MATCHESFASHION announces The Innovators Programme initiated and designed to champion young design talent. The initiative has been built upon from an existing womenswear project to include menswear and is a robust package of practical support including mentorship, preferential business terms and marketing.
The 12 designers represent the best in global talent and are: Art School, Ahluwalia, Chopova Lowena, Stefan Cooke, Germanier, Halpern, Harris Reed, Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY, Thebe Magugu, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, Bianca Saunders and Wales Bonner. Eleven of these designers are already partner brands.
The Innovators Programme was developed as the MATCHESFASHION team collaborated closely with designers during the Covid-19 pandemic. It became clear that many of the designers were unsure how their brands could thrive through 2020 and that practical support and ongoing commitment was required. Kingham and Paul developed the programme to ensure that each brand was amplified via MATCHESFASHION reach across content, social and marketing whilst providing business mentorship and generous financial terms.
The Innovators Programme will launch in September with original content and amplification to support each designer as their collection arrives on site. The support will continue throughout the year of the programme.
London designers Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt debuted their Art School label at the Fashion East show in 2017. The duo aims to deconstruct gender norms through collections that blur the lines between menswear and womenswear. Describing their aesthetic as ‘decadent minimalism’, Loweth and Barratt use luxury fabrics, bold prints, and sparkling embellishments to create a sense of drama with their directional designs. Look out for oversized shirts, bold outerwear, and silk dresses. ‘Being part of the MATCHESFASHION Innovators Programme is quite an emotional experience for us. Natalie Kingham, who is the head of buying, has been one of – if not the most – important figure in my life coming into the industry. To have this support and her backing is vital to us being able to evolve as a brand and being included in such an amazing group of designers is something, we’re incredibly proud of.’ Eden Loweth. ‘MATCHESFASHION is somewhere we have always wanted to be stocked, we love what it stands for and Natalie has been a real beacon for us the whole time, from when we were fashion babies to where we are now, her support means so much.’ Tom Barratt
Bianca Saunders is part of a fresh wave of designers who are creating clothing that explores their identities and cultural heritage. A graduate of London’s Royal College of Art MA programme, Saunders’ collections challenge hyper-masculinity and delve deep into what it means to be a British West Indian in London today. From this unique perspective, the designer creates pieces that blend sharp, minimalist tailoring with rich, draped fabrics. Key pieces include ruffled shirting, nylon trousers and reworked tailoring. ‘I think it’s always been a dream of mine to be with MATCHESFASHION, it’s such a well-known company that believes in its designers and sees real growth. I think sustainable clothing and creating sustainable brands is quite important and I think MATCHESFASHION has set the tone for that.’ Bianca Saunders
Charles Jeffrey graduated from London’s Central Saint Martins in 2015, founding his own label shortly thereafter. He funded his MA and an internship by hosting a weekly club night called ‘Loverboy’ in London – and, as a result, the spirit of the city’s nightlife is suffused in his electrifying collections. Each season he collaborates with a host of friends, ranging from artists to drag queens. Specialising in painterly prints and avant-garde silhouettes, the designer crafts each collection with intricate details that reveal his specialist couture training. ‘Being part of the MATCHESFASHION Innovators programme for me is such an honour, to be recognised as somebody that is continuing to do something special with their work. MATCHESFASHION is one of the reasons we are where we are now, they were such huge supporters when we started, and they did it with such charm it has been such an authentic relationship. They have helped us formulate our product range further. The fact that we’re able to exist on the website in this way and to be able to speak about our products along with the bigger brands, it’s been a real honour.’ Charles Jeffrey
Central Saint Martin’s alumni Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena juxtapose dynamic elements to articulate their avant-garde aesthetic. Fusing Bulgarian tradition with unexpected 1980s rock-climbing tropes, the eclectic ready-to-wear offerings are rooted in folkloric craftsmanship that has been passed down through generations. Expect non-conformist architectural silhouettes combined with vivid hues: think kaleidoscopic pleated skirts – suspended from carabiner clips – layered over vibrant wet-look leggings and bodysuits. Balance, unexpected unity, and authenticity are design values that ground the theatrical appeal. ‘I think it’s an amazing thing to be part of a community of designers, to have such an amazing platform and support, for visibility, for customer base and everyone at MATCHESFASHION from the start has been so supportive. We couldn’t have done it without them.’ Laura Lowena and Emma Chopova.
