Words by Emma Herron
Photography by Matt King
Christopher Shannon’s success story, from humble Liverpudlian beginnings to creating a name for himself as the go to British designer for conceptual functionality in menswear, has been well documented. Armed with an MA from Central Saint Martins, Shannon launched his own label via stints working with a mixed bag from Judy Blame to Richard James and Helmut Lang. Early shows at Fashion East and MAN sealed the reputation of his mainline and several collaborative projects later, it is recently accompanied by his diffusion print line, Kidda.
Now that LONDON COLLECTIONS: MEN is launching in the form of an arguably overdue 3-day-long affirmation that menswear deserves the same attention as the women’s collections, we sought this already established designer’s thoughts on his own experiences, up-coming collections and what opportunities this new platform could provide for British designers.
How did your experience at Central Saint Martins, both at MA and BA level, mould you as a designer?
The BA is just being ridiculous, poor, tramping round London and getting in dodgy taxis then doing a runner. That’s pretty much all I remember. And the people I met. The MA is much more focused and intense, it was much more suited to me and the things I liked. I think when I was about 17 a friend of my mums managed to get me a ticket to the MA show, it was the year Robert Cary Williams graduated with that amazing collection with all the plaster bowler hats, I was blown away by the whole thing. One of my interns is studying at CSM and was saying she didn’t really fit in, I always thought that was the joy of Saint Martins; it’s a place you go when you don’t fit in anywhere and there, no-one expects you to. As a designer, you sort of mould yourself, what people like Professor Louise Wilson do is basically poke you in the arm for a year saying ‘Come on, come on’, then finally the penny drops, you realise all you need to do is embrace yourself and your point of view. If you can do that and make the work well you’re on your way really.
Do you still feel a connection now they have moved to the new building? Did it draw any nostalgia when you heard it was happening?
Not really nostalgia, the MA still feels pretty recent to me and I’ve known people in the last few graduating classes, the BA seems like a lifetime ago, after I finished I went and worked for 3 years before I enrolled on the MA. I don’t feel connected to the building at all, only to a few of the people like Louise, Fleet Bigwood and Julie Verhoeven.
As a CSM alumni, what was it like to be on the panel for the BA Fashion Show 2012?
It was nice to be asked and also to do it with two of my closest friends, Lulu Kennedy and Kay Barron from Harpers [Bazaar], I can suffer most things if I’m with my friends. It was nice to get out of the studio and it’s enjoyable to see new work, I think it keeps you a bit fresh, then we had negronis at Shrimpys which is on the canal near the college, all in all a nice evening.
We’re about to embark on the first LONDON COLLECTIONS: MEN, what opportunities do you think it will provide for emerging, as well as established, menswear designers?
I’m not sure, I am only aware of what my friends are up to. It could be a great thing for London, as with all these things you need to give it a few goes and tweak it until it works. I’m not really worried about established designers, that’s their stuff to deal with. The best it could achieve is that buyers get into the habit of coming to London first and placing orders rather than just Paris. London has always been good for hype but not so much for commerce.
Do you feel your own success would have come more readily if they had only thought of it sooner?
Never really thought about it. Timing has always been great for me, I left college and went straight onto the MAN day and we started selling from the second collection, it wasn’t like I was sat in a shed with loads of samples for years waiting and waiting. I never wanted my own label, I just thought I would go to New York and get a job. I kept saying it all the time that I didn’t want to do it, then it pulled me in and there’s been no way out since! I’ve always consulted along side of the shows and the work has kept coming in and when it hasn’t I’ve found a way of making other things happen. I never wanted to be a ‘fashion designer’, I have only ever wanted to work on good projects and try to produce nice work regardless of my name being on it.
Functionality and athleticism are ever present in your collections, and you’ve explored prints via your line, Kidda. What can we expect for the upcoming season?
SS13 KIDDA is the most ambitious we’ve done. There’s more colour, it’s bolder and we’ve added bags which are looking really nice. Mainline is still in progress. It’s much more upbeat than last season and we have used loads more colour than we have for the past three seasons. It’s quite straightforward in a way, the accessories are a bit full on – we are working with Craig Green again who worked with us on the comb pieces for SS12, and we have a new bag collab, plus the new season Kickers. I still can’t quite see it all, we are still in the middle of fittings, I like a lot of it though.
Kidda feels much more pared down in comparison to your mainline collections. Was that a conscious decision? How do you feel your tastes have changed personally?
I think of KIDDA as a completely separate line, we don’t really cross things over anymore. We are starting the fourth KIDDA collection next week, it seems like about a fortnight ago we launched the first season. I always wanted KIDDA to be those pieces that you wear for ages, throw to the back of the cupboard then you are really pleased to find in a years time, it’s not like serious monastic drapy jersey moments. I think my taste works best when I don’t concern myself with the thoughts of others outside of my team. The only thing I focus on is getting the quality better, when I look at samples from our first few seasons I see how far the product has come.
What do you feel influences your collections? Where do you mine for inspiration?
It’s an everyday thing really, it has to be. Also, so many of my friends work in creative arenas so we constantly swap things. I love photography the most and buy far too many books, mainly portraiture and documentary. I love tabloid photography too and just seeing the way people put clothes together, I’m not really inspired by fashion imagery.
Following successful collaborations with Topman, Reebok and EASTPAK et al, do you see yourself collaborating more in the future? Is there anyone that comes to mind who you’d love to work with?
We are working with Kickers for the second time and also a new bag project. KIDDA came about in part because I was so tired of going to collab meetings with endless brands and they would talk and talk and I got so bored, I realised all the things we were talking about I could just do myself and we could have complete control. There’s loads of people I would love to work with, I love Moschino, Margiela…I would really like to do a denim project, a full range. We are starting sunglasses next month which I’m looking forward to.
Which other menswear designers do you feel are definitive of the current London mentality? Are there any designers in particular who have captured your attention?
There are a few I really like: Martine Rose, Lou Dalton and Shaun Samson have all been doing nice stuff. Craig Green is doing his first thing this season which I’m really excited to see, also Richard Nicoll is doing something which I’m sure will be super nice. For women’s, Mary Katrantzou is doing so well it kind of takes your breath away and Michael van der Ham too, it’s nice to have such talented friends and comrades!