Many of the individuals that feature in this series of films describe themselves as “queer activists”. What does it mean to be a queer activist in 2020?
Outside of the context of the film, I think, as a term, it’s overused. That said, there are so many young people that appear in ‘Soul of a Movement’ who are purposefully looking back to the founders of our movement and asking: what did they hope for? Was it to see the big banks and Serco and the Home Office marching at our Pride, while our grassroots charities and organisations are sidelined? I doubt it. It’s amazing to see those same young people connect with the more radical aspect of our [human] nature and lead that revival. For me, personally, it’s been about recognising our privilege, and being led by these young people. There is an amazing quote by the artist Lilla Watson that appears in the film that says: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” I think that says it all, to be honest.
What advice would you give to readers who are feeling alone during this period of isolation?
I think the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Everyone is in the same boat. Our lives have been turned upside down, but if you’re healthy, you’re lucky, and you have to sit with that. I find it fascinating that something so catastrophic and levelling has actually unearthed who we really are. For the first time in a long time, frontline workers and the people that actually hold the country together are getting the respect they deserve. It’s a shift in the paradigm. Anything can happen moving forward – we can either come together and refuse to take up old habits, or wait for it to pass and fall back asleep again. Only time will tell.
First and foremost, you are a fashion designer, yet you often use film to present your collections. What is great about film as a medium?
As a designer, film helps me to achieve a few key aims: to show my clothes in motion rather than framed in static imagery can be more satisfying, and as a Virgo, it’s fun to control what people do (and don’t) see of the work. But it can also add a totally different element to a live show. We’ve never really relied on a heavy set build for a show and so finding the right venue is something we invest a huge amount of time and energy in, as it really sets the scene. Adding film to a live show can help communicate a deeper narrative. Whichever way you cut it, there is a limit to the story you can tell with a standard fashion show, so film helps us to push things further. It also helps me to connect with a much larger audience than a standard show.
You were a key member of the art collective !WOWWOW! while your work often references communities that exist ‘outside’ the mainstream – what draws you to this?
I embrace the idea of an outsider society – that’s where the energy is. That’s where the ideas lie.
How has your creative relationship with Selfridges grown over the years? What are some of your favourite collaborative projects?
I used to work on the floor in men’s contemporary, selling Dior back when I was at Central Saint Martins, so it certainly tickles me that Selfridges is still part of my life, 20 years later. I think, with any relationship, it’s about building a level of trust, and that can only really come with time. We’ve been able to do some really great things at Selfridges, but only because there is that particular sort of trust there. From our week-long takeover of The Corner Shop, to our last London show at the Old Selfridges Hotel, through to the many exhibitions, windows and in-store installations we’ve been part of over the years – it’s been quite the ride.