Against Alice Neale's images following one model through the show day circus, stylist and casting director John Colver talks working with the duo, this season's look and PJ Harvey
Ever since 2011, when Marques’Almeida were awarded sponsorship by Fashion East, they have been working with stylist and consultant John Colver. Collaborating with the Portuguese design duo on their shows, collections and casting, we spoke to Colver about their creative partnership, the identity of the M’A girl and Instagram-stalking moody teens to recruit into the gang.
How did you meet Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida? When did you start working together?
John Colver: I can't really remember how we actually met but I remember really loving their MA collection at Central Saint Martins and then meeting them not long after. I came in when they had just been awarded Fashion East for their first post-CSM collection and it all went from there. That is now six shows ago and I think that they have gone from strength to strength – I love that some references have probably remained on the wall since that first collection, that the girl they designed for at the start is still the girl now. The label hasn’t stood still or congratulated itself on being popular for one season and kept on churning out the same things and although there have been constants, like key fabrics and feeling, the silhouette has quietly but constantly evolved.
How does your creative process with them work? Is there a sense of collaboration throughout the season, or does your work predominantly focus on the show?
John Colver: It all depends really; sometimes, I might call in a few times during the season and other times, we are literally on opposite sides of the world! When I first started working with them it was all new and, when you are doing your first collection, I think you really want to concentrate on the designing. That is why Lulu Kennedy and Fashion East are so special; I have always loved how she protects and supports designers when they need it the most. So for that first season, it was about getting people involved who understood their vibe and importantly, were lovely. Because, to me, that is the biggest pleasure about working with Paulo and Marta, they are the loveliest and most optimistic people and I really think that comes through in each collection and everything they do.
For that first season, Jonjo – who I’ve known since the Trash days – agreed to do music for next to nothing and he's been a big part of the show team ever since. One of the first Fashion East shows that I worked on was Gareth Pugh, under the arches in London Bridge, and Jonjo played the loudest and most entrancing music that just seemed to take over your body and into this world of Gareth. Also for that season, we didn't find anyone who would cast the show without a large fee so we did it ourselves and I actually much prefer that now.
"I love that some references have remained since that first collection, the girl they designed for at the start is still the girl now." – John Colver
Who is the M’A girl? How is she reflected in the show casting?
John Colver: I think that's actually quite a broad category. I could describe who I think it is but then suddenly, I could see someone totally the opposite to that wearing a look and it looking great. It will be really interesting to see how the upcoming Topshop collaboration is worn and who by – I have no doubt it will be super-popular, because it's great. A lot of my work is about finding the right model and casting – and for the M'A show it's really important. Fashion week casting can be a strange and quite cold place, with young girls traipsing all over the place, so you come to understand when some girls arrive a bit worn out or moody or shy, and others hyper – and that allows us to see their personality. That sense of who they are often sways us so much, because who doesn't see themselves as a slightly moody teenager?
I spend the weeks leading up to fashion week combing agencies and blogs looking for girls, hoping they don’t get a Calvin Klein exclusive or something and suddenly get pulled from London. Now, with Instagram, the stalking is even worse…I'm always on at agencies saying, “I've seen this girl” or “she has dyed her hair and we like it.” With Marques'Almeida, there is a sense of family too – we often have quite a lot of new faces but we also have a group that have done pretty much every show: the M'A Gang.
What inspired the SS15 collection? It seems like a progression from the past seasons of nineties grunge, with the incorporation of colour and crystals.
John Colver: I think that M'A are tagged as grunge when really it's not much of an important reference for them. Last season was actually more about the Chelsea Hotel, Janis Joplin era where you had a feeling that a silhouette was randomly assembled by whatever was within arms reach when getting ready. It was a bit dress up, with nothing making sense being put together and then a feather boa put on top and it all looked fabulous. Last season had that spirit but it looked so together too. In my eyes, it was breakthrough because everything seemed really fearless and confident. This season followed on with that confidence; as soon as I saw the black sketches, I knew it was going to be a winner. There is always a fear that, as the designing gathers speed and the show becomes closer, some of the more exciting ideas will get smoothed too much – but that never happens with them. The Swarovski crystals were introduced at the start of the process and I think they looked great and didn’t feel – as they sometimes do – as a contractual obligation awkwardly stuffed into a collection. I think a huge compliment to Paulo and Marta is that the M'A girl lives effortlessly in so many worlds; you often see pieces or even full looks worn both at posh evening events and just on the tube during the day. I love that!
What did you want to show with the SS15 collection?
This season, we were talking in the studio about how sometimes shows now are non-events. These days, shows can feel a bit too much like real life or almost entirely a PR event to go straight onto the Daily Mail website. We wanted to crank the music up, turn the lights down and really envelop the space. We also really wanted the show to feel like a show, to actually have hair and make-up and go against the trend of no hair, clean skin. It sometimes feels like a wasted opportunity that labels work for six months, spend loads of money, invite everyone and then send models down the catwalk looking like they are off shopping. Again, we are in a lucky position where everyone already seems to look at M'A and see something for themselves, so we don’t really have to send down an uber-realistic look in order for people to buy into the collection.
Who chose the PJ Harvey show soundtrack? Why?
John Colver: She was there from the start – Marta had been playing her a lot in the studio and, when the emails started with Jonjo, it turned out that he was a huge fan and the song that became the finale “Down By The Water” is one of his favourite songs. I think that she is one of those artists that people really respond to and has been part of the soundtrack of so many people’s lives.
What is your role in establishing the brand aesthetic?
John Colver: I suppose I have two roles: firstly, as a fan and friend who eagerly anticipates what they do next and then secondly, as another point of view. I am always there giving my opinion or getting people involved to document the collections but actually, Paulo and Marta and the team that they have don't need much help with the overall aesthetic. They put so much hard work and energy into it all that that element organically falls into place. Even the fitting pictures somehow come out looking like great images!
Where do you hope to see the brand going forward?
John Colver: I think that every bit of extra recognition they get is great and so rightfully deserved. So maybe an M'A shop or a big label job…it sounds very corny to say but it's really great when really good things come to really lovely people.