Photography by Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff
Words by Joseph Delaney
Getting to interview a designer around the Fashion week season, with the endless web of PR barriers and press packed days, can be a taxing effort; even more so when the designers in question are known for their almost hermit-like privacy. However, as well as their privacy, the pair are known for a love for the handmade (Benjamin himself noting in their perfume-doused response that they “more often than not bemoan the death of the material object”) so I thought what better way to infiltrate my way into their lives, avoiding the protective media web surrounding them, than to do just that. I sent a package with nothing but a letter of address and explanation, a set of questions and a disposable camera for them to show us in as much or as little detail, in whatever way they saw fit, the world through the eyes of Meadham Kirchhoff.
You’ve previously taken a personal hand in media, from your elaborate handmade LFW invitations to your personal commentary on the Rookie Mag photo diary; is it important to you to get across your personality through more than just your collection and its production?
Edward Meadham: If it had been up to me I probably would have been totally faceless and almost anonymous like Margiela or Raf in the early days. But that was not an option for us… but I guess we deliberately do not censor ourselves in interviews or make public ‘appearances’.
It is all so interconnected with my/our personalities that there is no real distinction between the two – us as people – our ‘product’ the invitations and credit sheets or zines I make for the shows are VERY VERY important to me as a part of the creation of our aesthetic but also the first point of contact with the collection. I saw all of the other show invites this season (AW/12) and it was RIDICULOUSLY DEPRESSING to me that they were all so fucking ugly and BORING. I work really hard each season to do something funny or lovely for the invites it is so important, and something that when I was a kid and I would see for example that Galliano (who is not a reference for me generally) used to send like a little ballet slipper or something incredible as an invite. Nobody seems to care anymore. The commentary I did for Rookie was fun for me to explain and speak first hand about a collection without my words being miss represented or pre-edited by a third party. I love Tavi, I definitely count her as one of my three only friends and what she is doing is so important. She works harder than almost any ‘professional adult’ that I can think of.
Benjamin Kirchhoff: We are both great believers in delivering a message. I think it’s important to say something that has a lasting impact. Too much fashion is about fad. We don’t believe in trends or in soundbites. Making an impact throughout all the elements of a collection is one way of not just re-enforcing what we’re saying but it seals a legacy – the clothes are one element of our mode of expression.
Your collections centre on quite complex sets of inspiration, from ‘uniforms and uniformity’ to a cross between ‘My Little Pony and Marilyn Manson’; what can you tell me about the process of deciding upon and communicating these ideas through your work?
EM I get really URM… introspective between collections. I THINK I get feelings about what I want to see in relation to how I feel inside and how I feel about ALL around me and contextually then I use these feelings to find imagery that in one way or another I connect to. I surround myself with these images/objects songs and videos on youtube. I assert them then I just make scruffy visual stuff and I make it.
BK Somehow the process is not so much about decision making. We obviously pick specific images – but it is quite natural in the way it comes to us. Edward will totally live the development of a collection and I will work on refining its message and how the whole thing comes across. The ‘communicating’ part is the hard one somehow.
You’ve spoken a number of times about who the Meadham Kirchhoff girl is, but what is the one key thing that she embodies?
EM Actually we get asked constantly about “who the MK GRRRL is’” and I constantly try to reflect the question/ I have no interest in categorizing or predetermining who our end customer may or may not be/ all designers talk about how they dress like ‘strong independent women’ that is probably shit. They dress whoever goes into a store and buys it, when I design I actually just think about myself and what I want to wear, and sometimes cool people around me. Women are complex multifaceted individuals who do not deserve to be treated a product target things. The people I know who wear Meadham Kirchhoff range from 20-year-olds to 50-odd-years, have different backgrounds, sexes, lives and jobs.
BK There is no MK girl. Girls / people are their own person. The only thing we project is a sense of stronger individual style – she / he are their own people.
I feel like a lot of emphasis is placed on the choice you’ve made to exclude yourself from the social side of the creative word; what advice would you give to emerging creative people?
EM I don’t know if I would deign to offer any advice. I mean the way we go about everything we do/are has made everything much more difficult for ourselves than it could have been. We only try to retain some kind of ‘integrity’ in what we do and who we are and not do/say/behave in ways that make me cringe or regret. I just think it’s important to be honest to yourself and your intentions. I’m basically a crazy person. Things seem to affect me in ways that I do not observe in other people. I’m just trying to protect myself from as much craziness as possible.
