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All Saints AW15 – Interview with Wil Beedle, Creative Director

Wil BeedleAll Saints AW2015 presentation took place in West London, more specifically at the Royal College of Art, yet it is to East London that the brand paid a loving hommage, to celebrate their 20 years of existence. Going through the womenswear and menswear collections, Wil Beedle, Creative Director, explained that this collection was the result of the brand’s love story with London.

Both menswear and womenswear evoke the continual process of deconstruction and reinvention that defines the ever changing East London landscape. Mentioning Frank Gehry and the accelerating pace of urbanisation, Will commented: “It’s happening in cities across the globe; this accelerated sense of change surrounds us all. What inspired us at the start of the season, let alone when we began this journey, has already evolved, moved on or simply vanished. As we enter our 21st year, the Autumn 2015 collection has become a love letter to East London past, present and future.”

A reference to the shiny skyscrapers replacing the old, dark factories, the silhouettes express rigour, structured by military epaulettes, leather belts, high necks, while remaining playful through layering or contrasting prints and fabrics. The menswear collection offers a gorgeous oversized shearling bomber jacket in rich burgundy – which we wouldn’t mind wearing…

We met with Wil on Sunday morning, shortly after the presentation space opened its doors. Let’s discuss further inspiration, urbanisation… and culinary metaphors.

Will, you have been in charge of the creative direction of All Saints for a few years now – how would you say you made the brand evolve?

My first challenge was to take many great elements in the brand and bring them together, make brave decisions to create a visual consistency, through collections first and foremost, but also as part of the brand expression, imagery, messaging, in all communication channels, so we had a consistent global message.

Working in a house that has existed for over 20 years, it is natural that we think – and are aware – of our scale, our existing stage, our existing consumer and we need always to be mindful as to how we impact the message, how to evolve, how to communicate to everyone at the same time, at a global scale.

Being based here in London puts us at the global epicentre of the world. It gives us a very unique position to articulate something, something very precise. We can communicate to people from Los Angeles, Berlin, Tokyo, Paris, and beyond.

Speaking of global communication, is social media something you are really focussing on?

Social media in one way, yes, but we also have the .com, the web platforms, as well as our stores – and stand alone stores. We have a way of communicating through our own channels, of course – that’s social media. We also have our ambassadors and our stores.

To go back to your first question, the challenge I’m facing, and one of the most fundamental questions for every stylist, is how can I update this proposition. So I’m very focussed on cities, because this is what connects to me, what also makes us special as a brand.

Franck Gehry mentioned recently the accelerated pace of urbanisation. We see it, you know. 80% of us are going to live in cities. I think communicating is key, cities are connected. For me, part of that is digital, part is natural. Digital is a mean by which we communicate, but it doesn’t replace the physical engagement with a brand and fundamentally the end users of those clothes. So the end user of the collection, formats the context in which it is worn, becomes increasingly the latest tool of metropolitan urban sophistication, rather than anything else.

That’s a really interesting concept. Wil, you were a Parisian artist in a past life, how do you think this influences your work? If it does, of course.

Before I lived in Paris, I studied literature in Cambridge, and I think the two are not dissociated. You know, when I worked in Paris, visually, I made decisions every day about the application of a texture, about collage, painting. And what you see here (showing the film especially created for the presentation), is a video collage of the past, present and future, so for me it’s very similar to what I used to do.

You know, I used to literally tear the posters myself, with my hands or a knife sometimes. I think that sense of visceral, texture, composition, is identifiable. Also, you know, as an artist, it forces you to decide what codes you are going to use. Literature, I think, forces you to identify linguistic codes. Fashion is like sartorial silhouette codes, and the discipline of visual collages is a whole other thing as well. My last collection last year was called “Rip It Up” and it revisited the same, you know, like a torn poster from the metro in Paris, whichI used to see when going from Sully-Morland to Villiers every morning. And I saw them again in East London. And now both in Paris and in London, these posters are disappearing too. Even the collection I was talking about, from a year ago, is disappearing.

The landscape changes all the time, but that’s ok. New things happen, new things happen all the time.

This answers partly my next questions about how you moved from visual arts to fashion, as you described it perfectly as a continuity, but is there a specific moment, a specific element that decided you to make the move?

No, I think I’ve always been interested in how things are moving, how things are constructed, expressed, the different ways you can express codes in a city environment. And the ultimate consistent expression is this, you still have photography, you have imagery that connects to itself, archives, you have the past, you have the future. I don’t separate any of these. As soon as you start separating, things get disconnected. It’s the same for the handbag collection, you know, it is part of the whole identity of the brand.

You came from menswear, initially, and now doing both – how would you describe the difference between designing for men or women? Do you have a preference?

I think that menswear is like my mother tongue, but I became bilingual. Menswear, of course,is where I started, I know all the codes, it’s very focused on fabrics, silhouettes, the construction, all these details, but we stay limited with textures and colour palette. It’s very different for women, you have access to more ingredients. Cooking a menswear collection is like working with an empty fridge, very few things. You get used to it. When you start working on womenswear, at first it’s fascinating. It’s like you’re in the middle of the market, so many ingredients around you. It’s easier in a way, as you can broaden your possibilities, but it also changes faster, and it takes time to know the fabrics and master them in order to create a real impact. To me, that’s the most important thing in womenswear, create a very specific message, easy to wear but with attitude.

Giving your consumer the freedom of creating their style, giving women the right ingredients to empower them, that’s crucial. Self confidence is crucial, it’s really attractive, right? This is what we all want, isn’t it? Being comfortable, self-confident. So when you manage to give that to someone, it’s very powerful.

Of course there are differences between the two genders but the objective is the same.

Speaking of genders, Selfridges just opened a gender-neutral pop up department – is it something you relate to?

I don’t feel this is a gender-neutral proposition, though, there is nothing androgynous about . Look at that girl (showing a massive poster at the entrance of the presentation), look at that guy, there is nothing androgynous about them.

It’s not, indeed! I meant you know, how you borrow pieces from one side or the other. We’ve all done that. In the presentation, they seem to talk to each other, and as a women, there are definitely pieces I feel I could borrow from the menswear part.

Absolutely, for instance the coats. However, for a woman you have to make it more committed. I love playing with codes of menswear when creating a womenswear collection, working on structured lines, but it must be meant for a woman. Because this is what’s exciting. In the end, the body shapes are so different, you take men morphologic codes and adjust them, give a more extreme, more interesting composition.

What has been the most funny or embarrassing moment in your fashion career so far?

Hum, it’s always been funny and embarrassing (laughs) but you keep going. I think if you worry all the time, if you are inhibited, worried about being embarrassed, you never take risks. And we need to take risks, every day. We need to be brave, and that’s where the fun is, that’s what’s good. It’s not funny but it’s fun, that’s a fundamental drive for us.

Interview – Laurie Guillem