Graduating Central Saint Martins with a MA in menswear, London-based Liverpudlian designer Christopher Shannon combines elements of masculine sportswear with unexpected details, such as patchwork, folklore influences or embroidery. After working with designers Kim Jones, William Baker and for the label Helmut Lang, Christopher launched his namesake label at the end of the first decade of the 2000s. His anti-glamour aesthetic was well received by critics, who named him “one of the key British designers of the day.”
I found the slogans “Thanks 4 Nothing”, “Damaged”, “Broken” from your f/w 2015 collection quite appealing. Was it a reaction to the current state of fashion?
I think both to fashion and my own life away from work. It’s hard to not let them merge together. A lot of really talented designers in London had stop showing and it seemed like other designers who mostly steal ideas were flourishing, and I find that really depressing. Plus I’d come out of a long relationship and lost Louise Wilson, so it was a double massive heart break. I really used working on that collection to get me through the day, maybe it showed more than I thought it would.
There is an opinion that one of the reasons of industry’s crisis is the overflow of CSM and other fashion schools graduates. What are your thoughts regarding this?
I think there have been far too many graduates for how many jobs there are for years. It’s more that so many people with no point of view want to start labels. I’m all for having a go at something, but have something to say that’s your own, otherwise it’s a huge waste of time for everyone! The industry is in crisis because of the constant need for new products and the incessant desire to fill social media channels with content that no one looks at.
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You’ve said that you don’t like the idea of being “creatively dependent on someone.” Does creative synergy exist for you?
Of course it does, I’m in a constant dialogue with my friends and my collaborators. It’s a part of the work I really enjoy. I have to be able to trust my team and that they are truthful when we make work. I just don’t like the idea of being reliant on a stylist, I see it a lot with designers; not to say I don’t think it works, but the designer should have the initial ideas, I guess.
You cast for your own shows. Do you sketch with certain models in mind? Do you have the “model of the moment”?
Hmm, I sort of just see who comes through the door, I’ve never found casting that difficult, I’m always surprised when people are awful at it. It’s as basic as seeing who looks best in the clothes and has the right beat, obviously there are lots of awful vain tragic models, we tend not to see those. Mostly, the models we use are the ones that never wanted to be models and they seem to have a less cringey mood to them. There’s lots I’ve loved working with, I think Jester White is brilliant, and I love Matt Ardell just ‘cause he’s witty, Darwin Grey is pretty amazing to look at… I’d still love to see more diversity with the model agents, though.
Are there any moments you feel creatively blocked? How do you deal with it?
Yeah, many. It’s not so much blocked as frustrated or anxious, also I’m endlessly distracted by the business itself, whether it’s the accountant calling constantly or dealing with freight brokers, my job is very much a business role which I partly loathe. I like it best when the money is rolling in and I can work with my team on the ideas without other distractions. One thing that helps is seeing my trainer, going on the treadmill or just walking for ages with music on, I find that starts to help get things in order and clarify the direction I want to go in.
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You’ve designed costumes for dancers in the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. Do you have any other live moments in mind that split your life to before and after?
At the moment I’m working on a ballet project with Linder Sterling as part of the British Art Show, that has been a new experience, seeing the clothes in a new context really informs you as you work on the next collection. I think the ballet will be a changer for me, it’s taken me out of my usual studio headspace. I was really quite intimidated by the idea of doing it, I’ve been a fan of Linder Sterling’s work for so long – I was and still am super flattered she even considered me. I’m sort of bored of the catwalk format so it’s perfect timing for me to do another project that’s based in art and making work rather than fashion and making money.
The best piece of advice you got from Louise Wilson?
Louise wasn’t really an agony aunt kind of person, she encouraged people to think for themselves, find the validity in their work and then execute it to the highest standard, it’s quite common sense really but takes people a long time to get their heads around. Her portrayal as a shouty dictator isn’t completely unfounded but she was more a brilliant mind on the search for beauty and newness, with a wicked wit. I miss her everyday, it’s still unbelievable to me that she’s not here – then I look around at the state of fashion and am sure she’d be aghast.
What’s the most irritating question you’ve ever been asked?
I’m not a fan of ‘what’s your inspiration’ and I also loathe ‘where do you see yourself in five years’, I’m sure there’s more but I try not to retain annoying information. And endless questions about Liverpool…
The last question I ask everyone I have a chance to interview – what’s your definition of modern luxury?
For me, right now, it would be the opposite of everything. I’m not a fan of nostalgia but I do long for a pre internet time, and a time before smartphones – it’s not that long ago, really. It’s all so consuming. I heard a really brilliant interview with the comedian Sandra Bernhard a while ago, about how we’ve lost that intimacy of friendship and an appreciation of those quieter face to face moments. She made a point about the platform being given to people who just want attention but don’t have any point of view or any sort of creativity, and it makes for quite a depressing world. For me luxury is being surrounded by things of a better quality, whether that’s time with friends or just some quiet time, I’m not a fan of all the noise. If you’re going to make noise saying something, make it worthwhile or really fucking funny.
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