REGENERATION: A-COLD-WALL*; Fashion & Fatherhood

Exiting the train station on the way to the last day of London’s menswear shows, I saw a familiar face heading in the opposite direction: Charlie Casely-Hayford, whose collections (designed with his father Joe) were once one of the schedule’s highlights. The label is still thriving, albeit off-schedule now (the duo decided to opt out of seasonal showings a few years ago). And shortly before this season’s LFWM began, at the age of 62, Joe died. 

A-COLD-WALL* Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photos by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

He was a quiet figure, especially in comparison to some of the more boisterous names London fashion has lost. But Joe was one of the last links to the earthquake that reshaped the city’s creative landscape in the early Eighties. His career went through every conceivable stage – rising talent, critical darling, mainstream star, yesterday’s news – before his triumphant Noughties resurgence. He created a body of work which ran the gamut from street subcultures to Savile Row (and often bridged the two). And his garments – layered, clashing, considered, clever, subtle, dissonant – gave expression to the tensions which have surrounded masculinity, race, and male identity in this country for decades.

It was hard not to think of him whilst queueing for Samuel Ross’s A-COLD-WALL* presentation today. Like Casely-Hayford, Ross is a young, articulate, black British designer, keenly aware of the politics and perceptions surrounding his work. But where Casely-Hayford entered the fashion system in a relatively conventional way, via stints at St Martins and the ICA, Ross made his breakthrough in 21st century style – forging online contact with, and then working for, Virgil Abloh, before setting up his own label in 2015. And three years on, he’s become an internationally recognised talent, both within the industry and amongst the teenagers who clamour for each new A-COLD-WALL* drop.

A-COLD-WALL* Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photos by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

Inside the Truman Brewery, Ross set up a striking mise-en-scène: a blacked-out room, an illuminated gangway running between pools of dark water, a pile of writhing dancers at one end – and snarling dogs at the other. Models walked the runway slowly, hair and faces soaked, glancing fearfully behind into the shadows. It was a potent translation of the world beyond our fashion bubble; political turmoil, war, migration, the ongoing refugee crisis. (It made me think, incidentally of a 1998 Casely-Hayford show, presented under a ceiling hung with old garments, inspired by a world that Joe said existed ‘on the edge of society; its people are isolated individuals or those escaping the fragments of a former life.’)

But it was also a backdrop to a show, with clothes, that needed to be seen – and be sold. And Ross is just as efficient at creating great garments as he is at intuiting and interpreting a mood. There were new ranges of luggage (in gridded leather) and jewellery (in silver splashed with gold) to be showcased. There were ongoing collaborations with Nike, and a new one with Diesel. And for winter 2019, the clothes themselves were cleaner and sleeker than before. A wan monochrome base palette allowed the collection’s flourishes of red, amber, burgundy and electric blue to shine, and foregrounded soft brushstroke prints and neon piping accents. Supersized scarves and floor-skimming overcoats came stamped with the word MODERNIST, blown up so large the letters barely fit. But the overriding sense was of clothing as armour, from moulded puffer jackets and sharply cut trench coats to the swirling acetate sculptures that sheltered several of the models. Quilted vests in searingly bright orange inescapably recalled the life-jackets that have become a regular fixture on 21st century newspaper pages, with seams that warped around the body and panels that slashed open to undercut any sense of reassurance.

Samuel Ross at the end of the A-COLD-WALL* Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photos by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

At the end, Ross walked the gangway alone, cradling his wide-eyed baby daughter in his arms. And there, again, was a three-decade-old echo of Joe Casely-Hayford: a young man with a child, designing collections that reflect the most human of fears. Because, at the end of the day, you only need protective clothing if you’re vulnerable – if you have something to lose.