Review: Benjamin Kirchhoff in conversation with Sarah Mower at Bath in Fashion
Last night I attended a talk with Meadham Kirchhoff at Bath in Fashion, the annual fashion event that takes place over several days in the city of Bath. In fact, only Benjamin Kirchhoff (the French half of Meadham Kirchhoff), without his more flamboyant, other half Edward Meadham, was present to talk to Sarah Mower, the contributing editor to US Vogue, but as it turned out his solitary presence was still impressive.
So why was I there? Basically the Meadham Kirchhoff menswear show for SS13 has had the greatest impact on me in the whole time I have been attending menswear shows and I was keen to hear something in person from (at least one of) the minds that created it. Something about the subversiveness of that presentation: the experience was like gatecrashing a squat full of impossibly beautiful young men, revelling in squalor while wearing the most exotic clothes, had a big impact on me. Since then, I’ve been a Meadham Kirchhoff fan, (fan being a word that Kirchhoff proudly uses while talking about the “girls” who celebrate their work). Last season Meadham Kirchhoff didn’t present at LC:M, their focus feels very much on womenswear and the army of young, female fashion students attending last night would attest to this, and rightly so. But I remain a fan, a solitary fashion male here at this event, yet hopeful that their vision of menswear will return, while in the knowledge that gender is just another tool that the designers use to provoke and question.
Beginning with a film of the Meadham Kirchhoff retrospective show at the V&A in London, a chatty Sarah Mower drew out the stoically confident Kirchhoff on his childhood in Chad, Africa, his disjointed relationship with France and French popular culture, and the creative haven he eventually found in London, surrounded by the close group of friends he made at St Martin’s, including his lover and business partner, Edward Meadham. “We’ll never stop being accused of being miserable” he says, a sentiment in contrast to the playful, candy-coloured world we have just seen on the screen above his head, but this reticence and contrariness is as strong part of the Meadham Kirchhoff public persona. The designers’ messages are loud and clearly stated: “Express yourself. Empower yourself. Fuck the culture that tells you you can’t” he stipulates. “You might grow out of the fluff and the dyed hair”, Kirchhoff says, “but don’t progress too quickly”. And while his ambition as a menswear student was to create “something you could see hanging in a shop”, there is a strong counter-cultural and DIY aspect to Meadham Kirchoff’s worldview: “You can go to a charity shop and make your own Meadham Kirchoff look” he suggests, “I would love to see it twisted, I’m dying to, but I’ve never seen it” he challenges.
Asked about his personal style, Kirchoff cites the past, especially the 1970s, “not Glam”, he specifies, “but what did people actually wear?” “Dad clothes have always had an influence” he says. 1980s Armani, Issey Miyake are also mentioned. He tells a story about a recent trip to France where he was confronted about the voluminous coat he was wearing, appalled that anyone would question what anyone would wear so directly, Kirchhoff tells us to celebrate the permissiveness of London: “I have never been attacked there for anything I’ve been wearing, or who I was snogging along the street” he declares. Wearing black jeans, high end luxury trainers, cropped hair, earrings and the kind of billowing raincoat that apparently makes most other Frenchmen see red, Benjamin Kirchhoff comes across as someone at peace with himself “it’s a reaction to how I look”, he suggests.
The Meadham Kirchhoff vision is a precious thing, remote (they have no social media presence, and “barely a website” he proudly states). Asked about this avoidance of social media, Kirchhoff suggests that the current obsession with sharing everything, all of the time is built on “insecurity”. “We are comfortable in our skins” he says, “we only do what we want, but we can sleep at night”. Asked about the gratification of designing, “there’s not much” he retorts, “but what media that exists around us is created by the girls themselves, and that’s touching” he says, “it’s part of us but we didn’t create it.”