South London Forever: Art School

by Hetty Mahlich on 26 November 2019

When we talk about designers, we often talk about where they're from: it seems the place you call home is inflected in your creative practice, whether you like it or not. While global fashion has its four major capitals, London itself has its own creative quarters: each distinct in attitude. This series of interviews will set the scene for some of London's brightest fashion talents working in South London; Phoebe English, Art School and Alex Mullins, as Hetty Mahlich speaks with them to explore how South London informs their unique creative approaches.

When we talk about designers, we often talk about where they're from: it seems the place you call home is inflected in your creative practice, whether you like it or not. While global fashion has its four major capitals, London itself has its own creative quarters: each distinct in attitude. This series of interviews will set the scene for some of London's brightest fashion talents working in South London; Phoebe English, Art School and Alex Mullins, as Hetty Mahlich speaks with them to explore how South London informs their unique creative approaches.

Art School

Art School's Tom Barratt and Eden Loweth with Josephine Jones

Tom Barratt and Eden Loweth are the creative duo behind Art School, a label who have been using fashion to foster an inclusive approach to identity since their A/W 17 debut under Fashion East Man. Their latest collection for S/S 20 titled MODERN NATURE- inspired by queer rights activist Derek Jarman's book of the same name- was an exploration of the queer person's standpoint within modern society. Queer deities took to the catwalk in the form of friends and collaborators, captured backstage by Rob Rusling in a haunting photo series. The vibrant pinks, golds and blues from A/W 19- their first standalone show- this season became regal silvers, greys and whites in sleek suiting, pinafore dresses, darted shirts and hand-painted leopard print on leather. Sequins made their return to the Art School palette in the form of iridescent dresses embellished with white feathers and shimmering black fringing. The dominant use of black continued the ethereal darkness felt the previous season, with models now wearing eerie clouded or jet black contact lenses. The celebratory sense of community at Art School's core was not dampened, as 21 friends and allies of the queer community including Josephine Jones enthralled the audience prowling forcefully down the catwalk.

Art School endeavour to foster an inclusive approach to identity and design - regardless of gender, race or sexuality- empowering the wearer to create their own identity through designs cut on the bias, tailored to the wearer. As Art School continue to brilliantly parade their skill in using design to communicate and traverse non-binary and queer-luxury fashion, I spoke with the duo about why nowhere compares to the South, the joys of living in Brockley and how the area supports the creation of identity and a truer sense of self.

Hetty Mahlich: Tell me a little about living in Brockley.

Art School: We moved here just before graduating university. We had been living together in Highgate in 'Highgate House' after a summer spent together before our final years. The most part of us working on the graduate collection was whilst we lived in Highgate, then as the year was ending we moved to Brockley. We've been here three years now.

HM: Where did you both grow up? How do these areas compare to South London?

Tom Barratt: I grew up in Stockport, Greater Manchester and Eden grew up in the Norfolk countryside. I don't think anywhere really compares to South London! Not in a good or bad way, it's just a specific melting pot of people from all over and backgrounds. Anywhere in London is completely worlds away from Eden's upbringing in the countryside. I was more attune to the city being near Manchester, but I lived in a little suburb called Woodley. It wasn't really quiet, we lived on a main road , but you could easily walk to Werneth Low which is an amazing hillside with a view over all of Manchester. I suppose that's a bit similar to Parliament Hill in New Cross! I've only been there once but it was really beautiful and crazy to look out over the city like that.

HM: How does South London support both Art School as a brand, and you as designers and individuals?

AS: The people, the parties, the lust for life! I think there's a more open creativity brewing which will fuel exciting collaborations and unexpected artistry. London can be very competitive and people become easily shut off to what's 'their' thing and shut down any openness to people around them. South London is hopefully breaking that down and encouraging people to collaborate, talk about their ideas and to share their dreams so they can become a reality.

Art School S/S 20, photograph Rob Rusling

HM: How safe is South London as a space within which to express your creative ideas and to develop definitions of queer?

TB: I've found it pretty safe so far. I have two of my best friends and confidants Borys Korban and Susan Reby living in South London with me. Borys lives in New Cross and works for The Face. Susan lives in Elephant and is a pop star/musician. We are increasingly wandering around being feeling our trans girls oats and haven't really received much backlash. Some builder guy was gawking at my legs at the New Cross Sainsbury's once but they were freshly shaved so can you blame him! It's so important to develop queer ideas so that you can explore your queerness in reality, I think that being in the streets and feeling truly authentic creates a truer and more vibrant response to your surroundings and your experience. That's what you need to use to create some good art!

HM: What differentiates South London from the rest of the capital?

AS: A sense of community and open-mindedness, always having a good time and open to anyone that's on that vibe.

HM: What or who inspires you in South London?

AS: Good mates, the parties, the weather, the wandering, the sense of adventure and the dream of success!

HM: South London has changed a lot over recent years. How has Brockley changed since you’ve been based there, for better or worse?

Eden Loweth: It has definitely changed since we've been here, but we've met quite a few people who said they used to live here and they describe it as completely different! There's a whole host of yummy mummy's and families canoodling at the café below our flat, then there's a Wetherspoons with old men in it next door, and loads of arty characters living in flatshares around here. It's a whole host of different people.

TB: I can't say what it was like before and I'm not sure if the gentrification has really morphed the area as we didn't see it before we moved there, but I'm sure it was very different years ago.

Art School Presents: High Concept Character for SHOWstudio's 'Live Studio'
Art School Presents: High Concept Character for SHOWstudio's 'Live Studio'

HM: Increasingly, more creatives are moving South of the river from East London. Why do you think this is?

AS: Because we're here!

HM: If Brockley was a person, what would Art School deck them out in?

AS: A spray painted hoodie, patent leather mackintosh and a pleated skirt!

HM: Top 3 places or things to do in South London.

AS: Peckham Plex cinema £5 Tix! Party in New Cross at Marquis of Granby and Amersham Arms. Sit in the secret garden of The Gantry with an Aperol spritz

HM: What’s next for Art School? Are you working on any exciting projects or collaborations?

AS: We're working on the January show at the moment which is very exciting! That will come round quick so we're bracing ourselves for that!

HM: Do you see Art School remaining based in South London for the foreseeable future or moving elsewhere? Why?

TB: We actually have a studio now in East, this was just due to finding one there and the accessibility. It's a good area for fashion studio as I have to get to North London, Shepherds Bush and Whitechapel very often! So it's got good connections. We love South London though and spent our time here so it will definitely have an influence on the work for time to come I'm sure.

Explore

Re-see

Re-see: ART SCHOOL A/W 18

30 March 2018
Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt of ART SCHOOL talk through their A/W 18 collection with Lara Johnson-Wheeler in this unique take on a re-see.
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