The idea of 'the woman' was once one of the most prevalent themes in fashion – along the lines of she’s a dreamer, a thinker; she’s someone that goes to Ibiza over summer and skies in winter; she’s someone who speaks her own mind and doesn’t conform to stereotypes etc. You get the picture. Of late, it’s something that has disappeared in favour of conceptual trends or industry fads, such as See Now Buy Now.
But what about the women? And not just the women that wear the clothes but the women who make them? That was the area that designer Osman Yousefzada chose to shine a torch on for autumn/winter 2020, creating a film, Her Dreams Are Bigger, to coincide with the Whitechapel exhibition Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium. In it, we see women workers from Bangladesh talking about who they think to wear the clothes they make, one pertinently saying she thinks they will only be worn for a total of two weeks. And that’s it. “That’s fast fashion,” says Yousefzada, who worked with Livia Firth’s Eco-Age on the film, which stood in place of the traditional catwalk show that, though not 'fast fashion', typically may have a similar shelf life.
It was strong food for thought in a season where everyone is talking about sustainability, yet still producing clothes – and certainly, a lot of the time, those that while creative and innovative, don’t necessarily resonate with the day-to-day customer. Which is why strapless dresses were not on the agenda for Symonds Pearmain this season. Defining the brand’s codes, creating real clothes and thinking about the woman was. “We’ve done a lot with the brand very very quickly. It started out as a mad project between me and Max," explained one half of the duo Anthony Symonds, the other being stylist Max Pearmain.
It’s a mad project nonetheless that has quickly earned them a cult following to create a brand that sits half in the art world (owing to some of their exclusive gallery stockists and a show at Frieze Art Fair in London at the end of last year), half in the fashion world, yet sets itself apart because the clothes are wearable as opposed to weird and conceptual. Quilted jackets, transformative trousers, boilersuits and corduroy skirts are among the lineup this season, as well as some impressively easy-to-wash sequins too (turn the dress inside out and put it in a pillowcase is the secret).
“[It’s like] You’re a fashion brand now are you?! And what does that mean trying to sell clothes. Obviously it’s a difficult moment not just economically, ideologically, ethically and environmentally, it’s a cultural process,” reflected Symonds. “It’s a very valid cultural form, very necessary, yes there’s massive issues with it but everything is connected. People have to wear clothes. What about clothes?” As an idea, it seems so obvious! Of course, it's not, though.
As a result, he and Pearmain found themselves looking at Yves Saint Laurent’s Russian collection. “It struck me, now there’s a woman I haven’t seen for as long as I can remember,” Symonds said of a certain kind of feminine archetype he feels to no longer exist. “Men’s clothes are designed around their needs, whereas women’s clothes aren’t designed around their needs.” His answer this season is to do the work for women then. So pieces that are one but layered together, the styling already done. Pockets for stuff – because women, he points out, also have hands and like to carry things in their pockets even if it breaks the line – something we are actually allowed to do. “I’m making clothes as a proposal,” he summed up.