Monday 28 March 2011

Shaun Samson

One of the highlights of the Central Saint Martins MA collection presented at London Fashion Week (February, 2011) was the work of the young designer Shaun Samson. The work of the graphic artist M.C. Escher was one of the inspirations of Samson’s menswear collection for which he fused plaid wool, Aran knitwear and denim into a single fabric, using the ‘felting’ treatment. Samson presented a visually arresting collection that looked sophisticated, artistic and minimalistic.

In our interview with Samson talked about the process of the ‘felting’ treatment, Louise Wilson’s contribution to his MA collection, and what he considers to be the difference in struggles between ‘young’ and established designers.

200%: How long did you work on your MA collection?
Shaun Samson: I started research during the Summer holiday before my final year, and worked on it up to the Press Show in February 2011. Thus, I’d say it was around six months, similar to working on a normal Fall collection. During that time, though, there was a lot of “shit work" that lead to absolutely nothing. Toward the end of that six months, however, everything was scratched and I started over again. I used the same reference points, but revamped all the shapes. I think after working on a project for too long it becomes harder to have a new opinion on it, and becomes harder to see what you need to do to make it fresh.

200%: What made you come up with the idea to fuse Aran knit wool, denim and tartan into a single fabric for your MA collection?
Shaun Samson: In my research I looked at traditional men’s workwear, transfiguration, and the work of M.C. Escher, from which I wondered if I could recreate the idea of something morphing into another thing in real life. I’d seen ‘felting’ as a treatment to decoratively apply one fabric onto another, which was a starting point for my technical research – then, I wanted to see how far I could push it. When I was felting those small samples of wool to denim and to linen I started to imagine how it would look in large scale if I joined a whole garment onto another. That's from where the idea of fusing Aran knits to all these other fabrics came into the picture. 

200%: Could you share something about the process of the ‘felting’ treatment that you discovered during this time?
Shaun Samson: I actually have to do everything on the reverse side of the fabric, so I never see exactly how I’m felting. It’s only when I take the fabric out of the machine and turn it right side up where I see what I've felted. I had to learn to be really intuitive to the process to get it to finally work the way I wanted it to.

200%: Can you say what is was that Louise Wilson (Central Saint Martins Master of Fashion Course Director) contributed to your education throughout the MA course?
Shaun Samson: Louise has an extensive knowledge of fashion and shares it with each of her students. She keeps it from being just another collection, and knows how to make things more special. At the end of the day, though, it is up to each student to take her advice or not. I thought I was “hot shit” coming onto the MA with amazing marks from my BA collection. Louise made sure that everyone, including me, was “knocked off their high horse” from the day we started the course. 

200%: Was there any advice she provided to students that remains with you?
Shaun Samson: Her first piece of advice was eloquently clear: “It's right to be wrong”. I still have the sheet of paper she gave us taped to my wall in my room.

200%: What did she mean with “It’s right to be wrong”? Did she gave that sheet of paper with this advice to all students on the first day of the course?
Shaun Samson: Louise walked into the classroom on that first day, and, instead of giving a long welcoming speech and overview of the course, she passed out this piece of paper that she had photocopied and read it aloud. It was akin to one of those calendars with ‘daily affirmations’, but this one, I believe, she especially thought would resonate with us students. It read:

It's Right to Be Wrong

Start being wrong and suddenly anything is possible.

You’re no longer trying to be infallible

You're in the unknown. There’s no way of knowing what can happen, but there’s more chances of it being amazing than if you try to be right.

Of course, being wrong is a risk.

People worry about suggesting stupid ideas because of what others will think.

You will have been in meetings where ‘new thinking’ has been called for, and at your original suggestion.

Instead of saying, “That's the kind of suggestion that leads us to a novel situation”, the room goes quiet, they look up to the ceiling, roll their eyes and return to the discussion.

Risks are a measure of people. People who won't take them are trying to preserve what they have.

People who do take them often end up by having more.

Some risks have a future, and some people call them wrong. But being right may be like walking backwards proving where you've been.

Being wrong isn't in the future, or in the past.

Being wrong isn't anywhere but being here.

Best place to be, eh?

I don't think she does this every year. She probably read this the day before the course began and decided to share it with the class.  But it's definitely advice that I consider when I'm questioning my work and want to push it further.

