Brooding, dark and tailored to perfection. In the first instance, lit just by candlelight the entire collection swept past to the throbbing noise of 80s gothic rock pop. Cries of Dreams Made Flesh by This Mortal Coil filled St. Bartholomew the Great church. Models carried candle sticks straight out of some austere costume drama. This season, for collection XVI John Alexander Skelton shifted his focus from historical folk references and sped up to last century’s gothic trend of the 1980s quoting This Mortal Coil as a key source of inspiration that has coloured his daily life.
Supported in the past by McQueen’s Sarabande Foundation and having gained the accolade “one of the brightest, boldest, and most strikingly original talents to come out of London's fashion scene in recent years" from i-D Magazine Skelton is a familiar name amongst those in the know. In collection XVI romantic long line coats are punctuated with signature horn buttons, mostly in different textures of black. Why? Because in 15th-century portraiture it was “generally thought of as a power symbol” shared Skelton. Despite this, we loved full looks and separates in cherry red, plum and olive – all fit for a banquet. Stand out accessories were shiny black gothic long leather gloves that reach all the way up the arm and intricate gold-coloured flower crowns, or chaplets, by Slim Barrett.  They certainly gave a modern feel to the classic folk-inflected tailoring, exploring a contemporary masculinity that opens its heart to florals and fetish-y blacksmith gloves.  In this interview we approach the sticky subjects of creativity, brand-building, the fashion education system, sustainable design and what style really is.
So, let's start at the beginning. What are your earliest memories of having a creative outlet?
That’s quite difficult. I think building sandcastles was my earliest one. The earliest time I kind of recognised what I was doing or a passion for doing something that was artistic. Even though maybe I didn't actually recognise what.
Did you do much dressing up at all as well?
Yeah, in a way. I know that I was very particular about my clothing choices. As far as I can remember. And even when I was really young, according to my parents.
How so? Was it particular materials, colours or shapes? Or was there like a particular item of clothing you remember that was special that you've kept hold of or something like that?
No, not really like that, because I always sort of wanted to change what I was wearing. But things like my grandmother on my father's side would knit jumpers that I would absolutely like love today, but at the time, I would absolutely just refuse to wear them. After she'd probably spent weeks making me something. And then, I just wouldn't wear it. I didn't have anything particular I was really enamoured by that I needed to wear all the time. Not in memory.
Moving to more recent times. What would you say to your younger self about starting a brand?
It's best not to know too much before you do it. I think the more sort of naïve, you can be about doing it, the better. Because you can't really anticipate how difficult it's going to be. I think probably the more that you know, the more you'd be put off by doing it.
Do you think that's why there's a lack of teaching in universities about the running of a brand and there's so much focus on design work?
Yeah, I think so. I think it's, in a way, sort of good not to know, but sometimes from a business perspective, it would be really useful. And that would be something that I would like to know. Also, things like different textiles and stuff. You're not taught anything about textiles in university on a design course, which is kind of insane, because understanding textiles is such a huge part of design since it influences what you can do. Like, you can do certain things with one fabric that you can't do with another. And it's that's not taught at all. I mean, there's quite a lot of things that're missing in fashion education in general, but textiles is for sure [one of them]. I find it quite bizarre that it's not taught. Then the sort of business side of things, just basics, I think would be another thing that would be really helpful. But I don't know, fashion’s so all-encompassing, running a company that makes clothes is I think one of the most multifaceted job roles. It's so complex and there's so many things that you need to figure out and be able to do. You have to be able to do way more than just design, I think, especially if it's a smaller company, and you can't pay someone to do all the other specific things.
Something that I found interesting is that on your website, you've chosen to highlight your stockists. So rather than selling your clothes directly, do you prefer if someone's looking to buy your clothes, working through personal emails rather than a faceless internet transaction?
Yeah. I guess that's why I don't sell anything online. I want people to go to the shops to go and try it on and feel the fabrics and have a proper experience. I think it's important, especially for my for my clothing. And for the price point, I think someone needs to go and see it, and try it on and make sure that they like it, there's so much work that goes into it. The other thing is, from a sort of sustainability perspective, I think that it's important for people not to be shipping stuff back and forth around the world, you know, if the size medium is too big or something and then they have to send it back. All that sending stuff back and forth is obviously really bad for the environment. So, it's also a choice from that perspective. And yeah, I don't think it should be as easy as just clicking a button. I think it sort of detracts from the thing itself, in a way.
