Mad about Mimi

Mimi Wade is one of the most exciting designers to have come out of London in the last few seasons. With her hyper feminine, seductive and playful designs she has created a new space for women to enjoy dressing up, and in doing so invites women to enjoy their bodies and the power they hold.

A Central Saint Martins graduate who came through the Fashion East platform, you can expect exciting things to come from Wade in the seasons to follow. Twin caught up with Mimi to talk about her grandmother, Hollywood and carving a new fashion structure.

Your last collection was inspired by your Grandmother’s Hollywood home, can you tell us a bit more about what the place was like?

Her house is slap bang in the middle of Hollywood, movie posters and lobby cards adorn every inch of wall space, mixed in with numerous photographs of herself , portraits by different artists and ex-boyfriends (including Cecil Beaton, and one by Matisse -not actually of her but one which bears a very striking resemblance) film stills – it’s all very ‘Sunset Boulevard’ !

Hollywood is infinitely seductive, why do you think that is?

The possibility in the air, that’s very seductive. People flock from all over the world to the city to pursue their dreams. In the same way that movies promote fantasy and detach us from reality, so does Hollywood. It is both trashy, dangerous and completely magical.

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You embrace femininity and sexuality in your designs – what about that kind of aesthetic interests you?

There have been times where I’ve felt undervalued for embracing and embodying my femininity and it only made me want to continue to push further. Women are too often underestimated, especially beautiful women who embrace their femininity and sexuality. My grandmother had a boob reduction, died her hair an unflattering colour and tried to rid herself of her stereotypical bombshell looks in an attempt to get more fulfilling roles in the movies – it’s frightening how often women are put in a box because of the way they look. Take Hedy Lamarr for example- she is responsible for inventing wifi and yet she is often merely remembered for being beautiful. Things need to change and I want to be part of it.

Aside from personal experience, who or what do you draw aesthetic inspiration from when you’re building a collection?

I watch a lot of films, I collect packaging and movie memorabilia, I take pictures and draw a lot, I look at vintage clothes.

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You graduated from CSM and then did Fashion East, what were the biggest challenges of launching a label in London? What were your biggest learning curves?

I’m still learning a lot, mostly from my mistakes!

What are your favourite materials to work with?

I have had an ongoing sponsorship from Sophie Hallette since St Martins, they make the most exquisite lace in Paris which is a joy to work with. I also love painting on leather.

When did you have the most fun designing?

My graduate collection at St Martins, having the freedom to design something with no commercial constraints whatsoever was pure joy.

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All you want for Christmas is….?

A lilac Birman kitten.

Where do you want to take the brand in 2018?

I’m restructuring the way I show collections, I’m not going to be a slave to the schedule anymore. In 2018 I’m doing things on my own terms. I’m launching my website and e-store in the new year too which I’m really excited about.

Meet East London’s Muslim Model Ready to Shake Up the Industry

‘I ain’t no Kendall Jenner but I’m a black muslim girl from east london that’s about to finesse the modelling industry’ wrote Shahira Yusuf on Twitter back in November. Born in Somalia and hailing from East London, the 20 year old’s statement has since been retweeted almost 60,000 times, making her entrance into the fashion world one of the most hyped this year.

It’s no secret that fashion has historically failed on diversity, but with Edward Enninful at the helm of British Vogue, 2018 might be the year in which the seismic shifts that need to happen finally do. Entering the industry at this febrile time, Shahira’s energy and passion for ensuring proper representation is an exciting harbinger for what’s to come.

We caught up with Shahira to talk about diversity, role models and breaking into the London fashion scene.

Culture Trip: How did you get into modelling, and what did you find interesting about it? 

Shahira Yusuf: I was scouted at 17 but initially I didn’t consider modelling. At 20 I finally built up the courage to try it out, and decided to visit Storm. For someone who hadn’t initially had an interest in fashion, what attracted me to fashion was the amazing opportunities. I’m glad I have the opportunity to do something that allows me to represent not only myself, but to represent diversity. 

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Shahira Yusuf | © molliedendle

CT: Your tweet went viral – what do you perceive to be the main challenges facing the industry in terms of diversity and inclusivity?

