For AW23, the designer examined the tensions between the popularity of skiwear and the social barriers that prevent most people from actually going to St Moritz
“That’s my friend. I’ve known him for like ten years,” Saul Nash says, gesturing to a collage of Polaroids haphazardly pinned to a casting board. “And him, I knew him when he was a teenager.” Today, young designers seem to be increasingly drawn to “normal-looking” models. That is, someone whose genetic make-up is neither glamazonian or striking, but familiar and recognisable. “They have to look like the group of multicultural people I grew up with because I think that brings a sense of reality to the clothes,” he says. In places like London, there is no singular look that signals luxury and so these designers are revising what it means to be (and appear) aspirational.
For Nash, it’s about dislodging hierarchies and redistributing status: shooting campaigns in local barber shops, putting TfL bus stops on the runway, and looking at sportswear with the same connoisseurship as eveningwear. Nash continues to disturb the balance with his AW23 collection, which examines the tension between the popularity of skiwear on the street and the social barriers that prevent people from actually going on family holidays to Val-d’Isère and Courchevel. “The impetus was looking at cold weather garments and how we appropriate them to city living, but a lot of us never learnt to ski. I was 25 when I first went on a ski slope and I just didn’t know what to do,” he says.
Just how skiing acquired so much snob value is a long and boring story (something about post-war consumerism, the James Bond franchise, and Alpine infrastructure), but what was once the reserve of the idle elite is now a cornerstone of middle-class identity. “My school had ski trips but I could never afford to go,” Nash says. “I wasn’t phased but it was always a certain group of people that went.” He did, however, see the trappings of ski culture at home in north London: in imposing puffer jackets, which add mass and presence to people in hostile cities. “It’s always important to question what we wear and how that shapes our identity. These things are the codes and identifiers of growing up here.”
With his latest collection – Juxtaposition – Nash examines the role that clothing plays in maintaining these kinds of social agreements. “It’s like an unspoken uniform,” he says. “But I’ve always felt that my clothes are for everyone. Sportswear is so universal and it encompasses many different people.” He’s done that quite literally with a series of tubular merino knits that mould to fit disparate body shapes, creating off-duty staples with an aprés-ski attitude. He’s added fly fronts to performance trousers to shift the activewear silhouette into a more formal context, and stitched visisble lines onto down jackets to evoke landscape photographs where ski tracks ribbon through the snow.
This season, his references pinball between Busta Rhymes and Thomas Flechtner, but the collection is really about Nash detangling his own juxtapositions, making sense of the contradictory parts of himself that have become knotted with time. “I’m the definition of that,” he says. “I grew up in one way and then went to art school with people that were completely different to me.” Those feelings reached an emphatic break during London Fashion Week, when Nash’s model-dancers contorted down the runway in sleeping bag puffers, reflective vests, and scalpel-sharp technical jackets in pastel blues, pinks, and crinkly silvers. “My work’s always been a therapy,” he says. “Reflecting on my life and trying to understand why I think about certain things in a certain way. It teaches me a lot about myself.”
Click through the gallery above to see the collection.