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Meadham Kirchhoff: still rejecting everything

Meadham Kirchhoff took over Dazed’s latest issue for an explosive art project – they talk style, subculture and Britain’s cultural regression

Taken from the spring/summer 2015 issue of Dazed:

As fashion heretics whose taste for the riotous runs from tree-strung tampons to can can-dancing Courtney Love lookalikes, Meadham Kirchhoff’s track record in subversion is second to none. But this season, they revealed they were too broke to stage a show, leaving a hole in the schedule which suggested there is currently something very wrong with British fashion. “‘Is Meadham Kirchhoff Dead?’ – I guess that’s the title,” says Edward Meadham, one half of the iconoclastic design duo, of the work they created for our spring/summer art residency. “It’s not dead, but I don’t know if it’s alive – it’s kind of in a coma.”

Following the style of the DIY, riot grrrl-inspired zine that accompanied their SS15 show (called Reject Everything, it was a heartfelt ‘fuck you’ to David Cameron and a love letter to dykes, fags and Viv Albertine), these collages express the question mark that currently hangs over the label. For all the uncertainty, Meadham Kirchhoff are still leading the fight against the “cultural regression” that has seen Britain become “more apologetic, more bland and more conservative.” Their solution lies close to home: “The most effective kind of activism is a personal one, to exist and express your contrariness,” explains Meadham. “The more people that have a voice and do what they want to do, the more variety we will have – and the more fun,” adds Kirchhoff. We spoke to the duo about the state of the nation, fashion today and the future of their own label.

What do you love and hate about British culture? 

Edward Meadham: I love the fact that we’ve always had subculture and I think we always will, more than any other culture or country that I can think of. I love that, in England, people are able to express themselves in ways that aren’t as easy to do in places like Paris, and I think that relates to the whole idea of subculture and English eccentricity. I’m sure I hate loads of things about this country. I hate the nullification of the world that we live in. I hate the hassle I get everywhere I go by the stupid cunts that populate this town and this country. We’re in London, and London is not England. It’s better here than anywhere else, its more liberal and free but it’s still not, really.

Why did you decide to create a zine for SS15? What got you riled up particularly?

Edward Meadham: Just walking through the streets on a daily basis and observing what is around me and what we’re surrounded by. Also a desire to connect with otherness, I suppose. We’ve always done something along those lines, whether that be a poster or a book as it was that particular season, but for some reason everybody noticed it this time. I don’t really see the point in force-feeding people information that they could just observe. I had so much to rant about in the summer that I just put it in that zine.

Do you think that fashion, especially in England, is lacking that DIY aspect?

Edward Meadham: I think it’s lacking a lot of things; DIY is something that comes and goes. There are designers who are doing things very manually which is nice, but if everybody did that it would be really boring. I think what fashion is lacking is a variety and respect for itself at the moment. I think fashion hates itself.

So what does it love? Money?

Edward Meadham: Art, apparently, and commerce.

Benjamin Kirchhoff: It loves money and fear and making sure that people are entertained. 

Edward Meadham: I think fashion seems to love homogenisation, which is depressing.

Do you think that fashion tells us what we should want, rather than giving us what we actually want?

Edward Meadham: I think it’s trying to give us what it thinks we want, but we don’t want it. When I constantly hear about how badly everything in the fashion industry is doing, I think that’s a really good explanation that maybe people don’t want it after all.

So what’s the solution to that?

Benjamin Kirchhoff: Designers have to stop being self-deprecating and fearful of what they actually want to do. They should have a message and a voice – don’t pander to an industry that doesn’t really know what it wants or how to deliver it. And it’s not only on a young designer level. Whether it’s LVMH or London Young Designers or an established brand in Milan, everyone just needs to be doing what they want to do.

Edward Meadham: I feel like there’s absolutely room and necessity for every variety. Let’s say Margaret Howell – without wanting to pinpoint anyone, it just came into my head . They do very simple, very classic things and that’s really lovely. It’s nice that they can exist and someone like us or Junya (Watanabe) can exist. It seems like the fashion industry doesn’t want that to be the case. I just think that universally, and not only in fashion, our culture is becoming more apologetic, more bland and more conservative. I’d really like to see more difference. 

When was the last time this kind of variety was celebrated in fashion?

Benjamin Kirchhoff: Pre-2001.

Edward Meadham: The early 00s and late 90s had all sorts of things going on.

Benjamin Kirchhoff: It’s like two planes hit two towers and all of a sudden the world stopped. It’s sad, but the world doesn’t need to be led by fear. Diversity and change aren’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s like all of a sudden we had to have a blandness to make people feel comfortable. Every sort of progressive change that has been made in the west in the last 100 years is being completely alienated, and we are becoming more conservative.

Edward Meadham: A cultural regression.

Benjamin Kirchhoff: There’s a cultural regression in the way we approach and see the world. There is less room for diversity – less room for tolerance, even – and I don’t understand it.

Edward Meadham: It’s the lack of tolerance that propelled me to want to make that statement (in the zine). 

What was the driving force behind this project?

Edward Meadham: In a way I was really making a statement about the state of Meadham Kirchhoff, and the massive question mark that it is at the moment. I guess the title for it, if there’s going to be one, will be ‘Is Meadham Kirchhoff Dead?’ It’s not dead, but I don’t know if it’s alive – it’s kind of in a coma or transition phase right now.

Benjamin Kirchhoff: We’re still trying to figure things out. 

Edward Meadham: It’s quite depressing that one of the main things people say to me is not to give up. We didn’t give up, it wasn’t a choice we made – it was something that happened to us, something that was forced upon us. Our future is quite uncertain and that’s what I’m commenting about with the piece. It’s a past, present and future thing, if anybody can read my scrawls – which in a way I hope they can’t!

Is the schedule part of the problem? Do we need to forget about seasons and let people do what they want?

Edward Meadham: That would be amazing.

“Diversity and change aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s like all of a sudden we had to have a blandness to make people feel comfortable” – Benjamin Kirchhoff

Benjamin Kirchhoff: It would be amazing but I don’t think it can really work that way. The curse of fashion is that it’s seasonal so you have this pressure to create something at least once a year. But it’s such an amazing industry, partly because you have less time to be complacent and self-indulgent in your thought process. You also have more room for mistakes, which are fine as well. Obviously, (designers) need to make money one way or another, yet nobody is asking artists how they make money in between. There is a commercial pressure put on designers that I believe needs to change. There’s also the dirty word that is being talked about a lot, which is that, if you have three seasons under your belt, you suddenly become a brand.

Edward Meadham: (People) delude themselves into thinking they’re a brand when really they’re just a designer label, if that. It goes hand in hand with this false concept of luxury. Everybody thinks that, just because they make an expensive dress, that that’s luxury. It’s a luxury for someone to be able to buy it, but luxury when talked about in a fashion context used to relate very specifically to a methodology and control over every aspect of production. Now anything that’s expensive gets called luxury but it’s not, it’s made in some factory in China the same way everything else is, it’s just expensive. For me, that’s not luxury. I feel there’s a perception that we, as Meadham Kirchhoff, are supposed to portray ourselves as luxury and aspire to that, but I don’t really see the point in aspiring to something that is false.

What do you think is the biggest threat to creativity in Britain today?

Edward Meadham: The aspiration towards nothingness and the conservatism we were talking about.

You sound quite pessimistic. Is there any hope? 

Benjamin Kirchhoff: We can only do what we want to do in the way that we do it. It’s not our place to tell others how to behave or what to feel. The best form of activism is for people to actually be themselves. You can only really exist for yourself; this is the only shell you have and nobody has the right to tell you what to do or what to be.

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