SY: Prior to being a model, I assumed the industry wasn’t at all inclusive. However now having some experience, I feel that the modelling industry tries, I honestly do. Do I feel that the industry could try even harder for a shot at equal representation? Yes, I do. I’d like to see the industry look exactly like if I were to walk down the streets of London in terms of ethnic diversity. I no longer feel like there should be a need to address diversity, in this day and age. The world is made up of over a hundred nations, we come from all walks of life. Diversity in the fashion and modelling industry should not be an option, it should be necessary. If the industry’s aim is to flourish, inclusiveness should be the basis. 

For instance, I don’t feel it’s right for designers and/or companies to hire a majority of non-Muslim women to model modest Islamic clothing. There are many Muslim women willing to represent themselves. Find them. Or when West African or East Asian clothing is being modelled, you have to consider the roots of the cultural clothing/items and use models from that particular country/region. That’s not to say people from other ethnicities cannot wear the clothing, but if I’m watching a runway and that’s been inspired by a particular culture, I expect to see models from that culture dominating the runway, representing their roots to the fullest extent.

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Shahira Yusuf | © Ronan McKenzie / Storm

CT: Who were your role models in fashion growing up?  

SY: My role models were successful beauties like Iman, Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell.

Iman is certainly someone I can relate to, being from the same ethnic background. In terms of her branching out and dominating the fashion and beauty scene and building her legacy, I definitely was drawn to her. As for Tyra, I grew up watching many seasons of ANTM and also her talk show. I’d probably say there was no-one I was more engaged with in the fashion scene more than Tyra. I certainly loved Tyra growing up, she’s the whole package. Naomi, well honestly there’s no need for me to even explain this one.

All three models are incredible women that are worth looking to in terms of success in the fashion industry. They paved the way for diversity and if it wasn’t for them it’s highly likely that I wouldn’t be modelling today.  

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 Shahira Yusaf | © molliedendle

 

CT: What were your frustrations with the industry before going into it, and how do you want to participate in shaping it going forward? 

SY: My main frustration was the lack of diversity, and I’ve realised there’s more of an effort in inclusiveness being made by smaller companies in comparison to established, household names. This is quite disappointing. Most well known designers and companies love to express how they’re inspired by different cultures, yet if you watch a runway of most of the well established names, you’ll only find a couple or at most 3–5 ethnic models. 

To me, that’s unfair. If you really believe in diversity, prove it. You cannot simply say that you’re inspired by different cultures yet turn around and rarely choose people of different cultures to represent you. It’s contradictory and although it’s continuously addressed, there’s not been a huge effort to make a direct change. 

It really isn’t even about me, I just feel that there’s so much beauty around the world for the industry to be painted over by one coloured brush. We don’t all appear the same, so why create that false idealism? There’s no such thing as universal beauty standards, the world realises this, and it’s time the fashion industry stopped enforcing something that’s deemed as unrealistic. 

A lot of times, the modelling industry is stereotypically viewed as superficial for these reasons. There’s so much more to modelling than what meets the eye, complete inclusiveness will prove modelling is not only ‘skin deep’. 

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Shahira Yusuf | © Ronan McKenzie / Storm

CT: Do you think there is space for fashion to be a medium for activism and actual change? 

SY: I do believe the fashion industry holds the potential to make a huge shift in society and for the better. In fact, I think it’s underestimated how impactful the industry really is. Many designers, companies and models have the ability to use their platform to make a change – and I mean a real change. It’s so easy to distance yourself from what’s going on in the world, but once you do, you’re losing sight of the bigger picture. 

I think people should start by firstly acknowledging their surroundings as you cannot be out of touch with reality. Then set out ideas of what you’d like to see in the world in terms of improvements and how you could contribute to making that happen. I always say, no matter how big or small your platform is, use it for the better. It makes everything more worthwhile. Ultimately, it’s the intention that matters. 

CT: What have been the most powerful images you’ve seen in fashion recently?

SY: Probably Adwoa Aboah as the cover star for Edward Enninful’s first edition of British Vogue. Extremely captivating. I loved the cover, and everything about it screams excellence. Rihanna’s Fenty cosmetic campaign was also powerful. It was the key defining beauty campaign of the year, I personally feel. An amazing representation of diversity. 

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Shahira Yusuf | © Ronan McKenzie / Storm

CT: You recently signed to Storm. How have you found the London fashion scene?  

SY: the best word I could use to describe it is, evolving. I feel like the fashion scene is always evolving, nevertheless I’m very much enjoying myself and in the little time that I’ve been modelling, I’ve had some cool experiences! 

CT: What’s in store for 2018?