200%: As a student of Louise Wilson how would you describe her teaching style?
Shaun Samson: Necessary. I don’t think I would have grown the way that I did on her course had it not been for the way she treated me. I think she has a special knack for being able to understand a person’s personality to know how to get to their core; and she treats everyone accordingly to that. She’ll be really excited with some, whilst antipathetic with others at different points during their collection. It’s hard not to take things personally when the criticism is purely about the work. For me, what made me feel most like an asshole was when she was fairly calm and guilted me into thinking that I failed her expectations. Then there were other times where her precise attention to detail brought out the best of me – during which times, I’d shake during tutorials, which is just as bad. I will never ‘falter on a hemline’ ever again. It's actually quite amazing how she does it.

200%: Whilst the MA fashion show is the end exam, were there other objectives and / or goals for you in participating in this show?
Shaun Samson: I've always wanted to start my own label, so being in the press show was a great way to launch myself out into the real world. But I didn't just do the MA in hopes that I would get into the show. I really wanted to work with Professor Louise Wilson as a teacher/mentor. I'm always up for a good challenge, but didn't really know how to prepare myself for how intense the course really was.

200%: What makes you interested in menswear?
Shaun Samson: I studied Menswear because it's the only thing I want to do. I doubt that I will ever have a women’s line.

200%: Why do you feel so strongly about menswear? Is there something specific that appeals to you in menswear which you don't find in womenswear?
Shaun Samson: With womenswear the possibilities are endless, but there is a certain line with menswear that men will not cross. I like seeing how far I can push that line without compromising a man’s masculinity: it’s just different designing for guys – they want to be cool. 

200%: There are many designers who design for men. Do you perceive that there is a gap in the market that you can fill and if yes, what do you think you can do differently or revolutionize?
Shaun Samson: I think I design for a man that isn’t represented in fashion, otherwise I wouldn't feel the need to start my own label. I make men’s’ modern street wear, or at least that’s the best way that I can describe it if you have to put me in a box. I actually like being in this grey area. I don’t have to abide by any rules that make me specifically a ‘tailor’ or ‘luxury designer’. I use other devices to present fashion on the modern man, like felting...ha!

200%: According to Toby Bateman (buying director at Mr Porter, the online luxury retailer for men) “Men want a guide to buying the white shirt or jeans that works best for them, rather than seeing what’s the cutting edge of fashion”. Do you agree with him? Do men tend to be a little conservative in what they wear and not go too far, or is that a cliché?
Shaun Samson: It’s not just men that are conservative; some women are the same. Personally, I think the men that follow these ‘guides’ are the crazy fashion victims that tend to go for the cutting edge of fashion. No normal straight fashionable man would want anyone telling them what to wear. It would be too gay.

200%: Could you explain how important is wearability for you as a designer?
Shaun Samson: Of course it’s important. I'd like guys to wear my clothes everyday, although I know they won’t. Most of the people I know are precious about designer clothing, because when you spend so much money on it, people give it a sense of preciousness which isn’t for everyday. I like people that treat their luxury garments as another piece of clothing, because in the end clothes are meant to be worn.

200%: Has the work of the Raf Simons influenced you?
Shaun Samson: He represents the modern man very well. I like his silhouette and admire his contribution to menswear every season. It’s hard not to applaud his work when he’s been so successful at being Raf Simons for so many years. His designs are quite timeless. You can wear anything from his past collections at any time and still be cool. I’d love to have that much might.

200%: Invariably designers face struggles and make sacrifices. As a ‘young’ designer do you consider your struggles different compared to ‘established’ designers?
Shaun Samson: Obviously, as a new designer getting my label started is definitely harder than those that already have their label up and running. Establishing the business side is a lot of unglamorous work, but it needs to be done, on top the work that I need to do to design my next collection. But I’d say that as a young designer there’s so much more creative potential. Established brands have a customer to whom they have to cater. I don't have to worry about selling...yet.

Interview written and conducted by Thierry Somers.
Images: Photographer: Pelle Crepin, Art Direction: Rob Meyers for RBPMstudio, Design: RBPMstudio, Grooming: Christopher Sweeney, Model: Tom Lander @ Select

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Richard Phillips (Part 2)

In the second part of our interview with Richard Phillips we spoke with him as to why society is obsessed with celebrity culture; Kim Kadarshian’s talent; how his painting method has changed over the past year; and why Warhol's ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ no longer has relevance.

