restraint, became a story of sensitivity and self preservation with heavyweight cotton coats dissected by lacing or buttons only half fastened—as if caught in a moment before furling away. These were clothes that armoured against the madness of the world and its exhausting pace, whilst commenting on the vulnerability of living in it.
“This is going to sound really pessimistic, but there’s always that feeling of protection and that’s what clothing is,” says Green. That show came at a time when Britain and America were gearing up towards major political events, and at a time when fashion had accelerated to an unsustainable speed, culminating in several major brands installing revolving doors for its creative directors. Green admitted that “The shows are about trying to project an emotion. It’s about what feels right at that time and what would be exciting to see.”
Green’s Spring/Summer 2017 show was poetry in motion. It marked a collaboration with music producer Frédéric Sanchez, who compiled a soundtrack that journeyed through variations of Roy Harper’s Another Day, with layers of sound from Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel, Elizabeth Fraser and Oliver Coates. “We always try and do something slightly nostalgic and emotional,” laughs Green. “The first sample he sent was it, so we had the music before we had the collection.” The result was so utterly romantic that it somewhat washed away the harsh climate of the political landscape. “I think you have to be optimistic when you do this, you’re constantly looking forward and trying to excite. I try and find the romantic quality in things and that’s always the challenge.”
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