Head to Head
Top image: Hetty Douglas photographed by Clare Shilland for Aries.
Slam City Skates has been a hub for London’s creative scene since the 1980s when they first opened in partnership with Rough Trade Records. Jammed with skate decks, clothing racks and records, it attracted the city’s up and coming artists, designers and musicians who would bundle into the store for a chance to see the likes of PJ Harvey, Pavement, Sebadoh and the Beastie Boys play one off shows.
Slam not only attracted the city’s up and coming artists, designer and musicians – they employed them. It’s where Sofia Prantera, the designer behind cult nineties brand Silas and streetwear label Aries spent the most formative years of her career. It was where she met her partner, famed graphic designer Fergus Purcell. And years later, it was Slam that connected her to Hetty Douglas, the bright young painter who is currently fronting the Aries SS17 campaign.
After graduating from university, Hetty also landed a job at Slam and came up through the next generation of creatives affiliated to the store. Her large-scale acrylic canvases spray painted and grafted with deadpan lovelorn messages have earned the young artist critical acclaim as she navigates through personal notions of trust, sexual boundaries and the labyrinth of unspoken intimacies of masculine and feminine truths. We sat down with the two women at Aries’ east London studio to find out how they met and what it was like working in a predominantly male orientated industry.
Nazanin Shahnavaz: Tell me a bit about your backgrounds – where are you from and how did you end up doing what you do?
Hetty Douglas: I’m from Nottingham, moved here seven years ago when I was eighteen, I’m 25-years old now. I went to LCF, unfortunately it wasn’t for me. University was just a way to financially live in London without getting a job and then after that I went to work at Slam City Skates full-time.
Sofia Prantera: I started at Slam too, a very long time ago.
Hetty: I kind of fell into it, it was a job and I needed a job. I wasn’t painting that much at uni, then after Slam, I got back into painting. I used to always paint when I was younger, but was completely put off anything creative at LCF because I just found it very draining. Then six months after graduating, I got back into painting.
Nazanin: Hetty, what are some of the themes that you explore in your paintings?
Hetty: It constantly changes. There’s not a common theme in every painting, as I’ve grown up my life has changed and different people have come in and out of it. At the minute, I have this overwhelming urge to explore where I am from and my education and how that translates into the person that I am today. But, I’m not going to divulge too much ahead of my July show.
Nazanin: Sofia, what’s your trajectory?
Sofia: I’m half-Italian, half-English, and I came here to study at Central Saint Martins. I wanted to work in fashion from when I was about eleven years-old – don’t ask me why, it was an obsession – I used to make tiny clothes for all my Barbie dolls. I graduated in the early-nineties with a sportswear collection and a skater friend who worked at Slam said they needed someone to develop the brand, so I started working there. My friend and I started a new brand within Slam, then we left in ‘98 to start a streetwear brand, Silas, which I sold in 2007.
“Snake” by Hetty Douglas
Nazanin: What was it like working at Slam?
Sofia: I’m not sure if Slam is still like this, but during my time it was this hub for creativity. They offered flexible work hours, so lots of artists worked there, plus the skate scene as a whole was a magnet for creatives. The Talbot Road store was so connected to the underground scenes affiliated to Rough Trade, it was really fun, people from bands would turn up, I remember when the Beastie Boys popped in – it was a really inspiring place.
Hetty: I worked at the Covent Garden store, but it was the same. Everyone was a creative, we all worked there because we needed money, not because we wanted to work in a skate shop forever.
Nazanin: I imagine it was a place where people would just go to hang out.
Sofia: They would try to discourage people from hanging out, the skaters would get drunk and scare off the customers.
Hetty: It was a bit annoying sometimes. Customers would come in and be like, “What the fuck?” and there would be about twenty of us sat behind the counter getting pissed.
Aries SS17 Lookbook
Untitled Painting by Hetty Douglas, July 2017
Nazanin: How did you end up working together?
Sofia: I saw Hetty at a Slam party and I just liked the way she looked, she’s the perfect fit for Aries, she offers a-not-so-obvious kind of femininity. Even though there’s a lot of acceptance for women in the scene, it is very male orientated which can make it feel difficult to be part of, but Hetty holds her ground and stands out.
Hetty: Over the past five years at Slam, I’ve been the only woman working there, it can be a bit tricky at times – I mean all my best mates are lads – but lad are lads, they can be quite challenging.
Nazanin: What drew you to Aries?
Hetty: I just like the clothes.
Sofia: It felt like the natural thing to do. There’s very little around that doesn’t show women in an overtly sexualised way, there’s a weakness in the way women are portrayed in streetwear, they take second place in a way. In the nineties, we started streetwear-skatewear for women but it quickly reverted to this sort of babe in a t-shirt look. I always felt that was a shame when streetwear became dominated by big companies, it lost its strength and became about looking like a Barbie doll. For me, the aesthetic was about being tough, being a tomboy – though that term annoys me too – that’s why I started to look back to high fashion, I felt women were portrayed in a more interesting and avant-garde way. Yet my heart’s always remained in streetwear, with Aries we’ve gone back to being able to claim that femininity and strength.
Nazanin: Can you run me through the initial trails of thought while designing your SS17 collection?
Sofia: I went back to what had originally inspired me to first start designing, which was branding. It’s remained an important theme throughout my career. I never wanted to design under my own name or had the desire to be this fashion personal, it’s always been about creating a brand. Freg [Purcell] created the branding and it was important for me to capitalise on that, instead of looking at shapes. We also published a book with David Sims and stylist Jane How, it’s all about logos and going back to that nineties thing of ripping off other people’s logos.
Nazanin: What’s the story behind your branding?
Sofia: Ferg created it as a nod to my Roman origins, we play with images of Classicism and my ancient Roman roots, there’s also a slight nod to Versace and all the classic brands of the 80s. Together we worked on destroying that imagery, the first images were of the images of classicism being destroyed with rats and broken columns and out of the destruction a new civilisation started, and there was Aries Arise.