200%: Why do you believe society is obsessed with celebrity culture?
Richard Phillips: As the gap between the wealthy and poor continues to increase, and the large public educational systems remove any notion of art from their curricula, a vacuum is created that is filled by opportunistic entertainment conglomerates who produce the fantasy of celebrity culture and its exceptional lifestyle separate and unto itself.

200%: How does “the large public educational systems remove any notion of art from their curricula”?
Richard Phillips: The public school systems across the country have systematically cut the budgets for arts education. In the absence of arts education children are left to believe that entertainment systems media constitutes the sum total of art. If the art that is housed in museums gains exposure to this audience it is only in relation to whether it has entertainment celebrity endorsement.

200%: Can you further explain how you consider this illustrate society’s obsession with celebrity culture?
Richard Phillips: Reality programming, in which I myself have been involved via the Bravo television series ‘Work of Art’, shows that the language of art is not immune from this logic. The obsession exists in the careful construction of a psychological potential for irrationally assuming that the one-sided recognition of passively viewing a ‘star’ is somehow shared and amounts to intimacy. This fiction is a powerful one, which leads to the need for compensation in the form of consumable goods that are star-like or seen being worn by stars. Once complete this circuit is like the distorted dopamine receptor of an addict that must be filled again, but with more powerful drugs.

200%: It has been reported by 'The Daily Beast' that "celebrity culture is over". They say that the price for paparazzi photos is down 31 percent; photo budgets of celebrity obsessed magazine 'US Weekly' has fallen from $8m to $5m; and US sales of celebrity-licensed products. e.g. perfumes, are decreasing. Do you see this as signals that celebrity culture is over, or is there a certain celebrity fatigue amongst the public whereby it's in a waning phase as celebrity fascination is always with us to a greater or lesser extent?
Richard Phillips: There are bound to be periods of over celebrification. Fatigue occurs when the production of the form exceeds demand. The specialization of blogs, websites and now Twitter is to distribute the minutiae of needless information about every A to D-listed star. At a certain point attrition and consolidation are inevitable, as in any marketplace. The backlash is articulated at present in the propulsion of the non-celebrity celebrities of reality productions, for they increase the potential that the next superstar may be in fact ourselves. Warhol's fifteen minutes no longer has any relevance and seems as quaint as twenty-cent gallon of gas.

200%: What is your view about people like Kim Kardashian of whom it has been said "don’t need any talent whatsoever to be able to become a celebrity".
Richard Phillips: Kim Kardashian's talent IS the production of celebrity itself. Those who say that she has no talent are hanging on to an antiquated idea that equates a conventional separation of celebrity being the result of a distinctively recognized set of accomplishments. Her ability to understand the reductive constituent components of what it takes to create and maintain the full-time presence of celebrity is what sets her apart from all reality personalities and has placed her in context with those who achieved celebrity through older methods.

200%: Do you consider that your understanding of painting has developed further (increased depth of knowledge) in the last few years? Have you become more proficient in photorealism, or painting flesh tones?
Richard Phillips: Over the past year and a half my painting method has changed in some specific ways.

Rather than developing an image from a charcoal drawing, I've switched to pastels because it allows me to focus on color and drawing at the same time in preparation for my painting. The advantage of this change is the immediacy pastels create to my subjects and the move away from photographic imitation. In the construction of my paintings I have worked with the paint maker Robert Doak and the printing studio Axel Fine Arts in Brooklyn to come up with a way of technically screening my composite images in paint onto a traditional ground. I therefore start from a photo silk screened grisaille which is ready to accept the final stage of my painting. This dramatically reduces the time a painting takes to create and makes the process more responsive.

Since it is, in effect, painting out an existing photographic image, it is precisely anti-photorealistic and entirely sensibility based. This accounts for a greater sense of presence of flesh like our own.

200%: John Currin told me that "you're very good at finishing  paintings". Can you describe how you know when and / or how to finish a painting?
Richard Phillips: As one of my paintings moves toward conclusion, the options for changes decrease to the point where the painting literally turns the corner and starts rejecting further effort. If I go past that point, adding or changing anything forces me to immediately backtrack and reestablish what was the finished state. This was very much the case with the last painting of the group, Dakota Fanning. That point came when I was working on the last section of her hair, and after nine previous paintings, I knew unquestionably that it was time to stop.

Interview written and conducted by Thierry Somers, with contribution by Marie Drysdale.
Paintings: Richard Phillips, Zac Efron, 2010, Oil on Linen, 95 x 78 in. (241.3 x 198.1 cm), © the artist, Courtesy White Cube