As London Fashion Week gets into full swing and celebrities, models and hangers-on sweep into town, we speak to a talented young designer who is working on something rather different. With a collective of up-and-coming designers, photographers, stylists and other creative individuals under the Untold moniker, Maame Baryeh will showcase her designs at an alternative event to LFW at the Museum of London on Friday and Saturday. She talks to us about hard work, being inspired and the politics of the industry.
On the creative process
It’s not about the ‘scene’, it’s about the clothes. There are so many different elements to the process, and the challenge is translating your initial ideas and concepts into a tangible garment. In the end it’s a story almost – it’s something that you’ve taken from a tiny seed or the glimpse of something you’ve seen and all of a sudden it’s this 20-piece collection.
On the high street you can get things for a fiver, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you lose the whole art to the process. Some people think fashion is frivolous, but I think until you’ve actually seen the process, you don’t really have the big picture.
I launched a Menswear range last year, and I wanted to challenge this area. I think it’s so boring – there’s not enough colour, and not enough variety. There are so many stereotypes attached to what a man is wearing – if it’s a tight pair of trousers he’s got to be gay, and so on, and I think guys feed into it, and they’re quite self-conscious. Fashion for me is supposed to be fun, it’s a way of expressing oneself, that’s why I love the colour and texture and combinations I come out with, because I think if there’s nothing else that you’ve got in life you should be able to express yourself, and have fun with what you’re wearing, and not take yourself too seriously.
On not giving up
My fashion course at uni had a large element of sketching, and I don’t draw - the harder I tried, the worse I got! For me, it’s about the 3D end result, not about drawing a picture and colouring it in. I have to actually make it to visualise what it will be like. That didn’t go down too well with the teachers! At times I thought I wasn’t going to make it.
In the end it all came together – I did a three piece collection using wonderful colours and fabrics, and it solidified the fact that that’s what I wanted to do – it made it make sense, when I was in danger of giving up. But also I’m not a quitter, so I just went with it, and from then it made sense.
On the key to success
With fashion, you’ve really got to believe in your brand and what you’re trying to sell to people, because if you don’t believe it then no one will buy into it. It’s a lot about who you know and how persistent you are – you really have to do the leg work because no one else is going to do it for you – they may say ‘great design’, but you need to be reaching that audience. Until people know you’re there, you’re just a designer that happens to be great at what they do. You’re not actually going to progress and make a career out of it.
In fashion-terms, I don’t think London is necessarily the centre of the universe as a lot of people do, but I do think that what is happening fashion-wise and creativity-wise, this is where a lot of creative people converge. I think the dress sense varies from area to area, and you sort of know where you don’t fit – but that’s London, it’s so diverse, you can go out in anything – you could go out in a binbag and no one would bat an eyelid!
There’s so much to be seen and to do, and that’s what I’m trying to do – discover different parts of London, and just be inspired – lots of museums and areas that you wouldn’t know exist and that are under-used. The Candid Arts Centre in Angel is one of them. I think sometimes you live in London, and you don’t take time to discover your city and find out about it – that’s my mission at the moment.
On the ‘race’ issue in fashion
I struggle to understand why race is still an issue in fashion. In fashion, it’s like swimming with a shoal of fishes – everyone swims the same way, and hesitates to go in a different direction unless someone at the top does it, and then everyone follows. For someone who is considered a small fish in the water, you won’t really make waves – nothing changes. One designer I was working with was very specific that he only wanted European models, and I thought that was strange, but its probably because that’s all that’s seen on the catwalk, so you emulate what you see.
I acknowledge that there aren’t that many high profile black designers out there, but there are a lot of other factors that would prevent you from being able to transcend from becoming an emerging struggling designer to someone that’s on the platform. I do find that when people see my clothing and see me they don’t make the connection! I’ve got a bit of a punk influence, and I think people think of black and they think ethnic - but who cares about the label, as long as it’s good?
On size zero
For me there really isn’t a need to have a size zero model. If I’m seeing it on someone who’s really slim, I can’t see myself in the clothes – I might be able to say well, that looks great, but I couldn’t get my leg in! The argument has always been that clothes look better on a slimmer model, but I don’t know that this is true. For me, you need your customers to be able to identify with what you’re wanting them to buy into, so to have a really skinny, skeletal figure on the catwalk doesn’t make sense. To have that image in the media does put pressure on young girls, and guys, who want to get into the modelling industry – that’s what they think they have to look like. I think they keep the weight off and go through bouts of illness just because they think that’s what they need to do to succeed. And I think it is going to take someone to speak out and say, you don’t need to do this.
On the British Fashion Council and London Fashion Week
It’s partly because they don’t want to offend any designers that are really pro-size zero and they don’t want to offend people on the other side – they’re toeing the line, really. I think having conversations with people to say we don’t agree with something, and actually making a statement, are two different things. I think they should really just make a statement – by doing that you’re telling everybody that this is your view, instead of sitting on the fence.
London Fashion Week is just a week when certain people are in the country – I don’t think it matters where you have your show, but what is actually in your show.
You can see Maame’s beautiful clothes, along with those from a host of other young designers, at Fashion Diversity at the London Design Museum on Friday and Saturday.
Check out our preview of this event later in the week, featuring exclusive pictures of designs and more on the inspiring creative collective Untold.