Heralded for his sustainable approach to fashion, 2018 marks the debut of Central Saint Martin’s graduate Kevin Germanier’s eponymous label. The focus is on luxury upcycled fabrics with arresting details, such as discarded beads that the designer found during a work placement in Hong Kong, a prize for winning the EcoChic Design Award in 2015. Germanier eschews the homespun connotations for which eco-friendly fashion is known and instead draws inspiration from a futuristic vision of utopia. Look out for sculptural jackets, glitter-strewn dresses, and sharply spliced skirts ‘Being part of The Innovators Programme is to me, I’m not going to lie, I feel a little bit honoured. It’s comforting to know that big names are willing to support us and are willing to lead the way in how it should be done because I know it’s tricky, but I think it’s needed. And of course, I’m really, really excited, not just for me and my brand but with all of The Innovators, there’s no competition, we all have our own DNA, and I think by being in a group of people and being different, it makes us stronger. It’s kind of like the MATCHESFASHION family. And I think it’s a very strong concept and I’m very excited.’ Kevin Germanier
Grace Wales Bonner
Entangling a theoretical approach to post-colonial theory, black literature and post-black literature within her fashion designs, Grace Wales Bonner’s collections are a direct response to these notions of race and gender. Having won the Emerging Menswear Designer award at the 2015 British Fashion Awards, and the LVMH Young Designer award in 2016, Central Saint Martins-trained and Londonbased Wales Bonner has created an esoteric language within her clothing that has the capabilities of speaking much louder volumes. Look out for classic tailoring and elegant leather pieces. ‘I’m really excited to be a part of the MATCHESFASHION Innovator’s Programme. I have been working with them for almost five years, so we have a really brilliant relationship. It’s always really wonderful working closely with the team so I’m really excited to work more closely and to share the story behind what I’m working on and to really work closely with the mentors.’ Grace Wales Bonner
Ludovic de Saint Sernin
French designer Ludovic de Saint Sernin worked at Balmain before establishing his eponymous in 2016. His minimalist styles are interpreted with a gender-fluid approach and bear subtle nods to pop culture from ballet to erotica. Saint Sernin’s collections are based on his own personal life experiences and he names confrontational American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe among his sources of inspiration. Signature styles include flared trousers and loose shirts toughened up with elements of denim and leather. In 2018 he was a finalist for the LVMH-Prize and winner of the ANDAM Creative Label Prize. ‘I think what’s really amazing about the programme is just knowing that you’re part of something bigger than yourself, and knowing that you’re part of a group that you have the support of the industry and having MATCHESFASHION supporting us as a brand is a huge opportunity for us. And also, just knowing that they’re here for us and really actively supporting us is incredible because it is so rare finding such amazing partners to support young businesses like ours that are so fragile, especially during these difficult times. So, it’s really making us feel stronger and I think that’s all you can ask for as a young brand.’ Ludovic de Saint Sernin
Having honed his skills at Versace, New York-born, London-based designer Michael Halpern has launched his debut collection of glamorous eveningwear. Expect hand-sewn paillettes, sequins in colour-burst patterns and body-sculpting silhouettes.
