Reuben Selby seamlessly goes and flows between different creative fields, as he has managed to co-found a modelling and creative agency – The Contact Agency and Cortex Creatives – and his new fashion brand, established in the middle of a pandemic, in 2020, is proof of that. The second collection titled Clash was just shown this past Saturday during London Fashion Week, with the help of his partner Maisie Williams, who played live music, and it is a taste of what the brand will be able to bring, creatively speaking.
It is an ode, in a way, to his mixed heritage and the clash of cultures that this presents, hiding and even losing a part of yourself but, ultimately, it's about finding the harmony in that and presenting yourself authentically. Flaunting gender and body diversity through hard industrial elements, Reuben Selby shows a sensibility that is rough around the edges, and we can't wait to see what more the brand has to offer.
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How did you come to the idea of creating a clothing collection in the middle of a pandemic?
It what just a time where I had space to reflect on what I love and what I haven’t been able to do. I’ve always wanted to create a brand and design clothes and my excuse to myself would be “You are busy, you have to do many things,” so having that space I realised that I am not too busy, I'm just putting it off.
I had this time to reflect and focus on what it is I want to say, not even thinking about designs or clothes yet, just really understanding and articulating what is important to me and what dialogue I want to have in my creative work. I think a lot of that has come from Maisie pushing me to show more of myself as an individual, I think I was always trying to do that but having someone push and support me allowed me to start.
It is not the best timing but, at the same time, it was a really big opportunity because everything slowed down so I wasn’t against the clock. I took the whole time in lockdown to just build the foundations, then that kind of led to the show in Paris. Everything was controlled, even in the same way today is controlled but we didn’t have photographers backstage, we didn’t have much of an audience, it was purely about what the visual communication was and that is really fundamental to the way that I think. It is more than just clothes, a brand doesn’t need to necessarily try and sell clothes, it is not a priority, it is purely about creating art.
What is the message you want to send with your collection?
It started as an emotion or a feeling that I wanted to recreate and it is something I always had in me, it was quite visceral. There is a sound that caused an emotion, it is very industrial, which I like, I could associate it with so many things in my life and that is what’s unique. Sounds and textures have real emotions to me, so that's why it’s called Clash because it’s an interpersonal story about what Clash means to me, being mixed race, half Asian half white, having a mother that emigrated to the United Kingdom who had to lose part of her culture to be accepted. When my mom used to walk down the street with a bright straw hat or something like that, people would view her in a way as if she wasn’t socially accepted.
That’s a tricky thing, would you say it is racism?
It has to do with people's stereotypes. In cases like this, it's more about how people react differently to someone's appearance, even if they are not doing anything malicious or intentional there is a conversation they need to have with themselves to start figuring these things out. The collision that everyone has inside of them is very real, and it is trying to make people see that, although it’s very hard to admit, that’s the first place where you need to start. It is just about looking out to what's the truth, that is kind of why there’s a lot of brutalism and things which are very raw because it is uncomfortable to look at, the sounds are almost uncomfortable to listen to but it is quite pure.
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It makes sense, when you come from different cultures it’s easier... Maybe it’s difficult to accept yourself when you are young but once you grow up, it is the richest experience having the privilege to have all this cultural input.
That is what I’m trying to come to terms with, I think that so much of my life I was trying to hide half of where I come from because it’s not what people are used to. I tried to be something else that wasn’t authentic, you do it because you want to protect yourself, but now I'm being my true self and not hiding anything.
Tell me the evolution between your first collection and the one you are presenting now.
It’s on a whole other level. We did the last collection in 2 months, we didn’t really know what we were doing, there were literally two people on the design team. I am still very proud of it, but I am proud of the visual language that we had in the show, how it was communicated. With this one, I am very proud of what we have been able to push with the design, that comes from learning from the last showboat.
Also, we built a more solid team, we’ve got Hannah, head of design, two other full-time designers, Phoebe and Maewa. Having those people full-time for 7 months rather than 2 is a very big difference. The next time we do a collection the design will be pushed even further.
In your first collection you describe your ethic by putting your friends and the world around us first, can you elaborate a bit more on what you mean by that?
That is the specific reason why I am doing this show in London. After the Paris show – although I love it there as it is so romantic – I felt disconnected from my people and my community. I feel like I have been working so hard for so long in London with amazing people who have given me opportunities that I really needed to give back.
The team consists of people that have helped me in small ways in my journey to get to this point in the way that I run the brand. I am the creative director, I don’t get involved in anybody else’s business, people just do what they do best and anyone can contribute and give input. We even have seven students backstage that have never been involved in anything like this and I have been speaking to them all day and that is what makes me feel warm inside, peeking to people like that and connecting.
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Would you describe your designs as genderless?
Yes, again, the way that we approach design, designing different looks and different items of clothing is the same, and it is more about the style and story that we are trying to tell. We design everything at once, we sit in the grey section between womenswear and menswear but that doesn’t mean we don’t lean to different sides at different points because we are not in denial. There are so many different body types and you see that within the casting, it is truly diverse and that’s what's more important to us. We design for the individual and think about what makes them comfortable rather than designing and pushing somebody into the clothes.
What is your strategy when trying to break a breach in the current fashion industry?
It is more about making art because you want to. Hopefully, I will be able to keep on doing that, the way an artist can just create bespoke projects as and when they want to. I’ll never show consistently every season, it is just going to be more about being in time with how I feel and how my team feels, it might take us a year to do the next one, obviously, my strategy is just to be myself.
How would you describe your collection in five keywords.
Rough, I would say clash but you can use a different word like mix match that technically counts as two... This is why I do it because I don’t have to use words to say what it is (laughs). Let's say industrial, muted and confident.
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Tell me about your creative process, is Maisie Williams involved?
She is doing the music live for this show, she pushes me because she pushes herself so much, she is heavily involved in that creative process, less of the design this time. In terms of everything else, she has been involved in a lot of the conversations in the beginning, and she always is, just because she is really important to me to have her point of view, I just really trust what she thinks.
How do you see the evolution of the brand in the future?
I see us doing things other than fashion shows. The brand is deeply rooted in art, and there is a very big theatrical and performance element to this, so it’s like: what happens if we would strip away the clothes and it would just be performance?  Or move more towards literal art? Maybe it is a chance for me to create an exhibition – I also love to paint so I could be showing my own artwork… These are the things I want to explore, the brand is just a medium for self-expression. I’ve already got ideas for the next collection, how it would be, but it is important to me that that doesn’t ever feel like, “ok, we have to do our next collection.”
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