SY: I’m looking forward to doing more photoshoots, I’m also hoping to do some runway shows. I’m extremely ambitious and see myself only ever improving. As someone who loves experiencing new places and going on adventures, I’d also love to do some traveling.

A version of this article was originally published on Culture Trip. 

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Skirt? Why New Menswear Designers Can’t Go Mainstream

‘Everything was worn with cowboy boots, many of them gold. They made me think of Myra Breckinridge, possibly Galliano’s sly way of underscoring that all fashion is drag,’ wrote Tim Blanks recently in his review of Maison Margiela’s couture show.

That fashion is about performance is not new. Generations of designers have used clothes to explore ideas, and in the process align thought with physical realisation. Martin MargielaRaf Simons, Rei Kawakubo, Vivienne Westwood et al. have all laid ground here, rigorously investigating what it means to be human through the medium of style. And, at its most basic, getting dressed is performance; whether you choose jeans or chinos, shirt or polo, it is a reflection – conscious or otherwise – of your preferences, of how you see the world, of what you’re drawn to and of how you’d like to be perceived.

Yet Blanks’s comment seems a perfect summary of the new wave of performance present on catwalks for SS18. While couture has always had spectacle at its core, the menswear shows in London this season allowed theatre to be the locus of their design energy – this time, it wasn’t about the clothes as much as it was about the setting within which they were exposed.

Free from the usual staging with the usual models, the new menswear designers harnessed the opportunity to expand, and build upon, ideas around gender and identity. Whether it was Charles Jeffrey’s florid pink dancers, who punctuated the show with jubilant moves and raw energy, Liam Hodges’s giant, crazed-looking teddy bear, Bobby Abley’s Teletubbies, or Grace Wales Bonner’s highly stylised and precise choreography, there was a sense that menswear had moved beyond the clothes; it’s how the clothes are performed that matters now.

So what does a Teletubby on the catwalk say about masculinity?

Well, nothing as such. But when juxtaposed with a collection that saw men walk in mini pink tutus and tight-cropped tops, or dalmatian-print parachute pants with fringed bumbags, these children’s cartoon characters represent the culmination of that sense of play and absurdity.

Clothes are about character, and there’s finally a new cast in the theatre of fashion. It makes a mockery of convention and expectations of what the format should contain, and in doing so also shines new light on what menswear is.

Charles Jeffrey has built his reputation on the way he marries performance with fashion. Outside the catwalk, his Loverboy night offers a space for culture and style to intertwine in a sweaty and fervid way, but he operates this tension within the mainstream too. For his first solo show, the designer walked giant papier mâché figures alongside his beautifully tailored constructions, while for SS18 catwalk Charles Jeffrey opened with a fluorescent pink dance troupe, and the models were covered in doodles, face paint and stickers. Again, subversion of the traditional catwalk format allowed for a more fluid approach to menswear.

To the extent that Charles Jeffrey is full of energy, colour and chaos, Grace Wales Bonner is precisely the opposite. Controlled, specific and minimal, her designs have gained great reviews and swathes of love from the industry. The London-based designer’s new approach puts lengthy theses in front of editors, and soaks her fiercely intellectual design angle into every facet of her presentations. Tailoring is central to her aesthetic, 70s influences blending together with inspiration from the streets of Dakar and London. Each garment is perfectly finished, with collections rendered in neutral shades, the occasional flash of colour dipped in. Unlike other designers, Wales Bonner has spurned the pursuit of viral hits in favour of extremely secretive and closed fashion shows, put on for a select group of editors and industry figures only.

The catwalk has therefore become a format in which designers can showcase clothes, but more importantly investigate what it means to be male in the current cultural landscape.

Money vs Art

This movement towards creativity over commercialism reflects the widening chasm between London’s ability to launch new talent and foster emerging designers, and to build sustainable businesses. Platforms such as Fashion East and MAN are almost unparalleled in the industry for giving new talent an international stage – Paris, Milan and New York offer nothing as prestigious.

Yet fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry, and these young creatives need to sell as hard as they challenge convention. Offering new narratives around identity can be doubly powerful if people actually buy into the change. A crucial disparity is that the emerging designers speak to younger, or specifically fashion crowds. Purchasing power often comes from the older generation, who are more affluent and also more traditional in their approach. As an example, Westminster has only in the last few weeks relaxed its rules on wearing ties in parliament. The question, then, is how do these sartorial activists engender change within the system, as opposed to away from it.