Yeah, I see. That's a very valid point. And you've spoken about sustainable cotton being made and dyed in India for you. Do you have your pieces made there or in the UK?
Everything's made in England, as in the garments are made in England. It's just the cotton that I get from there, because it's the only place where you can get actually properly sustainable cotton where it's from the ground up it’s sustainable. It's drought resistant and uses much, much less water. And then it's all hand woven by individual artisans. It's also about the artisan as well. And supporting as well as everything else.
So, is the location of garment production important to you?
Yeah, it's extremely important. The garment production is really important because I need to be in control of it. And it's very important that it's local. And that I can visit the factories regularly because the quality of the production for me is paramount. So, it has to be a really well made product. And, it has to be something that's made to last a really long time. And not just worn, broken and then thrown away. I want things to stand the test of time and be able to be worn pretty rigorously and not fall apart. So, it's important that the materials are of the highest quality and also then the making [is too].
You work only with natural materials and feel the natural world speaks well with the collections you produce, is your fascination for historical and natural references, something to do with feeling like you were born in the wrong era?
I don't really like that sort of statement. Really. It's good to challenge the error of today, in a way with those things. And I think it's important to sort of push against whatever the current trends and things are I don't even like saying that word [trends], because it's just gross. But I don't really think about that either. I just do what I like to do. But, I like to think that I sort of subvert those things and make them my own, and [take them] partly out of their original context. And I never want to just repeat something that has been done before. You know, I want to move it on and do something else with it.
Back when you were producing collection XII you designed with a toy shop owner in mind. John Kilby Green was there someone you had in mind as the wearer for season number XVI?
Probably myself. I normally just make what I would like to wear, that's the way that I design.
Throughout the season, I'm thinking about what I'm enjoying wearing, and the other things that I would like to wear or how I can evolve certain things that I've made already, and make them better, or just change them in a way that I think would be interesting and enjoyable to wear. So, it's, in a way, quite a selfish sort of design process, just thinking about myself. I'm not interested in designing for a specific person at all. I think it's pretty redundant. To be honest, I think trying to specify who's going to wear it is both redundant and boring. And a commercial sort of exercise. I chose to do my own [brand rather than] stuff like that, where people are trying to design for a certain age bracket or type of person or, you know, a specified customer, I think is pretty ridiculous, really. Especially when you actually understand what the diversity of people that buy certain things, especially my clothes is like it's a really wide ranging clientele, people that are really super different. And I think that's a really nice thing. You know, it's not just a specific type of person that's buying it all the time.
They all have sort of, you know, different backgrounds and things like that.
That brings me on to my next question, which is, for writers, it's interesting to ask whether there would be any intellectual pleasure in a text without the potential reader. This idea translates to clothing. What would a piece of clothing be without its wearer?
What would it be without its wearer? I think designing something as an object is also quite interesting. Sometimes I've made things that I'd get great pleasure out of just looking at, hanging or just up on a wall or something like that. I don't think it necessarily needs to be everything. Definitely, people buy stuff that they don't wear, and they do that exact thing. Where then it's treated more like an artwork than something that is necessarily worn. I think that there's a beauty in that. And also there's something interesting about it. I mean, it particularly sort of appeals to me because I really like designing textiles. And I think sometimes it doesn't even necessarily need to be a garment. It could just be the actual textile itself.
Could you see yourself as a textile artist?
No, I don't think so. Not really, I don't think it's enough for me. But I think I'd be interested in doing it as like part of my whole process. But I don't think I'd want to only do that really.
I don’t think I'd be satisfied with it. 90% of my thinking is about what I would like to wear and what wearing something does to your mental state, how it makes you feel. I think that the psychology behind the clothing is quite interesting. So, I'd miss that.
Does the everyday inspire you? And if so, what has stood out recently?
