There was a time when Lawrie Abie spent entire afternoons folding old scraps of paper into origami boats, casting them ahoy and watching until their triangle hats had drifted out of eyeline. “The aim was to see which of them sailed the furthest. No matter the current, or the fact that paper sinks in water, my friends and I always believed that it would be ours that made the most headway,” the stylist explains, comparing the “fragile hope” of those imaginary platoons to the lives of real adults. “We become fearful and lose hope, shadowed by society, living conditions, and where you come from.” It wasn’t until Abie decided to transform those memories into fashion imagery that he could excavate some of those feelings. “It’s like breaking free and having belief in ourselves again.”
In an editorial shot by Timothy Schaumburg, all those paper boats become structural millinery, slicing through the surface of a lake on the heads of synchronised, wild water swimmers. Elsewhere, a young boy gazes over a wooden jetty, young women are washed away on rowing boats, and a wrinkled matriarch bows her head in a behemoth diadem made of towels. “I think of my work as a form of narrative art and as always telling a story,” Abie says. “When you look at the images and follow each chapter as it progresses, the shoot reads like a movie script.” Between chaos and contemplation, frantic splashes of water and moonlit lakes, the shoot manages to look like cinema too. “One thing leads to the next, it is a sequence made up of scenes, not just single images,” Schaumburg says.
Where so many stylists and photographers are hesitant to expose the inner machinations of their work – not wanting to explain away the mystery – Abie is forthcoming, describing at length all the symbolic easter eggs that are hidden within the shoot. There’s the river, a stand in for the changing tides of the everyday; there’s an illuminated boat, which represents hope; and then there are, of course, the paper boats, made by set designer Carina Dewhurst, which symbolise the dreams we cast out into the world. “The worst thing was when some of the paper boat headpieces got wet and broken because they were too fragile,” Abie says. “But then again it was quite memorable, because as I saw them floating away from the models it suddenly all became very realistic.”
If not mysticism – all cleansing rituals, childhood relics, and biblical journeys down the river – then Abie and Schaumburg were reaching for a sense of wonder here, originally picturing the protagonist of their story as “walking over a robe in the sky”. Within these images, however, he’s a little more terrestrial, weighed down by clomping boots and a billowing baker boy cap. Abie is no stranger to a hefty headpiece, either, having made a tower of snapbacks for NAMESAKE’s SS23 collection, inspired by rural market sellers and all their stalls-on-a-stick. As disparate as those two projects may be, there is real warmth and naïvete harboured within Abie’s approach to image-making. “It’s okay to act and think like a child sometimes,” he concludes, watching his boats become battalions.