Last Friday night, down a side street in the heart of the Marais, New York designer Heron Preston revealed his first eponymous collection, somewhat conveniently titled “For You, The World”. It felt like a truly global affair, as kids from New York, London, Paris and Instagram mingled, their conversations drowned by waves of cacophonous trap music. The models mingled too, dressed in varying hues of camouflage and relaxed sportswear accented by utilitarian graphics and stark orange accents, before convening at various intervals to pose for photographers and attendees.
This was not your typical fashion presentation – but then, Heron Preston is not a traditional fashion designer, flitting between art, music and clothing, corporate and underground, with apparent ease. This presentation was a reflection of this. The clothes, he said, were designed largely over Whatsapp, emails and Skype calls with a team in Italy, and borrowed traits of both standard issue workwear and from now-defunct (but still relevant, thanks to sites like Grailed) labels like Number (N)ine. The message, however, was a continuation of his collaboration with New York’s sanitation department last year, which say him repurposing old uniforms for a collection that aimed to shed a spotlight on pollution and fashion’s role in the problem.
“Second to oil, the textile industry is the most polluting in the world” – Heron Preston
“When I was in the Department of Sanitation project, I learned that, second to oil, the textile industry is the most polluting in the world,” he said. A banner wrapped around the walls of the full space, also in orange, stating this fact in imposing white letters. “Once I found that out, I was like, ‘Fuck, I'm a part of that problem, how can I be part of the solution?’” remarked Preston. “I wanted that to be the main takeaway from this experience tonight. For people to just be like, ‘Wow, it's not just cool fucking clothes, there's also some depth behind the thinking.’”
While turtlenecks embroidered in en-vogue Cyrillic slogans and hoodies emblazoned with Heron gulls may not exactly epitomise a sense of timelessness, the intent was there. And aesthetically, Preston’s brand evidently had struck a chord with those in attendance – most of whom were young and consummately style conscious. It’s through that initial intrigue that he hopes he can have some effect, by using his buzzed-about designs as a sort of Trojan Horse for messages of greater significance. “I feel like fashion designers and artists have very powerful voices to push these issues forward,” he explained. And in an age where people are either really into Making America Great Again or some semblance of ‘woke’, it is, Preston argues, increasingly different to separate the world at large from the creative process. Politics and social injustice are all around us, why should he shy away from making a point through his work?
The collection also included a cap, embroidered with the image of Martin Luther King. On a day in which Donald Trump had been sworn in just hours earlier, it was Preston’s own small form of protest, but it came with a message of hope. “It says ‘I have a dream’ on the back; there’s an eagle which represents the ability to soar above any situation; the black hand the white hand representing unity,” he said. It was also apt when you consider that fashion in 2017 still lags behind other industries in terms of diversity – and here he was, one of only a handful of black designers showing his collection in Paris over the weekend. “It's trippy, like I grew up not really like seeing colour – all my friends came from different backgrounds – but, now that I'm working in the fashion industry, it's hard not to see what's happening. It's like, fuck man – this has been such a white dominated (industry),” he stated, before adding: “I don't want to make it a racial thing, but it's true – it's just facts. They're just facts.” Pollution, racial diversity – these are large issues to grapple with for what is ostensibly a fledgling streetwear label. But what was apparent in the swathes of attendees – some black, some white and some as young as 14 – was that Preston’s work had captured their attention.
“I'm a skater, I grew up in San Francisco – and that's also a white dominated sport. And then growing up, being exposed to black skaters was so special for me,” he said. “I hope this is inspiring a younger generation below me.”
Follow Calum Gordon on Twitter here @calumtrc