No, not particularly. I don’t think so. I'm interested in things that have a certain sort of mysticism behind them or a kind of fantastical thing about them. I suppose that's why I'm [into] history because I didn't live at that time and I think there's something quite wonderful about imagining what it would have been like to live then. Even though, I think if I had lived at that time, I probably wouldn't have found it interesting. There's something interesting about projecting onto a past or a future and the everyday I find quite mundane.
I read that you do shirt collaborations. And I was wondering if this season that had happened again?
Not this one, for a little while I've not done [them]. I'm not [met] someone that I'd really like to do it with. And I don't see the point of doing it just for the sake of it. So I've been doing, and I quite enjoyed doing, my own stuff. I've been doing my own prints. And I've enjoyed being able to do that. I mean, it's always been quite specific, even when I've worked with other people, the actual thing has been specified by me mostly. It's been quite nice just to do my own for a little while, but that doesn't mean to say that I wouldn't collaborate and do work with different artists on my shirts again. But, I've just not found anyone or not come across anyone that I've been particularly enamoured by recently.
You've shot on allotments before and collection X references a self-sufficient northern town from a photography book. Do you have an interest in self-sufficiency? Why do you think that is?
Yeah, I do. I think there's something quite romantic about it. Like, the idea of crofters that existed in Scotland. I mean, they still do, to a small extent, but, having a miniature farm where you grow and you're completely self-sufficient [has] a kind of really nice sort of simplicity. I think even, I imagine, it would be incredibly hard work being fully self-sufficient. There's something really enchanting about the purity of that, and I imagine it would be incredibly satisfying to be able to do it, and not have to rely on anything, any sort of outside sources. And there's interesting aspects of it that relates to my work. For example, the cotton that we were talking about earlier, the name for hand woven cotton in India is called khadi, which sort of formalised by [Gandhi], it was part of his initiative to make India self-sufficient. And to cut off the contract which existed with the UK, which was putting a stranglehold on the Indian economy. And his idea was to make India self-suficient and a large part of that was for them to make their own fabric for their own clothes. And I really support that.
Have you ever had the opportunity to visit India?
No, not yet. I was supposed to go just before Covid happened and it scuppered my plans. And then I've not been able to plan a trip since but, I hope to go in the next year or so.
Yeah, it's an amazing country. Going back to your latest collection, number XVI. You concretise the fleeting and emotional feeling of 4ADs music, how do some of the tracks you put on the runway make you feel?
I suppose a wide range of emotions. I find that they're incredibly uplifting in a way but they put me in a sort of state of mind that really lends itself to making or creating things. I like to listen to it when I'm in my design process. But it's quite difficult to put your finger on what exactly, it is really. It’s just quite inspiring for me, that choice of sounds, that soundscape, and also, lots of them are quite instrumental, as well. But there's a world that is created there, and it transports you to a different place, which I think the best music does that. It takes you into another realm. I think that their music definitely does that. It feeds that part of my brain that allows me to think about what I'm doing in quite a calm, peaceful way. I like to be in that sort of state of mind when I'm working. You just sort of zone out and you can really concentrate in a deep way.
That's great. I've got your final question. It’s another challenging one. What is style?
That sort of question is really personal. I don't not sure if it's something that can necessarily be described very well or really articulated, because it's more of a feeling. Sometimes you can really just sense that someone has a really great style, but if you were to pick apart someone's outfit, it would be hard. It's like, you know, a lot of it is about how someone wears something, I think, as opposed to what it is itself. I mean, obviously whatever they're wearing has to be attractive to you personally, but then, the way that they wear it or the way that a person carries himself in clothing has a lot to do with style. But then, I suppose it's also nice to see someone who's actually tried to do something, even if it's bad, [they’ve] attempted to have their own style because there's so many people [where] there's a complete lack of any effort and it's just a complete non-style or like a rejection of it, which is for me it's really disappointing.
So, style is maybe a form of quiet confidence.
Yeah, I suppose in a sense. I think that it's very important. When you see someone who you think does look really stylish, I think that they exude, you can tell, that they're very comfortable in what they're wearing. But, I think if it's something that's more outlandish, it obviously takes confidence to be able to do that. It doesn't necessarily also need to be a quiet confidence it can be quite confrontational, which is also interesting. It could be something that's quite reactionary.