Has the animation partnership helped the Sadie Williams brand and vice versa?
Yeah for sure. It’s a way to express my creativity using another outlet besides fashion design. I think the first time I recognized that it directly helped my brand was when I was approached by Mandi Lennard to design a collection for Barbie and she specifically asked if we could make an animation to accompany it too. Which is actually one of my favorites!
How many people are on your team at Off Black?
Two friends, Sarah and Claire, started the magazine. They are both amazing hair stylists. The magazine started as a creative outlet for them and platform to create the shoots they wanted. The team is now a collective with an art director, fashion editor (myself) and beauty editor and a family of photographers, stylists, set designers and casting directors who regularly contribute.
Since Off Black was founded solely online and later expanded to print, what were some of the challenges of adding that medium?
Print is obviously super expensive in terms of the production, the paper, the layout, the distribution, etc. but it still has the prestige and feels more special. Brands, model agents, and an amazing standard of photographers and creative teams are eager to contribute and are a lot more supportive of print even though its reach is smaller than online. The nice thing with independent magazines at this point in time is that they aren’t bound by advertisers. With the bigger magazines, most of the editorial is actually advertorial where commercial brands are paying to be featured so you can be quite limited creatively as you are more adhering to others direction and concepts. Off Black has been a great opportunity to develop our own voice.
How would you describe the essence and identity of Off Black?
There’s a theme each issue and then everyone kind of goes away and comes up with ideas. Sarah and Claire lead the direction and follow through with everyone. For the “Man-Made” issue, we shot at some really interesting locations – decaying estates in London, the Eden Project in Cornwall which is the world’s largest Greenhouse and Arcades du Lac in Paris. We work a lot with set designers, which I think is quite unique. The direction photography is going in now is very analog and raw. No one has any budget, so people just go out on the street and shoot or make what you can with props, smoke and mirrors. Even if you don’t have a lot, you can still make do. Here in London we’re lucky with clothes. Starting out, obviously it’s really hard to get the big brands, but we have all the amazing students and graduates here who create exciting pieces to shoot.
Do you work with a lot of young designers?
Yes, even for magazines where I can get bigger designers, I’m always trying to mix in graduate work or designers I find on Instagram, as to me its more refreshing because you end up seeing the same Prada look in every shoot and everyone’s work starts to look the same. You start to recognize, that’s from there, and that’s from there. I go to costume shops, I make stuff, I use student stuff, and then I’ll use Dior and Louis Vuitton. It’s all about trying to make something your own rather than just repeating what you’ve seen a million times, although lots of brands are very controlling now and make you shoot the full looks. But I feel like I need to make a look or a picture my own, or what is the point?
How did you make the jump from not being recognized by a lot of brands to now doing features with some of the biggest names?
We’re lucky, actually. For the second issue, we had Vivienne Westwood, then subsequently features with J.W. Anderson, Wanda Nylon, Yang Li and Loewe. We’ve all been doing our thing for quite some time and are lucky to have built relationships over the years.There was definitely an element of trust from various PRs for the early issues and we are so thankful for them taking a chance on us. Also when people hear someone else is involved, they are keen to get involved and so gradually it gets easier as more people support and are excited to contribute. Even in the first issue, when it was quite tricky to get things, we just did what we could. You don’t need all the big designers to do something interesting! In fact it pushed us to be resourceful and creative.
How do you find the younger designers?
There’s a wonderful new showroom in London called 1 Granary, who represent a lot of recent Central St Martins Graduates. I used to stalk them all on Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin – all forms of social media to track them and their collections down; it can take a lot of research to find them! After I get hold of them, it usually ends up that they’ve already moved overseas. 1 Granary is wonderful and supportive of smaller publications. I also worked with a stylist in LA, B Akerlund who dresses a lot of the big league popstars – from Madonna, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Britney, Fergie. She is so supportive of young and up and coming designers who are from everywhere and she represents in her showroom The Residency.
In London at the moment I love Charles Jeffrey, his clothes have a real art and authenticity to them and he’s created a whole subculture that he’s attached to his brand. I also love Marta Jakubowski who makes really interesting color blocked pieces in the vein of Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester in the 90s, beautiful, conceptual pieces.
Lots of people are quite particular about who they work with. I feel like lots of photographers and stylists have a firm idea about whom they can or “should” work with, and who they shouldn’t to get somewhere, which is valid. But if someone approaches me and I am excited by the idea, then I’ll usually do it. I think the way I’m working is on intuition. If I like the person and I like their idea, then I’ll go for it!
So what's happening with Visceral8?
My two best friends and I created a zine entitled Visceral8. We focused on the word “guts” for our first issue, and every image in the zine was a play off that word. We were in charge of all of the photography, styling and editing. In addition, we were the only subjects in the zine. Before mass-printing the issue we wanted to be 100% sure about the printing quality, and we weren’t completely satisfied so we’ve decided to hold off. We’re still in the process of working on it and rebranding a bit, which is exciting! It’s always great to have something tangible to put your name to.
Can you give an overview of your brand?
Each item I create celebrates the individual spirit away from the contemporary mass produced culture. Going forward I strive to root each collection in this world where science acts as a ritual practice while also challenging societal expectations of menswear.
Do you want to talk about FW16?
Yes, I am really excited about my upcoming collection, I am going to be showing it and previewing my work in February and March. Every season I have begun to think about the scientist as my muse, I talked a little bit about it, and this season specifically I am really into paleontology and archaeology. I am really romantic about this idea of going on these trips for weeks, where you are just going and you are in this element of nature and you are excavating something and you are looking for something. It is this whole exploration and it is the exploration of our own past and I think it is just so romantic, the whole idea of it. I am going into who that man is and what his lifestyle is like. Being able to wear the clothes that are in this collection is going to be a little bit of a way into that life and a way into the romanticism with nature.
You’ve talked about your brand becoming a little bit more raw. Is that your reaction to everything that is going on?
I think yes, it is being surrounded by the internet all day and there is something about this natural organic-ness that I really want to bring back into my own life and to other people's lives. I want them to feel like they can go adventuring in clothes.