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As anticipation starts to build for the second London Collections: Men in January, I will be speaking to some of the talent that makes London menswear so exciting, bringing you designer and industry insider insights from behind the collections.
Here I speak to Kit Neale, about his Michael Clark fixation, and the showroom/studio space he’s just opened off Hackney Road.
SL: Tell me about the showroom space…
Kit Neale: We’ve been here about 3 weeks, we moved from Hackney, the depths of Hackney. Menswear is so different from womenswear, men want to have that rapport I think; womenswear like the ‘mystique’ of it all. The decision was to set up a space, have a rapport and be able to set the tone for the brand, visually, and to be able to completely express what Kit Neale is about.
SL: So you’re all about print, how did that happen? Is that what you studied?
Kit Neale: Yeah!.. and no, I studied menswear. At college there was a choice of pathways, and I was always toying with print. I wish I had done it, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t as I have a different approach to it. The problem with studying print is that if you want to steer off print you can’t, you can’t explore other things. What I’ve found with woven fabrics… I can source lots of amazing things but it’s a big muddle in my head. It’s easier for me to start with a blank canvas, which, with print, you do. It gives you a clearer dialogue with what you are as a brand.
Kit Neale: Its so different, this is some of the print for next season, which are hand silk painted which we then scan in and print digitally. The majority of what we do is digitally printed, the colour options are so exciting. The process is always so different, some things are drawn, some things are photographed. I just find it a really exciting medium. At each stage in the process you see something different in it.
SL: So, obviously, print has been a huge trend, are you worried about a backlash now?
Kit Neale: This season I was going to use print in a different way i.e. just in linings, or showing it in a different light but it turned out its print on print on print still. I think there will always be a demand for print. Obviously it’s in vogue at the moment, everyone’s been obsessed by it, especially in menswear, but there’ll always be the focus for it. What is actually quite exciting as a young designer, the trend setter, is how you play that yourself. I already have ideas like just doing it as linings, and working with it as just monochrome. I’m conscious it’s trendy at the moment, and that has obviously helped my rise, but I’m not worried about where it takes me in the future.
SL: To what extent does form and shape also inform what you do?
Kit Neale: Not so much for me, I like to keep the shapes, the garments, the silhouette, simple, I think men do. I’m not an ultra-conceptual Margiela designer anyway, and especially when you’re using print as well, you just have to keep it really simple, really classical, or it just gets lost in the print. A shirt’s a shirt, a T-shirt’s a T-shirt, I’m not going to reinvent it, it’s pretty good as it is, as long as you get the shape and fitting right. We do our T-shirts oversized, cos that’s how I personally like it and lots of people comment on that.
SL: I can see loads of inspiration around us, what are some of your favourite places to get inspiration for print?
Kit Neale: Books, always a book, and art. I think a lot of it comes from my subconscious. The big reference for this season was Michael Clark. Then references from the pub come through, photographs from a pub… then you’ve got the crazy ones at the end [he’s waving at the wall] which have more more of a pop influence, against the more traditional monochrome. It’s just really varied: last season was Margate meets Peckham, taking references from fish & chip restaurants and fish markets, the season before was my dad’s allotment, with loads of vegetable prints which you can see out there [in the showroom].
SL: So tell me about Michael Clark, how did that come about as an influence?
I’m a massive fan of him. This season I was going to do the collection on my 3 design heroes: Michael Clark, Ray Petri, the stylist, and Ernő Goldfinger, the architect. It turned out that wasn’t going to work, so it’s just Michael Clark. He did a film with Leigh Bowery, called Hail The New Puritan. There’s a particular scene in that where they’re in a pub, this psychedelic, acid trippy pub where there doing this performance. I’ve always got this traditional English element, like the pub. A pub is like the church of each community, a place for people to congregate in in this multicultural society we live in.
A lot of my work plays on the idea what does it mean to be a man? What is ‘menswear’? Dance really fascinates me, it’s such a masculine, physical exercise but its seen as being quite elegant, quite feminine. And Michael Clark with his sexuality, was seen as a punk, a forefronting, scary figure that rocked the dance world.
I love that whole era of Bodymap… it would be my dream to do costumes for dance, and Michael Clark in particular. I’m always in awe of him, just wish I could do it myself!
SL: What are you planning for LC:M SS13?
We’re part of Fashion East again, which was just announced today, menswear installations. It’s a really good line up this year, it just seems to get better and better. They’ve narrowed it down, I think people will be really impressed: Meadham Kirchoff, Joseph Turvey’s doing it… It’s a really exciting venue to work with, but it’s really hard, last season it was such a traditional setting, and my collection was really fresh, it didn’t really work. I had to paint the walls, the floor, put the snake inside. This year we’re working with the venue a bit more, I’m planning to do a room within a room, a traditional English living room.
As an afterword, Kit really managed get me excited about LC: M, and particularly about visiting that wonderful, elegant house where the Fashion East installations will be happening again. Kit Neale himself, underneath the obvious playfulness, is a young designer with firm views on menswear, underpinned by some very credible influences and a strong sense of who he is.