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art school volume one Pippa brooks
Courtesy of Art School

An ex-Playboy Bunny is the face of Art School’s new collection

It-girl and ‘hard bitch’ Pippa Brooks’ personal photos inspired the accompanying lookbook

Since making its debut on the fashion landscape in 2017 as part of Fashion East’s MAN show, radical London-based label Art School has been twisting and subverting traditional gender-norms, and putting forward a new ‘normal’ with its avant-garde, progressive collections.

As part of their graduation from Lulu Kennedy’s initiative, for SS19 founders Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt enlisted a diverse, largely queer cast of non-models (their friends for the most part) to bring their High Concept Character collection to life on the runway. Wearing sequined slips, ripped t-shirts, and floor-length gowns, with glitter and mascara streaked down their cheeks, the likes of Munroe Bergdorf and the legendary Princess Julia stumbled down the catwalk as if making their way home from a wild night out. Given the show took place on a Sunday morning in East London, maybe some of them were.

That was then, though, and this is now. Having flown the Fashion East nest, the duo have designs on the womenswear schedule as they seek to expand the Art School world. To do just that, this weekend they present their first collection coinciding with LFW, a pre-AW19 offering entitled Volume One. “We’re discovering our own way of working within the two gendered schedules, while keeping our own gender-fluid outlook on design. It means we can tell a more detailed story of Art School which evolves more naturally,” explains Loweth.

“Pippa was in our first ever presentation. Theo Adams showed us a picture of her when we were casting and we were like ‘who is she?!’ She was so wonderful in the show, totally mysterious and elegant” – Art School

The collection was designed with the queer body in mind – this is Art School, after all – with bias-cut pieces intended to flatter the forms of their trans and transitioning friends, and other styles cut to accommodate a wide variety of body shapes and sizes.

Along with the new collection, they’re also releasing a new lookbook, which features former Playboy bunny and it-girl Pippa Brooks. “Pippa was in our first ever presentation. Theo Adams, who worked with us when we were casting, showed us a picture of her and we were like ‘who is she?!’” explains Barratt. “She was so wonderful in the show, totally mysterious and elegant. The new collection is totally Pippa in terms of style and fabulousness. We just love her.” The pair drew inspiration from her personal photos when putting together the idea for the shoot, from her time as a model to her early years of motherhood.

As Barratt and Loweth launch the photo series amidst the chaos of London Fashion Week, we sat down with them to hear more about their move into womenswear, their admiration for Pippa, and being inspired by Tori Amos.

Why did you decide to make the move into womenswear?

Art School: After graduating from Fashion East we felt like it was time to expand upon Art School and have a presence on the women’s schedule. We’ve always shown as part of the menswear shows, which has given us a literating space to convey our message of diversity and non-binary identity. But now we want to reach a new audience. Volume One is a prelude to our next show, and a way of building the Art School World.  

What was the idea behind the Volume One lookbook?

Art School: We were inspired by Tori Amos’s American Doll Posse album, when Tori imagines herself as five different women – each one an archetype of femininity representing a different side of herself. Since starting Art School, we’ve had the pleasure of becoming friends with Karen Binns, the mastermind and genius creative behind Tori’s visual world. This was sort of an ode to Karen and her exploration of femininity through character and persona, something we too have explored from the get-go.

Why did you decide Pippa was the right person to bring your first womenswear collection to life?

Art School: Pippa was wonderful in our first ever presentation, so mysterious and elegant. She channelled Lindsay Kemp with her white powder and smudged red pigment all over her face, which looked amazing against her red velvet suit. Ever since then we’ve been fascinated by her, and she’s appeared in quite a few of our shows. She had a bit of a Donatella moment in our AW18 show, when she donned a super-long platinum wig. She was really feeling herself when she put that on, she transformed into a whole new character! I guess that transformative nature is what made her perfect for this project. It needed someone who can explore different sides of themselves and respond to fashion by bringing their own personality to it.

What is it about her that you think represents the Art School woman?

Art School: We work with many women and femmes who embody qualities we are drawn to and communicate something distinct. Deciphering the Art School woman is difficult because we work using our instincts and gut feeling. I believe there’s a determination to discover her true self and a sense of humour and character in her. Somewhere between loud and quiet, she’s a shy show-off perhaps. Pippa definitely embodies this for us, she’s so charismatic and funny, and she has many talents – she turns her hand to whatever is thrown at her. It's taken us time to properly get to know Pippa since with the shows things happen so quickly and it's so busy. This experience has been so wonderful as we have been able to really get to know her and spend time with her. We have treasured it so much.

What do you think Pippa brought to the shoot?

Art School: So much! The designs and beauty looks were all inspired by her, she sent us all these amazing old photographs of her throughout the years. We created three beauty looks based on these moments: there's the mullet inspired by her Playboy shoot, a slick ponytail inspired by one she wore when she was pregnant, and a wild mass of curls which is kind of Elvira meets prom princess. It’s very young Nicole Kidman! And, of course, she brought her wonderful personality to the shoot, and her amazing elegance and movement. Holly Blakey worked with Pippa on the day to guide her natural movements into beautiful gestures and poses.

What did she think of the collection?

Art School: She loves it… or so she told us anyway! I think the collection is very Pippa in style and fabulousness, and if Pippa chose to rock it then that would be the greatest seal of approval. She has immaculate dress sense and style! We’re actually waiting for Pippa to select some pieces from the collection so we can make them for her. It would be such a joy to have Art School hanging in her wardrobe and have her be an ambassador for the label.

What was it like going through her photos with her?  

Art School: It was amazing! She has so many stories about these incredible shoots and the photographers who took the different pictures. You can’t get more iconic than the Pippa does Playboy moment, and as she says, she was the most unlikely person to do Playboy, which makes it even more amazing. Shiori Takahashi, who did the hair for the lookbook actually transformed Pippa’s original wig from the shoot into a stunning beehive updo, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to shoot it. So I guess we’ll have to arrange for it to have its moment at some point.

Which of them was your favourite?

Art School: The photo of her lying on the bed when she’s biting down on some sunglasses next to what I think is a bong. And the outfit with the lace-up clog shoe is everything, as is the Polaroid with ‘hard bitch’ scrawled on it. That was very evocative to me – I look at it and just think, wow, I wish I was that cool. I think that sums Pippa and our love for her up. We’re just in awe of her coolness and one day, when we grow up, we hope to be just like her. We love you Pippa!