Inspired by boxers, body-builders and Victorian cross-dressers, ALPHAMALE VS UNDERDOG - the graduate collection from Essex-based Menswear designer, Naomi Staniland explores aggressive and passive masculinity within men's sportswear, testing just how far these ideas can be pushed and ultimately accepted by the ever-conscious 'masculine' male.
TRIP: Where did your interest in Men’s Sportswear come from?
Naomi Staniland: It definitely started when I had the opportunity to intern for Nasir Mazhar in the summer of my first year at University. Before I started at Mazhar’s my idea of fashion was, for some reason, that you had to create pretty dresses for celebrities. I didn't really understand much about it and felt quite disconnected from it. When I started to see what Mazhar was creating I was immediately hooked and from that point I made a conscious effort to become knowledgeable on what was going on within fashion, what designers I liked and where I wanted to be placed within the industry.
I think the sportswear aspect came from guys I’d grown up around - I associate guys with wearing a tracksuit more than I would a tailored suit.
TRIP: You’ve got some pretty great work experience under your belt – interning at Y’OH Streetwear, Nasir Mazhar and Martine Rose – What was it like working for these labels? Would you say working for them impacted your design aesthetic?
Naomi Staniland: Mazhar was perhaps the most influential designer that impacted my whole thought process, knowledge and open mindedness of fashion, but each have taught me something special. Working with Kara at Y'OH was amazing. She’s so smart and taught me a lot about market research and having a business mind. Rose is an inspirational young woman designing menswear within high fashion and has been successful with it.
As far as design aesthetic I think Mazhar opened my eyes to casualwear within high fashion and from then I really had a focused idea on what I wanted to design and interned for people who inspired me. So yes I guess subconsciously they have impacted my design aesthetic but it’s never been a conscious thought when I go to design something.
TRIP: In your opinion, is it vital for a young designer to undertake internships whilst they are at University?
Naomi Staniland: Yes! I really do, for me I don’t think I would be in fashion now if I hadn't. It took me out of the work room and showed me this can be a real career not just a pastime at University. It’s also a great way of getting used to meeting people and networking, along with all the technical skills and experiences you gain.
TRIP: What was the inspiration behind your ALPHAMALE VS UNDERDOG collection?
Naomi Staniland: It started off as just those two words. I then looked at connotations that could surround those words and split the two into completely different projects, creating 3 stories within each word. For ‘Alphamale’ I looked at boxers, bodybuilders and gangs and for ‘Underdog’ I looked at animal cruelty, femininity being perceived as weakness and femininity in a male. The concept became a battle between the weak and the strong and to me depicts the power struggles we have in society.
TRIP: Can you tell us a little bit about the materials you’ve used? How do they help represent this idea of assertive and passive masculinity?
Naomi Staniland: I wanted to use thicker, heavier fabrics for the ‘Alphamale’ story to represent a tough/powerful exterior. I knew I wanted these garments to be oversized and therefore needed to use fabrics that would mould and hold structure well. I ended up using thick jersey, waxed cotton and neoprene.
For the ‘Underdog’ story I wanted the complete opposite, I took a lot from the 'femininity in a male' story for the underdog fabrics and took inspiration from images of cross dressing guys in lace underwear. I wanted a sheer fabric to represent the transparent vulnerability within the underdog so used cotton voile with the lace.
TRIP: There are a number of designers who have started to blatantly reference and subvert feminine ideas within Men’s fashion. Why do you think that is?
Naomi Staniland: I have noticed that. I'm not sure why it's becoming more common, I guess some designers like to shock but some genuinely want to close the gap and blur the lines between masculinity and femininity.
I never set out to create a feminine collection for a man purposefully - the research just drove me in that direction. Personally I like designing masculine menswear so I don't think i'll be using such an obvious feminine take on menswear in my future collections nor would I of created a completely feminine menswear collection.
TRIP: Who do you see wearing your clothes? Do you design them with any one person in mind?
Naomi Staniland: I don't have a customer in mind when I design – I have a muse, a guy who captures the feel of the collection who is usually some pretty moody skinhead guy. I design for the idea of it looking interesting and exciting on a catwalk or in a photo-shoot. I think it’s something I’m in the process of working on, I definitely want to keep designing 'show' pieces but now I feel I’d also like to create wearable stuff.
Recently I've worked with stylist Charlotte James and she dressed musician, Danny County in a few of my pieces and it was really exciting to see, he looked great! I definitely would like to design for musicians and create more conceptual stuff for people like Mykki Blanco or ASAP Rocky for their shows/music videos and then create more wearable pieces on the side. That would be amazing!
TRIP: You collaborated with Print Designer Charlie O’Byrne on the Alphamale and Underdog motifs. How did this collaboration come about?
Naomi Staniland: I met O’Byrne at college and we've been friends for years. It’s been exciting seeing him grow as a designer and I always wanted to incorporate print in the collection. I scribbled down a couple ideas and he was happy to design them for me. It turned out great and it really held the collection together! I was very pleased.
TRIP: How important is the idea of cross-discipline collaboration, to you?
Naomi Staniland: I think all creative should collaborate! I've had the pleasure of working with photographers, graphic designers, stylists and print designers it’s only been a positive experience for me. I'm always up for collaborations!
TRIP: What’s next?
Naomi Staniland: T-shirts! I'll be bringing out a range of t-shirts as a sort of diffusion line to the ALPHAMALE VS UNDERDOG collection. It will incorporate the prints and logos of the collection. For now tees and then I'll start the design process for the S/S 15 collection!