martyr |ˈmɑːtə| noun a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.
The SS15 Meadham Kirchhoff show took place in September; it’s now January. I’m not sure whether the long break has allowed me to speak more liberally about the collection, or whether it has simply left enough time for contemplation. Either way, the course of MK itself has been a rocky one since then, and helps to analyse what was seen on the runway. Before Christmas blogs and magazines started talking about how this was the ‘end’ for Ben and Edward – the finances simply weren’t adding up and it was time to face the fact that the brand was insupportable. After all, this was a show that was put on without the sponsorship of organisations that had helped to fund the spectacles in previous seasons. Yet despite instagram contradictions (posts declaring surrender followed by appeals for interns), it seems that there is still shuffling behind the scenes, and we haven’t seen the last of it all. Thank GOD.
This is a label for which the heart and soul of the design process is really laid bare, not least for ‘Reject Everything’, the latest installment. The personal frustrations of Ed and Ben began with the invitation – C. U. Next. Tuesday written at the bottom (the show did take place on a Tuesday) – and the soundtrack to greet guests, a splicing of Youtube clips with interviews of homophobic parents and cocaine users. The set took on the form of a calculated wreckage, trees strewn with satin ribbons and ‘bloody’ tampons, and a junkyard shrine littered with torn up copies of the show notes. The clothes themselves? Woven plastic jackets were shown in the same vein as Phoebe Philo with the 99p store carrier motif – yet these weren’t produced in cottons and leather, but actual shiny red plastic. Was this a self-effacing notion, creating items out of uncomfortable materials with cheap connotations? Or in the style of Karl Lagerfeld, the concept of discovering the new in what has already been done so many times in different ways? Surely a rebuff at the press and buyers who seek conventional beauty in everything (perhaps with the exception of Prada).
Other dresses with shredded and almost jagged hems in silk fabrics woven with delicate furry tufts, shirts intricately pieced together from so many irregularly shaped sections of fabric, foam hats and fine nylon trench coats were all presented on the models. These are pieces produced in such a careful and uncompromising manner as to leave little time for the niceties that are expected of a brand. Commercial viability is always a subject of much deliberation for Meadham Kirchhoff, and truthfully it didn’t strike me that there was overt concern in the clothes – in fact they seem rather to recoil at the idea that many people might want to wear them. There is a stubbornness to Ben and Ed’s mindset that celebrates martyrdom and struggle and overlooks the easy route. This isn’t necessarily to be condemned – the last thing we need is more panelled sweatshirts, ‘heritage’ (what does that seriously even mean) shearling jackets and monkstrap creepers on the runway – in fact the idea of London Fashion Week and London Collections Men has increasingly begun to nauseate me before they even begin each season (the same goes for all the fashion cities really). Yet it makes the chronicle of Meadham Kirchhoff’s successes and stresses all the more frustrating for the bystander, and the idea that such unparalleled talent could so easily go to waste seems not only awful but sacrilegious.
After the show, I walked straight into Hauser and Wirth and saw an exhibition of Paul McCarthy paintings, the rawness and almost social unacceptability of which had echoes of Meadham Kirchhoff’s message – difficult to digest and cutting close to the bone of fashion’s moral code. Ultimately it is the people sitting in that room who decide how this code is defined, and if they can’t tolerate it, at least Ed and Ben can be content that they subjected them to something they found unsettling. I await eagerly the next move in an uncertain future. Whilst MK may seem a handful, they have proven their capability to deliver products that truly stir things up.