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CONGREGATION Design - Collection1 - Rosie Marks 5
Photography Rosie Marks

The anonymous London collective changing its team every season

CONGREGATION Design come together to create collections away from their day-to-day 9-5s

Founded by a recent graduate of London's Royal College of Art is CONGREGATION Design – a collective of young artists and designers that approach fashion as an extracurricular activity. Instead of adhering to the industry’s traditionally seasonal calendar, the group take a more fluid approach to producing collections and come together to create as and when day jobs allow. At the core of CONGREGATION is a plot to conceptualise a new way of working – much of what it does is not about the outcome itself, but the stages of collaboration, support, and community in the lead up to it.

Choosing to remain completely anonymous, the collective was formed a little over a year ago by a creative who identifies themselves only as ‘marie’. It’s this anonymity that’s integral to the group and its approach. “It’s about the design, not the name behind it,” marie explains. “The label gathers a group of anonymous creative artists and designers who research and work on one particular project each season, before that team disperses and a fresh one is assembled for the next collection. Each creative involved brings a unique and personal translation of the season's theme to the project, whether that’s jewellery, a garment, or an accessory.”

As well as creating seasonal collections of conceptual and avant-garde clothing that traverses the line between genders, the group also set out to challenge a series of fashion conventions and practices, with sustainability and the intention of offering an antidote to ‘fast’ fashion key focuses. Last month, CONGREGATION Design hosted a number of live workshops as part of Fashion Revolution Week, in which they explored different approaches to working within the industry – including collaborative garment manufacturing and image-making. The group’s pieces were also picked up by Higher Studio, an online fashion rental platform offering a library of garments by seminal and emerging designers created to offer ‘a rotating wardrobe free from a consumer hangover.’

Coming up later this month, the group will debut their second collection to coincide with London Fashion Week Men’s, and will also present a new publication, CONGREGATION Zine 2, before their pieces hit the rails of new concept store 50-M – a new retail and social space dedicated to championing new designers and young talent. In anticipation of the busy few weeks the collective has in store, we caught up with founder marie to find out more about it.

Why did you decide to set the collective up?

marie: When I graduated from the RCA with my MA in menswear, I felt I only had two options that would lead into a successful career in fashion: either set up my own label and produce a full collection every six months, or work for a big, established label and do the same. In the end, I decided neither was for me and stuck to what I believed in, which was designing and making my own clothing in my spare time. A few months later, I was approached by a stylist who encouraged me to produce a new collection, but I just couldn’t commit to the workload. So I decided to share creating a collection with some of my ex-classmates, colleagues, and friends. They are all in the same position as me – they’re working full-time in different roles, but still have a desire to produce their own individual designs, garments, and objects, and CONGREGATION allows them to do so.

What’s the aim of the project?

marie: Personally, my aim is to build an alternative route as a fresh fashion graduate, and to keep my creative processes going. CONGREGATION Design’s aim is to focus on a fluid structure, and be able to face, adapt and challenge the various issues that affect fashion industry. I guess we are pioneering in what we do and won’t necessarily find a unique solution, but we can still focus on offering, testing and exchanging a new combination of ideas to our audience, and always keep thinking together.

Why did you choose to keep the artists and designers involved anonymous?

marie: I want to invite people to focus on the design rather than a name. It’s more about the combination of a new team every season and the variety of dynamics it creates, such as the idea of numbering collections, members and productions that symbolize the infinite possibilities. 

How many people work on each collection?

marie: The first collection started with ten designers, all with a fashion background. Then when we were promoting Collection1, we invited the lookbook photographer to join as the first non-designer, which proved to be a really positive experience and encouraged us expand our group. From here, we extended an invitation to a number of people, and I was really surprised to see how responsive other creatives from different fields were – we had gallerists, stylists, filmmakers, dancers and performers all keen to get involved. It’s opened so many new doors, and I’m excited to see it grow.

Will you continue working with London-based creatives?

marie: Absolutely not, there’s no geographic limit to creativity! We’ve just begun working with contributors in Paris which I think is going to give us a great insight into seeing how designers and artists will respond to the same body of research from a different location. The new creatives from Paris include emerging designers launching their own label, freelancers, and big label insiders. It is all about pushing boundaries – quite a varied line-up. It’s all very exciting!

Tell us a little bit about Collection1...

marie: CONGREGATION Design goes at its own pace, and a year’s worth of research and work felt right when it came to creating Collection1 – it gave us time to explore, play, and experiment with the collection further than just sticking to a traditional lookbook or campaign. We worked on a few collaborations with dancers, performers, filmmakers, and artists, and really challenged the so-called traditional fashion boundaries. The theme was centred around movement, starting with the interaction between the body and the garment, and moving on to territorial movement and dynamism.

“The number one CONGREGATION rule is that as soon as the work is too much and stops being enjoyable, take a break and come back when you feel ready to contribute again”

And what can we expect from Collection2?

marie: It took us one year after the first season to start on the second – it’s important to remember this is not our full-time job, and taking our time is essential to us enjoying every step of the creative process. The number one CONGREGATION rule is that as soon as the work is too much and stops being enjoyable, take a break and come back when you feel ready to contribute again.

What theme does it centre around?

marie: Collection2 is centred around my recent trip to Korea, where I went for a residency. I had so many unused pictures that needed to be explored so I decide to share a selection of them with the new team. For now, I'm in charge of the research as I think it’s important to have a certain continuity in the aesthetic.

What is your future vision for CONGREGATION Design?

marie: To go with the flow, and continue what we’re doing. On a serious note, I would love CONGREGATION Design to be a lifelong project that will grow and grow.