London Calling: John Alexander Skelton is our next Menswear Designer to Meet
On March 23, Boris Johnson put the UK into a lockdown unlike anything we had ever experienced, in order to protect the country from a health pandemic the majority of us had never witnessed before. A mere two months earlier we’d barged through bustling crowds at London Fashion Week Men’s (LFWM), our knees brushing up against each other as we sat tightly packed into narrow rows within busy venues dotted across the capital. Totally unaware of the storm brewing in the distance. This was to be the last LFWM as we knew it. As the global fashion schedule came to a standstill in the face of Covid-19, the British Fashion Council took the opportunity to rethink the seasonal calendar entirely. Moving forward, London Fashion Week would become one gender-neutral platform, and its first iteration would be solely digital, held this past June.
Many London designers – not long out of university and entirely independent – didn’t have access to a studio, never mind physical resources, during lockdown. Instead, each faced the task of steering the codes that have shaped their brand thus far into uncharted waters, a URL unknown. Some crafted virtual-reality exhibitions and made capsule collections from deadstock, others decided not to show at all. So we spoke to the talent behind 10 of the city’s most promising brands to find out how they approached a season no one could have imagined.
Since graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2016, John Alexander Skelton has joined a slew of London cult labels that are doing fashion at their own pace. A true champion of sustainability, Skelton produces work that involves archival hand-dying techniques and extensive washing practices to achieve a historical feel that often references 19th-century uniforms of working-class men in rural northern England. He only shows once a year, presenting his autumn/winter collections in off-schedule, off-kilter performances that are a total antithesis to the glistening lights of London Fashion Week.
His last took place this past January, with Skelton’s younger brother Ryan reciting a haunting poem by Dylan Thomas as he uncovered a cohort of mannequins dressed in wrinkled, slightly dishevelled ensembles made with artisans in Ireland and Scotland. Such work has allowed the designer to keep in constant communication with collaborators while in the process of creating his SS21 collection, which was photographed in a lookbook format on the roof next door to his Soho studio.
How have you had to adapt the way you create during lockdown?
“I usually use quite a lot of stuff from India, like hand-spun fabrics, which are all made in very small villages. There was no way of getting to the village or back or anything like that, so I started using a lot of Irish linen for the collection instead. I couldn’t really afford to buy or develop fabrics with really expensive mills, I had to kind of find a way to elevate fabrics and make them more than what they were in the beginning. And I re-interpret things, like I reuse fabrics that are not necessarily used for a specific thing. That’s what I used to do when I first started, so it’s actually quite nice to return to doing stuff in that way and making everything on my own.”
How do you hope the fashion industry will change in a post-Covid world?
“I think it would be good to see designers editing their output, but for more than just economic reasons. So not just making smaller collections because they’re not going to sell as much, but editing their collections into things that they really think are essential. Because sometimes it kind of blurs in my mind when I see collections with 70 looks, or whatever, and then they probably have even more than they show. It’s just so much stuff that’s been created and the percentage of that that goes into stores is really minimal. There are just so many samples being made unnecessarily just because the designer doesn’t really want to commit to one thing.”
Top image by Anna Stokland. Taken from Issue 52 of 10 Men – COMMUNITY, BELONGING, UPLIFTING – available to purchase here.