Recently opened behind Waterloo station, House of Vans is, according to its makers, a ‘physical manifestation of the culture and creativity that have defined the Vans brand since 1966’.
Already several aspects of what it proposed has been accomplished; Public Enemy and Dinosaur Jr. have both played live, skate lessons have (and continue to) take place, and Man Up Girl!’s Jessica Piper has completed a workshop.
All typically Vans, no hidden surprises.
‘Scissors & Glue’ then – itself hardly a secret, given its initiation at the start of the whole shebang – is perhaps the space’s most obviously creative outlet (VansLabs aside), celebrating DIY culture with an exhibition curated by talents across art, skateboarding, music and fashion. Representing the platform’s latter angle, is one Louise Gray.
“It was quite a nice link, I think,” she says of her involvement, “Richard knew my work from a long time ago. He remembered the aesthetic that I have links with what the show is, a sort of DIY thing.”
A Vans wearer (checkerboard slip-ons please and thank you), Gray readily admits her skateboarding aspirations aren’t high – rollerblading she can do much better – but the sport she does have a personal association with.
“I have a younger brother, there’s a ten year age gap, so I would always take him to skate parks. We once went for ten days through Canada and then to America; he only wanted to go to the skate parks,” she laughs.
Her contribution to House of Vans is archetypal of the Louise Gray aesthetic, with large pieces of metal and plastic picked up around Dalston and given a pattern heavy treatment; a (presumably leftover) metallic fabric from her SS13 ‘Now What’ collection hangs on one side, while on another falls a selection of ripped fabrics and ribbons, akin to the raffia Nasir Mazhar headpieces that accompanied her debut own label show from SS11.
Magpie like in her appreciation of colour, texture and print, apparent both in her work and appearance, Louise has a longstanding relationship with the term DIY, as she tells Clash: “It’s just a thing that I do.”
“It’s always something that’s spoken to me,” she continues, “I much prefer to do my own version (of things). Sometimes you can’t figure out how a thing’s been made until you take it apart and put it back together in your own way, and then it becomes your thing. It’s just nice to always put your stamp on things.”
And does she think DIY culture is still important today? “God yeah, yeah. When I was young, growing up and trying to figure out what fashion stuff I liked, be it like, dying T-shirts and making weird jewellery at home in Scotland… You have to make something out of nothing. ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’, I love that, because it does just mean that you can take stuff, do your own thing to it and it becomes yours.”
Nowhere was this spirit more literal than at Gray’s catwalk show for her AW13 collection ‘Hey Crazy’, her final hurrah before taking a hiatus from the “hamster wheel” of the fashion industry calendar. Here the former season’s mirrored collaboration with Tatty Devine was swapped for loo roll brooches, carrier bag hats and tin foil jewellery.
Since then she’s worked on a number of creative collaborations – finding intrigue in how her ideas are translated, sometimes diluted, by others – attended Port Eliot festival (taking in an “amazing” talk by Viv Albertine at this year’s event), and become institutionalised as a guest lecturer, teaching students at Middlesex, London College of Fashion and Winchester.
Olivia Pietroni from Middlesex uni obviously impressed, setting up a faux market stall of her final collection opposite Gray’s installation, having been invited by the designer to join her at the House.
A bold selection of velvets in mustard and blue set against numerous white numbers, the clothes are characteristic of Nasir Mazhar and early Christopher Kane, while the label’s name – Maxine – Pietroni describes as “quite sporty and quite strong, but then you associate it with Coronation Street”.
It works well (name, collection) and set-up, against Louise’s bright shards; neither would be considered mainstream, though both lend themselves to it.
Talk turns to another future star™, the designer’s friend and Fashion East newbie Ed Marler – Gray’s primary London Fashion Week excitement – before Clash asks if she’d consider returning to the schedule.
“Not in the same way, no, not in the way that I’ve done before. But I am working on something. To be continued.”
Scissors & Glue at the House of Vans runs until 21st September.
Words: Zoe Whitfield