Independent publishing is big news – if not business – in 2016. As DIY culture continues to respond to the zeitgeist and react against the pull of social media and the Internet, the IRL credentials of printed paper is a big turn on to those looking for a more considered platform.
And the fashion industry is no different. Encouraged by the collaborative efforts of indie printing and publishing house Ditto Press (see ‘Berberry’ and ‘Skinhead: An Archive’), the likes of Grace Wales Bonner and Claire Barrow have both tapped the zine genre with ‘Everythings For Real’ (one and two), and ‘High Flyers’, respectively, while check the back of your ticket at any of the lit shows during LFW or LC:M and you’ll no doubt find the bubble font of Ditto’s logo staring back to you.
For the east London studio’s latest project – see elsewhere new era Mushpit to gawp at the practice’s range – owner and founder Ben Freeman has worked with NEWGEN Man designer Liam Hodges on a publication titled ‘Locked On’.
“We met through a show we produced at Ditto called ‘Ceremony’ which was a collaboration with James Pearson Howes, and have worked on bits and pieces ever since,” he tells Clash. The exhibition (here) saw Hodges’ SS14 collection adorn the gallery’s walls alongside photographs by Pearson Howes, accompanied by a series of XL ‘Ceremony’ tees by the designer and a book, ‘British Folk’ from the photographer.
The newbie is a response to Hodges’ SS16 collection, ‘Blackburn’s Children’, a reference to Tony Blackburn’s stint on pirate radio station’s Radio Caroline and Radio London in the 60’s; at its debut outing last June, Hodges’ MAN finale, the spoken word artist Hector Aponysus performed, and both images and lyrics from the show make it into the book.
“I guess it was something I was missing,” offers Liam of the decision to amplify Blackburn’s Children with printed text. “When I studied I always made books of research, found images, etc, for me it’s almost part of the process; I still have all my old uni ones. It’s something I really want to continue doing, not necessarily forcing it, but after talking the idea through with Jamie (Reid) and Ben, it just kind of made sense for this season.”
For his part, the publisher rejects any notion of this tangible culture as something new. “I don’t think it’s any more popular than it used to be. People are just thinking about it more and challenging its function,” he reckons, “ otherwise it becomes an anachronism. The projects we produce with designers always act as part of their broader collection rather than a cookie-cutter look book or show invite.”
From an outsiders perspective it’s not hard to agree. The labels with which Freeman works, and presumably (for both sides) takes great care to integrate with, are those that build stories with their clothes, as opposed to pushing a one dimensional piece of apparel; Liam Hodges is no different.
“When I was a teenager in south London, my friends used to run stations and make transmitters; I got paid to take them up to the top of abandoned tower blocks,” Freeman continues of the personal element within Locked On. “You used a thing called an FB key to get in to the top of the lift shaft and leave it there to broadcast. Once, in Lewisham, we made one in a tobacco tin and I left a gabber track we were producing on an Amiga playing on loop, then we drove as far as we could till the signal stopped; we got to about Soho, it was so exciting. Pirate radio was the soundtrack of our lives before the Internet kicked off.”
A Kent native, Hodges relationship is a little different: “I was a bit younger so was never directly involved in the London scene,” he asserts, “But listening to pirate radio in the back of older mates cars and at home, ringing and sending messages in was definitely a big thing! It was something raw, it was supposed to be illegal but that didn’t even make sense.”
“For me the whole thing just sums up this idea of people who feel so passionately separate from ‘normal’ and want to just create their own thing; for the love of music. I saw a documentary when I was researching and the police just couldn’t fathom that anyone would go that far just for music, they were so confused.”
The appointment of Hector Aponysus – who also soundtracked the flash mob highlight of Liam’s AW16 show – offers a further window into the world of Blackburn’s Children. How did it come about?
“We knew we needed something to link the theatre of the catwalk with the performance of a live broadcast,” the designer explains, “we worked our way through a few options – MC’s, rappers etc – but it just felt flat, it didn’t seem powerful enough or direct and conscious enough for the collection and the ideas I put into my work.” Then a friend played matchmaker.
“It turned out we were really in-tune – he wrote the first version of it over a cigarette after I walked him through the collection. It’s another collaborator that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and it just makes sense.”
The theme of collaboration is strong, both here and across London’s current creative scene, and the mutual appreciation runs deeper than tagging a bunch of handles on an Insta post or adopting a fierce emoji game to manifest respect. States Ben: “All of Liam’s work has personal relevance to my interests. He’s a hugely gifted designer, and he’s part of a larger scene of inspiring, relevant and progressive fashion that’s happening in London right now and that we have the honour of working amongst.”
A long time Ditto collaborator, Jamie Andrew Reid is also on board with Locked On – “always a pleasure as we’re singing from the same sheet” – art directing the final 80 page product (read: ‘pattern swatch-come-look book’).
So, while no doubt a hardened fashion contingent, those switched on to new designers, subcultures and the like, will want a slice, is there a dream audience? “The people who love the clothes and the music and will treasure it. That’s all we ever want really,” confirms Ben.
'Locked On' launches tomorrow - 3rd March - at Ditto Press; full event info here.
Words: Zoe Whitfield