David Longshaw embodies the spirit of the original artist: his creative whims become reality as the fantasia in his head spills onto garments, short films, paper and ideologies. Practicing a unique concept design method, he creates eclectic, and often maladjusted, characters that carry the narrative approaches used to create his collections. Through this medium, he subtly confronts root issues and taboos surrounding the fashion industry – from mental health to hierarchy and the antagonism of the emerging designer.
Albeit being part of the alumni from Central St. Martin's and The Royal College of Art in 2007, success found Longshaw before his final graduate collection was even shown, He was approached and offered a position designing at Alberta Ferretti, which served as the commercial catalyst that was necessary to succeed in his own brand. “Often at St Martins and the RCA I was inspired by art, film and music. When designing for fashion houses in Italy, I was using other forms of inspiration,” he tells me. David went on to launch his first collection as an eponymous label during London Fashion Week in February 2010, where he was chosen to showcase at Ones To Watch and exhibit with the British Fashion Council.
While studying at St. Martin's, David created the emblem to his brand: Maude, fictional fabric mouse and editor-in-chief of fictional magazine, MAUDEZINE, dubbed as the ‘future fashion bible’. Made of refined cashmere given to David by Savile Row tailor Richard James, Maude has become a fashion icon in her own right, using her chimerical personality and adventures with friends as a starting point for his collections. Maude erupted from the story of a man named Nigel who start to become withdrawn from the world but developed a flourishing number of imaginary friends who came to keep him company in his head. When asked about the personal relationship he has with the macabre undertones so evident in his aesthetic, he’s hesitant to digress. “In some ways, I think any character you create has a little of you in it, but most of my characters are a disturbed in one way or another – so I hope I’m not too similar.” Using contorted, almost Vaudevillian-like character faces all too familiar in fashion, he alludes to the fact that these might be satirical amulets used to combat the absurdity that is often too present in the industry. “My character is my muse: a constant inspiration and my strongest supporter and critic. I can trust her fictional opinion. Also, she’s a useful tool as I can say things through her in an amusing way without it seeming like I’m being personally offensive.” This is a special interaction between designer and garment, one in which the only difference between art and audience is a practical one, not a fundamental one.
David's aesthetic delves in different prints, textures, silhouettes and palettes; his designs are print-based, using his illustrations and short stories to carry the concept and pieces for each collection. While the illustrations and narrative devices propel the designing process, they are also the artistic focus in his collections; within each garment there is a sliver of each story line – though expressed quite literally with character sketches – the fabric, construction and hues reflect on the anecdotes. Storylines are what create the themes and shades of the pieces; they inform everything from the silhouette to materials to colour schemes, but they’re not always necessary: “I enjoy creating the fictional worlds and it adds another layer for people to enjoy, but I don’t need to have them to create a collection – it’s just the way I enjoy working and it helps to build in to the way I want my brand to be perceived.” The method behind his creations allow his work to take on an identity of its own; his affinity for telling stories is encompassed into his collections as he assembles gracefully dark settings as the symmetry to balance his designs. But recently launching a book advertised as a ‘fashionable children’s tale for grown-ups’, I wonder if his illustrative talent lends itself to a successful career as an author. “I enjoy all of those things, but it’s fashion that’s always drawn me in more than the others. I love the interaction with the garment and the wearer, whether that’s in an everyday environment or in a more conceptual way – like a show or presentation.”
Fashion designers seem to create a world of their own; the idea of designing a piece of art that can be worn and interacted with is the impulse that drives designing forward. “Fashion design now isn’t just about creating great clothes; there are so many layers and so much competition out there that you have to find your own unique perspective. It's about some thing or things that make you different and that can intrigue and delight, or at least make people inquisitive enough to find out about your collection,” he muses. Fashion is an art form that has the ability, unlike any other creative field, to touch people on an assortment of levels – from the extremely superficial to something much deeper and more meaningful. David Longshaw triggers both of these senses.
Words by Rachel Grace Almeida