In the February issue of Dazed & Confused, we spoke to the Dalston-based designers about sugar and spice and all things nice, and serving up confrontation with a cherry on top
Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff created yet another new world for their spring/summer 2012 show, a candy and ice-cream-coloured universe where the soft and fluffy forces of good prevailed. The pair met in 2002 while studying fashion at Central Saint Martins, and even though the British-born Meadham was on the womenswear course and French-born Kirchhoff was doing menswear, they joined forces after graduation with the menswear label Meadham Kirchhoff. In 2007 they embarked on their first womenswear collection, showing within London’s Fashion East line-up. The designers have gone from strength to strength ever since, sometimes slotting boys into their womenswear show but concentrating mostly on womenswear, for now.
I tend to work backwards – I see the show, styling and everything way before I actually know what the clothes are going to be. I knew I wanted to have a block of Courtney Loves powdering themselves and a giant cake, and the ballerinas
This season the catwalk was transformed into a tween girl’s’ saccharine birthday party, decorated with a pastel palette fit for My Little Ponies and Care Bears. The spectacle began with a procession of Courtney Loves and ended with a whirlwind of Sylvia Young ballerinas; sandwiched between these catwalk theatrics was a brilliant collection of 25 sickeningly sweet looks. At a time when fashion has recoiled from fun, and performance is in fear of going under, it’s refreshing to see such courage and gusto from a young brand. Meadham Kirchhoff’s fearlessness has paid off, and its cotton-candy, ice-cream-
splattered princesses sit happily alongside the fluffy candies from Louis Vuitton’s Carousel show or Prada’s 50s heroines – whether they like it or not.
Dazed & Confused: This season’s show was a particularly big performance. How did you come up with the concept?
Edward Meadham: I tend to work backwards – I see the show, styling and everything way before I actually know what the clothes are going to be. I knew I wanted to have a block of Courtney Loves powdering themselves and a giant cake, and the ballerinas. There was going to be another section actually, but that didn’t really work out.
Benjamin Kirchhoff: Thank God!
D&C: Why did you title the collection ‘A Wolf in Lamb’s Clothing’?
Edward Meadham: It comes from the idea of ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ and ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’. The idea of the wolf was as a confrontational and aggressive thing masquerading as something sweet and innocent.
Benjamin Kirchhoff: We tried to really not have a dark side. We didn’t want to have an undercurrent of anything. The whole idea was more celebratory than confrontational.
Edward Meadham: I wanted to feel like nothing bad was going to happen, in terms of the moods and the colours.
D&C: But perhaps confrontational in a very light way?
Edward Meadham: Well, it being so light is sort of confrontational. I wanted it to be about girls being happy about being girls, without there being the threat of a male gaze.
Benjamin Kirchhoff: We’ve been quite obsessed lately with something that Leith Clark said to coincide with the launch of her magazine [Lula], that she was terrified that every shoot and every representation of women in fashion always had this invisible male presence.
D&C: Recently you’ve been more controlling about who wears Meadham Kirchhoff. You really don’t want celebrities wearing
Edward Meadham: There are almost no celebrities in this day and age who actually express any point of view or personal style. We have no problem with celebrities in theory – it’s just that so far we haven’t had
D&C: Would you rather see your clothes on real girls?
Benjamin Kirchhoff: Yeah. It’s much more important to us.
Edward Meadham: We use models for the show but everyday reality is not about those girls. I have the girl pictured in my head that I present on the runway and then beyond that I want to leave it up to whoever works on the pieces and whatever way they want to wear them. Our show is so specific and layered and complicated that it’s interesting for me to see how the clothes can be adapted.
Benjamin Kirchhoff: It’s nice when you see all these girls and boys walking around Dalston doing DIY looks. Having the dip-dye hair and all that kind of stuff. It’s more relevant to see people in the street having a direct reaction to the shows rather than people in the industry.
D&C: Do you think that the fashion world is losing its element of fantasy?
Edward Meadham: Yeah, it does seem to be. People are so concerned and totally panicked with commerciality and the idea of this recession. When I look at fashion everybody seems to be making black-and-grey shift dresses. We wanted to explore the antithesis of that really. It’s relentless to limit the presentation of fashion to just a model walking up and down a runway. It’s not interesting to me – we want to push everything out as far as possible.
Benjamin Kirchhoff: For us it’s important to present our collections within a universe. We’re completely obsessed the idea of creating
D&C: Your shows are very empowering, in that they give people the confidence to be individual. Is that something you always have in mind?
Edward Meadham: People were pretty shocked to see all of those different elements of performance in the show, but at the end of the day it was a success. It just goes to show that you don’t need to be bland.
Benjamin Kirchhoff: With every show you never really know what the audience are going to make of it. When we did the veil collection and were so joyous and happy and delighted with everything, the reaction was mixed. We travelled to New York a few weeks after the show in London and we felt like Marilyn Manson kids. Americans were like, ‘Why aren’t you more normal? Why are you
D&C: It’s funny because New York loves you now. Maybe it just takes time for people to get it.
Benjamin Kirchhoff: It’s sort of like facing the press or buyers after the show. It’s strange to see people coming into the showroom and having their minds made up before they’ve seen the clothes up close and had time to digest the collection. I think they felt a bit stranded this time by the fact that there wasn’t anything other than pretty, fluffy, sequin, glittery, pink and blue.
Edward Meadham: It just proved to me that they can fuck off. We’ll just do what we want.
If people don’t like it we don’t
D&C: Do you see your womenswear and menswear as one collection in different sizes?
Benjamin Kirchhoff: The philosophy we apply to womenswear can be easily applied to menswear: the idea of pushing the freedom of dressing. There is a sort of masculinity code that needs to be broken somehow, the idea of how men approach clothing and how they think about clothes.
Edward Meadham: From a creative point of view it’s easier to do something that’s shocking and surprising in menswear, but from a critical point of view or from a product point of view it’s much harder because men are so much more reluctant. Eddie Izzard used to talk about being a transvestite and he considered it more an issue of total clothing rights, and not putting a gender on garments, if you know what
I mean. Boys and girls should just wear what they want
And do you both feel happy in London? Do you feel you have the support you need?
Edward Meadham: I don’t think any other town has such a supportive system. London – I hate it in so many ways, I’m so bored of it in so many ways, but it’s still the most interesting place that I’ve been to.
Benjamin Kirchhoff: We definitely live in a little bubble; I often compare Kingsland Road to the Kings Road in the 60s, because it’s got the same sort of things.
Edward Meadham: You can exist how you want, reinvent yourself how you want. It’s the best place to be anonymous.
Dazed & Confused's February issue is out now
Photography Gareth McConnell
Styling Robbie Spencer
Hair Raphael Salley at Streeters using Liz Earle
Make Up Alex Box at D+V using Illamasqua
Set Design Lizzie Ward with props from The Shed
Model Magda at Next
Photographic Assistant Chris Wilson
Styling Assistants Elizabeth Fraser-Bell, Milly SimonMake Up Assistant Michelle Gataric
Thanks to MKII