David and Goliath

How Matthew Miller made bespoke jackets from actual oil paintings
By Liam Hess | Fashion | 24 August 2016

David with the Head of Goliath by Caravaggio (1607)

Carving out his own niche on the London fashion circuit, Matthew Miller‘s potent cocktail of utilitarian nuances and acute tailoring comes re-enforced by an intelligent political agenda.

This rebellious spirit was most recently channeled into a breathtaking series of bespoke jackets for his FW16 collection. Commissioning two oil on canvas replica paintings of Caravaggio’s biblical reinterpretation, David and Goliath, Miller then cut up and destroyed the copies to create two vests and two coats (modus operandi: destroy to create), lending his sharp silhouettes a Baroque twist. At once bold and romantic, the collection fortified and adequately disturbed Miller’s recurring sensibilities: youth, culture and politics.

We visited Miller’s studio to see the work in process and discuss both his design philosophy and those bespoke Caravaggio jackets (got a spare £10,000?)

Gallery: the making of Matthew Miller's Caravaggio pieces


Liam Hess: When they were first shown back in January, your Caravaggio pieces were the talk of LC:M for their beauty and incredible workmanship. How did you come up with the idea, and manage to find an artist who could produce such accurate replicas of old master paintings?
Matthew Miller: I’ve been thinking for a while now about whether music can actually enhance the experience of consuming art, much like the sound engineering on films enhances the moving images of a Hollywood blockbuster. To test it out I spent an afternoon in the National Portrait Gallery, intensely studying classical paintings and listening to random songs on Spotify, from heavy metal through a plethora of musical genres. For the replica paintings I tracked down a professional painting forger and asked him to forge the chosen artists to the original size which are huge, and the two canvasses took between three to five months to produce. We only destroyed them and made them into clothing two days before the show, as the oil paint was still not dry enough. It was a huge gamble to say the least, and we only knew the night before the show how they would look. 

“Caravaggio was a rebel and a pioneer… he was the original non conformist” – Matthew Miller

LH: Caravaggio is known as a highly political painter, using people from the street as models for religious figures at a time when Catholicism was in crisis. How do these pieces play into your own political beliefs, and do you feel an affinity with Caravaggio’s subversive way of thinking?
MM: Caravaggio was a rebel and a pioneer, I adore his work. It was revolutionary at the time. He was a scoundrel and a bit of a party animal, choosing to challenge the establishment, when in actual fact he could have made a small fortune by following the rules of the establishment. He was the original non-conformist. 

LH: The jackets are all hand-made and entirely bespoke, and come at a price point that’s more in line with an artwork than an item of clothing. Do you imagine that these pieces will be worn, or do you see them more as collector’s items?
MM: They are a collector’s item for sure. A gentleman did contact me to try and buy the original for £50,000 back in June when it was on display for an exhibition. As it is the only one in existence and the collection was only being launched in August I had to politely decline with a tear in my eye! With regards to its wearability, it can be worn for sure, but the paint will crack and peel to the movements of the body. This will give it a sense of beautiful, destructive chaos. 

Matthew Miller FW16 look 17

LH: Can you tell me a little more about the title of your collection, Nouveau Riche, and how it relates to the artisanal nature of the Caravaggio pieces?
MM: The Nouveau Riche is our generation, laughed and sneered at by baby boomers, who are the ones who have made our future uncertain. The term Nouveau Riche relates to us in that we are the new rich – we have to be. We have to be rich in new ways. To make our future better.

LH: Your work has previously been known for its utilitarian, pared-down aesthetic, so the baroque grandeur of the Caravaggio paintings feels like a real detour. Does this mark a new chapter for you as a designer?
MM: I honestly think that I might be in a dark period to be honest. And this period is a mixture of my utilitarian background mixed with the vast richness of the historical establishment. Everything that we will never have. Everything that is lost.

Matthew Miller’s FW16 collection and the Caravaggio hand painted oil on canvas coats are available to buy at his website

You can follow Liam Hess on Twitter @liamhess.

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