How happy do the girls above look? Dressed in nice clothes, outdoors in good weather, bright smiles with teeth on full display: not since Sibling’s SS14 menswear line-up has the grin been linked – in such a manner – to the fashion industry, emoji’s and parties aside.
Shot by Mehdi Lacoste – fast becoming synonymous with contemporary fashion on account of his professional relationships with new designers – This Is The Uniform’s SS16 collection similarly boasts a heavy dose of fun, its palette bright and silhouettes youthful.
Originally from Blackpool, Jenna Young studied at Goldsmiths, launching the label for AW13 after she graduated from the college’s Fine Art course; earlier this year she was selected to show her SS16 collection under the Fashion East umbrella, making her London Fashion Week debut on a sunny Saturday in Soho.
“It sounds weirdly monumental to say, but it changed the way I view the world and definitely the way in which I work,” she asserts of her time at Goldsmiths. “I am influenced by my direct surroundings mostly, but the way in which I learned to view things during my degree years allowed me to explore influences in a conceptual way.”
“I am very much interested in the every day,” she continues, “people, interactions, social groupings; stuff like that fascinates me. Social systems and moral codes, and the rules that we all choose to live by.”
Still based in south east London, her home of a decade, she describes Deptford, New Cross and Peckham as crucial to her practice; “(they) are the places we buy our fabrics, draw inspiration from and sink a drink in after work. There is a rawness here, which is fast disappearing,” she says, alluding to the area’s increased development – in the last fortnight alone key social spaces the Bussey Building and the car park (home to Bold Tendencies and Frank's) have been the subject of gentrification.
And how does the Lancashire seaside contrast with the capital? “Blackpool is so different,” she argues, “it’s almost hard to draw comparison. When I go back home I experience a different pace of life, a different type of person. London is fast, uncompromising and full of movement and change. But as places they are equally inspiring, and I think that the juxtaposition of the two places, alongside the nostalgic narrative that I have with Blackpool, feeds every aspect of the brand and its creativity.”
On the subject of the tracksuit, something that Young has previously lent her voice to and that has sprung in the last year a greater conversation around how journalists, stores and consumers alike label clothes that don’t adhere to boundaries previously placed on what ‘high fashion’ is, spearheaded primarily by the arrival of Nasir Mazhar, Cottweiler and Christopher Shannon – similarly her Fashion East counterpart, Caitlin Price – on the catwalk, a platform once reserved almost exclusively for cocktail frocks, the designer suggests the greater collective interest in nostalgia as pivotal.
“I think there has been a definite nod (towards nostalgia in fashion), more so recently than usual, and it has become quite personal. A lot of my contemporaries are working with ideas grown from their own lives, their youth. And for a lot of us, I guess this included the tracksuit.”
“It’s also about pushing the boundaries of acceptance and playing with status,” she observes. “For us it’s really about what the tracksuit signifies, not as much about the actual garment, and that idea of subverting people’s perceptions and assumptions.”
While previous collections have riffed on the stereotypical silhouette of a tracksuit, SS16 does so to a much lesser extent, the line instead drawing focus on short hems, texture and applique.
“Press had been a bit mad, the studio looks a little like a FedEx depot at the moment,” Jenna offers of the response to the new pieces. “The constant comparisons between our hand stitched net showpieces and the wrapping of Nashi pears in transit have been particularly great.”
One of the highlights of LFW for many – Clash included – the designer’s presentation went in hard for the nostalgia trip, with models hanging out in a (make believe) sixth form common room, playing table tennis, watching MTV and eating McFries.
“Stressful. Overwhelming. Amazing,” was the vibe on the other side we’re told. “To have that opportunity to present in that way, to be supported by Fashion East and have that kind of presence… it has changed the brand.”
What has remained intact is Young’s love affair with the colours red and white, visible across nearly the entire back catalogue and richly translated for the new season. “I’m not sure why,” she tells us, “but red has always been there. It’s powerful I guess, it signifies danger and passion. I think it’s strong. When paired with a white canvas, or placed against blue or black, it can be quite violent. I like that.”
The palette isn’t exclusive to cloth, elsewhere providing the tools for TITU’s branding and social channels; the label’s Instagram specifically is a strong ambassador. Does Jenna curate it all herself?
“Yes, that’s me. I’m really particular about it, much to my assistant’s annoyance. I think social media and online presence is so essential and yet so monotonous at the moment, and that it’s so important to use it in as creative a way as possible.”
“Instagram is particularly important to us, it being based around aesthetics. It allows us to reach people in other countries that might not necessarily understand our Twitter or Facebook accounts. I wanted to push as many boundaries as possible, which is why we have already been chucked off the platform once for posting a tastefully shot nipple. It’s a bit of a love/hate thing and I’m constantly battling myself over whether we actually want to be represented on a platform with such archaic and uniformed values.”
Echoing the sentiment of Nick Knight’s recent comments (the photographer took to Instagram to support another user, stating, “I am not sure how much I want to be on a platform that behaves likes this… It sends the worst message to women about their bodies”) the designer’s affection for the channel could be perceived as a further signifier, like the trend for nostalgia and the particular era her designs evoke, of contemporary fashion’s inescapable agenda.
In the same vein, Young has a greater understanding of the business of fashion than perhaps a designer of her ilk might have had a decade ago, something initiatives like Fashion East and NEWGEN are increasingly aware of providing. As she notes of her post-fashion week trip to the Paris showrooms, “Designing a collection is only the first step in making a label work economically.”
Luckily it's a battle she's already won.
Words: Zoe Whitfield
Photography: Mehdi Lacoste