‘‘MATCHESFASHION was our first stockist ever, which was really exciting. And when Natalie Kingham came to see us, it felt right. It felt organic. It felt like we found a home for part of our retail, which has been an incredible experience ever since. Working with MATCHESFASHION is a dream, it’s such a beautiful store that holds so many of the same values that we do as a brand. So, it’s exciting to be given this opportunity to work on a project like this.’ Michael Halpern
Priya Ahluwalia’s eponymous label Ahluwalia Studio creates characterful pieces that champion nostalgia through colour and pattern, using exclusively deadstock textiles. It takes inspiration from the tradition of passing clothes through families and between friends, drawing on the designer’s dual Indian-Nigerian heritage and London roots – she grew up in the city at the height of the UK Garage music scene in the 1990s – to build collections with subversive elements. Expect laid-back separates with unexpected patchworked panels alongside eclectic knitwear. ‘It’s just such an honour, I have really enjoyed working with MATCHESFASHION and the team I have known. As a young designer, you get stuck in a ‘Catch 22’ because people know you in your city, but you do not have the marketing budgets to go global. Sometimes it’s difficult because a lot of consumers just want the big houses so to be given a platform and the help to succeed in a way is beyond what is necessary.’ Priya Ahluwalia
Central Saint Martin’s alumnus Stefan Cooke and his partner Jake Burt conceive off-kilter pieces that reimagine familiar tropes through an avant-garde lens – they elevate mundane elements via new surreal contexts while still staying rooted. The label’s unconventional eye results in offbeat pieces including T-shirts crafted from thousands of tiny buttons and vintage bags contained in future-facing Perspex covers. Tactile finishes tie together subtle feminine details that are reappropriated in an androgynous context, as everyday details veer towards the uncanny.
‘That commitment to us as designers is really important. It means that we can plan our business for a decent amount of time in advance, which is super important. It also means that there is a flagship place for people to go to for those clothes. With security it means you can take more risks in the future because you know what is going on financially, which is brilliant.’ Jake Burt ‘And in turn, it’s innovation because of that.’ Stefan Cooke
Thebe Magugu is an award-winning 27-year-old creative director and designer based in Johannesburg who uses fashion as a vehicle for storytelling and education, particularly around womens issues. Thebe Magugu studied Fashion Design, Fashion Photography and Fashion Media, which are 3 disciplines that play a very important role in his story telling. He opened his namesake label – THEBE MAGUGU – in 2016. The idea behind of the brand is rooted in the idea of education, informing the world about the stories and craft the brand finds itself in, with every collection season after season being named after a university subject. Thebe Magugu, who has won the International Fashion Showcase 2019 with the British Fashion Council and the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) Prize 2019. ‘I think firstly, it’s just a total a complete honour because one of my earliest memories was us getting satellite TV for the first time and seeing all these designers that I grew up deeply respecting. You need to be on the platform where I’m in the same sort of space as these designers, you know, is quite an honour for me and I’ve always had a very deep respect for MATCHESFASHION, so it’s a complete honour and I’m very excited for it.’ Thebe Magugu
Fighting for the beauty of fluidity, half-American, half-British Harris Reed designs to create conversation. Growing up with a strong sense of self, Reed was able to quickly understand the transformative power of clothing and its correlation with identity and liberation. While still studying at Central Saint Martins, Reed caught the attention of the likes of Harry Styles, Solange, Alessandro Michele and Ezra Miller to name a few, resulting in high-profile press and interviews placed with Vogue, GQ and Dazed, Another Man, Harper’s Bazaar to name a few. The overall DNA of the Harris Reed brand and personal identity is best described as Romanticism Gone Nonbinary. It puts the wearer and their fluidity – in whatever way it manifests front and centre. ‘Being part of the MATCHESFASHION Innovators Programme means so much to me, because I think at a time such as right now, to have their support is like that hug that you have always wanted and needed. As a young designer, I know who I am, what I stand for and what I love, but I’m still trying to figure out those next steps. Being part of The Innovators Programme, will allow the brand space to grow and to truly innovate. So to be a part of this project is truly an important part of my journey; it really is the greatest honour you can be given as a young creative.’ Harris Reed