Thursday 27th August

| BY Paul Toner

Ten Meets MMRMS Studio, The London-Based Label Inspired by Jamaican Dancehall Culture

When Thomas Harvey and Mauro Pitteri didn’t get into their London College of Fashion degree show back in 2018, the budding young designers took matters into their own hands. The classmates and freshly-formed design partners set up Burn The Man; a gorilla grad show held in an East London warehouse that showcased the work of 30 menswear students. “We were super scared because we did it on the day the grad show was starting,” recalls Harvey, two years on. “We had people leaving the other fashion show just to come to ours, it was gorgeous.”

That balmy night in June marked the birth of MMRMS Studio (then dubbed Maromas), with Harvey and Pitteri busting onto the scene with skin-tight separates and provocative tailoring. These days Harvey helms the label alone, crafting sensual, club-ready looks out of his studio in Bethnal Green. “I think after graduating our styles wanted to go in different directions and it just happened really organically,” explains Harvey – his native London tongue friendly and familiar. When we chat over the phone, the designer has only been back at the studio for just over a fortnight. During the pandemic, Harvey experienced a deeply personal loss – engulfing his world with an unshiftable sense of uncertainty.

Briefly putting down the sheers and stepping away from the sewing machine, the designer ended up splashing out on a set of DJ decks; his answer to a proper ‘lockdown hobby,’ leaving banana bread-making and poorly-executed TikTok dances to the rest of us. He’s been busy creating soundboards – a sonic alternative to your average Pinterest collage. “I’ve always been really interested in music but I’ve never gone and actually made my own sounds,” he says.

The move makes sense. Music is an integral pillar in Harvey’s vision for MMRMS Studio, in particular dancehall culture. Growing up in a Jamaican household, Harvey grew up on the genre, infatuated with the sexually charged lyricism. “I always say dancehall queens and dancehall female musicians invented feminism,” he laughs. “They’re just so unapologetic.”

He lists Jamaica’s first dancehall queen Carlene Smith as a muse for his brand, as well as dancing icon Bogle and Jamaican sensation Elephant Man. The latter’s single “Gal Bruk” was the starting point to the designer’s latest capsule collection – juxtaposing the song’s super vulgar nature (the opening 30 seconds is pure sex noises) with the beautiful lyrics of  “Dambala” by Nina Simone.

“I set out to create this kind of duality where you can be really strong and powerful but also soft and gentle,” he says, creating backless skirts, hot-pink blazers in skimpy proportions and skin-tight, PVC twinsets – tracing most of the looks straight onto his friends who modelled in the collection’s lookbook. Harvey wanted to use the capsule and its accompanying images to open up a conversation around Black masculinity and the rigid stereotypes that surround it: “That’s why you see the photos of the boy’s heads up together, I wanted to create that kind of intimacy.”

MMRMS Studio is synonymous for its dangerously low cuts, exposed shoulders and red-hot silhouettes. This unapologetic confidence and subtle queering of hyper-masculine codes evolved with Harvey’s own journey to self-discovery – growing up conflicted by both his queerness and his Jamaican heritage.

“When I was younger I used to hate the fact that when my mum came to parents evening, she had an accent,” admits Harvey, surrounded by white faces throughout his schooling life. It wasn’t until he began his BTEC in art and design at the City of Islington College where Harvey truly began to accept himself. “I saw a lot of people like me, my tutor at college was Jamaican and she opened my eyes to so much,” he says.

His road to self-acceptance was also aided by underage trips to East Bloc and the queer club night PDA. “The looks that people were pulling, or lack thereof, shaped my identity,” he affirms. “That’s where my love for fashion formed.”

Going on to study menswear at London College of Fashion, Harvey’s graduate collection was quickly swiped up by the Institution of Contemporary Art who exhibited the looks towards the tail end of 2018. Since then, the designer has rejected the “proper” ways of going about launching a brand – swapping “pretentious” fashion week shows for intimate parties where he and his friends get drunk, try on the clothes and generally have a fun time. Good ale and cracking fashions? Sounds like our sort of party.

Art Director: Kumbirai Makumbe
Photography: Nicole Nga
Creative Director: Thomas Harvey
Make-up: Paige Whiting
Hair: Sam Roman
Casting & Production: Tide Casting
Videographer: Shaquille Aaron Keith