Outside of London, some designers have made headway. Eckhaus Latta, a new(ish) New York label has experimented with taking their ideology to a commercial level, running an ad campaign which depicted diverse couples having sexual intercourse. While it certainly generated a lot of hype, their reliance on sex arguably negated the move towards showcasing something different and changing the conversation; in spite of its explicit content, the result was kind of the same.

The digital age offers new platforms for women to express themselves, celebrate their bodies and dismantle patriarchal ideas of what femininity is. Fashion is no longer didactic in terms of what it says women should look like, with major brands such as Marni, Gucci and Prada offering alternative ‘ugly’ narratives. And in terms of fashion, couture has also always delivered – with the caveat that of course the models who walk come under immense pressure to look a certain way – a sense of theatre. By which I mean: there has been womenswear-as-art for some time now.

Breaking down binaries from both sides

The same cannot be said for menswear, and if gender fluidity and binaries are to be broken fully and in ways that will last and develop then the revolution needs to happen here too.

Thus the challenge for men now is to overcome the commercial demands of ‘masculinity’, while also welcoming a new era of catwalk shows that take this new fluid approach to gender into the wider world. How long do we have to wait before a male politician goes into Parliament in a skirt and isn’t greeted by mass derision? In cultures and religions across the globe, skirts and tunics have been worn by men for generations: the West is lagging far behind.

It’s time for the leading menswear designers to take up the work started by London’s finest emerging talent and offer a new idea of ‘male’ style on the mainstream platforms. Here’s hoping 2018’s biggest trend is the unisex skirt.

This article was originally published on Culture Trip, July 2017

Designer Markus Lupfer Gives A Preview Of His SS17 Collection

For over 10 years designer Markus Lupfer has brought joy to the fashion industry with his playful label that fuses splashes humour with considered and intricate design. Ahead of London Fashion Week, we talked to the designer about his new collection.


Graduating with First Class Honours from Westminster in 1997, Markus Lupfer quickly created a buzz in the industry when his entire graduate collection was bought by London boutique Koh Samui. While this was a remarkable vote of confidence in the designer, Lupfer drove his design ethos forward. “I don’t think I felt like I had nailed my aesthetic when I left college.  I see it rather as an evolution.” he told The Culture Trip in a recent interview.

Markus Kupfer AW16

The German-born designer had dreamed of going into fashion since he was a teenager. “It was my absolute dream to work on my own designs and to show them on a catwalk.” Lupfer tells us, “I used to hand knit and I loved it,” explaining that the first piece he can remember making was a hand knitted jumper. Unsurprisingly then, it was knitwear that took centre stage when the designer launched his label in 2001. At this time, Lupfer also won sponsorship from British Fashion Council’s coveted NEWGEN award – a prize that has helped to launch other fashion royalty including Craig Green, J.W Anderson, Sophia Webster and Simone Rocha. Lupfer went on to win ‘Best Designer of the Year’ at Spain’s Prix de la Mode Awards in 2008.

Not content to rest with knitwear, Lupfer’s brand has expanded to encompass menswear and accessories as well. Ensuring that the whole brand remains fresh, the designer tells us that it’s important to “stay active and curious. Introduce something that is different, and the seasonal search for beauty. Knowing what is happening culturally [and] basically being in tune with current trends.” Citing time and constant deadlines as the main challenges to running your own brand, Lupfer has remained focussed on keeping a sense of humour at the core of his aesthetic, in spite of a hectic schedule. “The goal is to enjoy fashion, to make you feel good and special.” Amongst playful knits, vibrant prints and fabulous collections of 60’s inspired sunglasses, an oversized pompom dress in raffia is what Lupfer declares to be his most outrageous piece.

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For SS17, expect to see themes which include a desire for nature, a meadow full of surprises, a sense of individuality, ease and a youthful spirit. The presentation will also embody these themes. “It’s all about nature taking over,” Lupfer says, in long and slightly ominous parentheses.

In spite of the brand’s global success, Markus Lupfer appears remarkably grounded. “I still get excited when I see someone wearing one of my designs on the street. I hope I create things that make people feel really special, happy and confident when they wear them.” With work already in motion for both men’s and women’s AW17/18 collection, the designer is staying focussed on producing innovative and flawless collections. “It’s more about what I can do rather than how big the company can become.” We sense the best of Lupfer is still come.


Shop: Markus Lupfer

First published on The Culture Trip, 7 September 2016