This season, London-based designer Steve O Smith will hold his debut on-schedule presentation as part of London Fashion Week. Wanting to display his vision from all angles, the presentation will see his SS19 collection presented alongside set design and a film screening, while the collection itself will include a collaboration with friend and US artist Kye Christensen Knowles.
Hailing from South London and Maine, Smith and Knowles met while attending Rhode Island School of Design, where they studied apparel design and painting respectively. While Smith’s work to date has been informed by ideas of nationality and the stereotypes that come with it, Christensen Knowles’ art draws inspiration from Renaissance work and early forms of Western pictorial art. Together, Knowles’ work appears across Smith’s garments, inspired by hours spent at the Louvre identifying artworks interpreting the idea of angels throughout history – here, this duo add their own understanding.
Connecting Smith and Knowles on a joint phoneline, the pair talk us through how they met, their joint influences and how their work compliments each other in this collaboration.
Emma Pradella: How did you get into fashion and art, respectively?
Steve O Smith: I was always drawn to fashion from a young age, and I was always interested in art too. My grandmother was a dressmaker, so I used to watch her do that all the time. When I was about thirteen, I realised it could be a career, so that’s when I started interning.
Kye Christensen Knowles: I grew up in a small town in Maine, so art wasn’t too accessible. Before going to Rhode Island I was more interested in theatre and literature, but later I felt like art encompassed a lot of humanities. I always had the hunger to draw, so I guess that became the core of what I care for now.
EP: Steve, in what way did studying in the US influenced your creative process after returning to the UK?
SOS: While I was at Rhode Island, I really got to think about Englishness. Anyone who is English and has been to America will know that once there, you become a sort of cliche, a stereotype of yourself to a certain extent – that made me really interested in what people thought of being English. When I returned to the UK, just before Brexit, my focus shifted towards the idea of nationalism, which I find quite unhealthy. In my work, I want to take a tongue-and-cheek approach to recognisable aspects of nationalism, and to make fun of them, because I think that’s the best way to point out how ridiculous they are.
EP: Your SS19 is called The Ascension – what can we expect from it and what is it inspired by?
SOS: While spending hours at the Louvre in Paris, I became so interested in how many different artists have interpreted the idea of angels throughout history that I wanted to do my own take on them. When I got into more research, I found that a lot of the traditional ways in which we see angels are through the late antiquity perspective. I was interested in interpreting these figures in a modern way.
The collection is divided into three stages of ascension: the first stage is monochromatic; the second introduces new volumes, textures and colours; and the last stage represents the actual ascension to heaven. In the last looks, I really pushed everything I’ve learnt about pattern-making in order for the looks to represent the total exaggeration of angels as the epitome of intelligence and greatness.
EP: How did Kye come into the picture and how did the collaborative process develop?
SOS: We met in London, even though we’d been in touch for a while and we’ve always had mutual respect for each other’s work.
KCK: After we decided to collaborate, we started constantly sharing all the references. I was able to tap into the primary sources for the collection, so I could bounce off them consistently, and then divert when I felt I could take creative licence. Steve knew my art well, so I think he was able work on the clothes by understanding a rough idea of what I was to make.
EP: Kye, have you ever collaborated with other designers, or other fields of the creative industries before?
KCK: I haven’t, and it’s something that I’m usually quite adverse to. Sometimes contemporary arts can dip into too many pools – but I trust Steve and the project seemed strong enough to want to partake in it. Also, I like to think of fashion as handmade and craftsmanship, which ultimately becomes art.
EP: How is your art translated into Steve’s collection?
KCK: I think there’s embroidery and prints, but the the specifics are up to Steve, which is what we wanted for the collaborative process – to be able to go back and forth with who is in control with the actual manifestation of our own work. Steve gave me free rein with the pictorial side, that I would then pass back to him, who could integrate it into his own thoughts and reinterpret it.
EP: The quality of Steve’s garments is at the very core of his collection – do you think your disciplines are similar in this sense?
KCK: Yes, I think we’re both definitely attracted to that. It’s a reactionary focus things that are hand-done and touched, as nowadays everything filtered through and mediated through so many layers, that there’s the desire to have a special touch, that is visible in the handling of the material.
Steve O Smith will present his SS19 collection as part of LFW on Sunday 16th September.