BK Mmh, I don’t think it really is much of a choice. I think there was a time when the ‘scene’ was seeing us as ‘uncool’ and we felt ostracised. Now it could be different but we prefer to keep ourselves to ourselves. The little privacy we get between seasons isn’t going to be spent with more reminders of work. We’re not saying the social side of the industry is bad or pointless. In many ways we’ve made a choice and are probably making it harder for ourselves. But we’re trying to stay true and not go mental. As per advice… do what feels right. Always.
Though varied and progressive, each collection is so recognisable as Meadham Kirchhoff; how would you describe your aesthetic and what is the one thing that ties them all together?
EM The thing that ties them all together is that they come out of my brain and hands. It’s far too hard for me to explain or describe my aesthetic.
BK I think other people are better suited at describing what one does.
Tell me a little bit about your cats.
EM Lana is the mother of Wendy and Cornelius. She is all black and very gentle and shy at night you can hear her sing from the outside of the building all the way to the house she is singing because she is bringing me a present usually little bits of fabric or lace. She has never brought anything dead, no mouses[sic] or insects just pretty bits of fabric.
Wendy is the little fat tubby one/ she is very clever but extremely lazy. She loves food, heat and attention. She is the one who always comes to get her picture taken she has got so fat that she can’t wash herself properly and has developed little matted dreadlocks on her back.
Cornelius is more like a dog than a cat he is very, very constantly vocal. He loves cuddles but is afraid of heights; but he spends all his days at the top of the archive cupboard or in the ceiling from where he cannot get himself down so I have to climb on a ladder to lift him down, he’s a bit stupid but lovely.
Could you draw a picture that illustrates what our next collection is about?
EM Well since we just showed one – I have no real idea what the next one will be, except I know that I want to do something lovely, incredible and something that impresses me.
How is it both living and working in the same space, and what do you do to have a break from that?
EM Living and working in the same place was initially a choice. I am almost agoraphobic so I really hate the idea of having to travel to work. But I would literally murder for some privacy. It gets depressing like at Christmas ‘cause we have no natural daylight in the ‘house’ and it always feels like a dark Sunday night. I would love a proper little house with actual rooms and hot running water but its got to be very close to the studio.
BK I think at the beginning we needed a form of intensity from our work. To be plunged into it 24/7. Now at times it feels like it’s eating us. A desire for privacy, and thinking out of this would be nice.
Do you feel that you have a responsibility to be role models to the young which you’ve mentioned you were lacking in your creative development?
EM No, I don’t feel like I have a responsibility in that way. I am really happy though that what I do (or seems to) have a positive affect on some young kids. We are definitely morally conscious of what we do and the messages we present. When I say “morally” conscious I mean that we are really careful to stick to what we/I believe is socially ok. To try to create and present an alternative to all of the things in popular culture/mainstream society/fashion culture… that I hate. I don’t just sit and bitch. I try to change stuff or at very least if I cannot actually change anything to show that an alternative is possible.
BK Interesting – ?
Music seems so prevalent in your productions, how do you go about deciding music and is it something quite personal to you?
EM You mean deciding music for the show???
Well, everything about what I do/we do is personal. We listen to LOADS of stuff and select whichever seems to be most relevant – or most emotive – or funny whatever depending on the season/collection.
Music is totally, totally important and is one of my most essential and constant inspirations.
BK Music is part of it as much as a soundtrack is key to a movie. Sometimes a sound is there before anything else. Sometimes we’ve got to listen to tons and tons of stuff. It’s never a straight forward process but it is capital to get it right.
Your shows are fast becoming as talked about as the collections themselves, what is it about the production that is so integral to understanding the collection?
EM The clothes – however central they are and I guess always will be – (after all they are the end point) but the clothes are just one part of what we do. I am more interested in creating an entire aesthetic, a moment in time, an entire universe to create a context for which the clothes to live. And in all honesty some of the razzmatazz of the shows has been there to distract from how I feel about the collections! But I feel really strongly that they are fashion shows and there are more opportunities open to us than just to send looks one by one down a plain, unadorned runway that (for the moment) BORES ME TO DEATH.
BK I’ve always been a great believe in context. I think that for a world to exist within itself it has to have something to gel with or go against. I think that there has[sic] been great collections from other designers that have had an impact (lasting or not) because of their timing and their message. What we’re doing, putting the shows together, is making the collections exist on their own, independently of the greater ‘fashion’ worries/world.
That’s how I’d like to see it anyway – I think a lot of the criticism we get comes from that, we’re more preoccupied about what we want to see, than what others want to get.