Remarkably, this season will be MAN’s thirteenth season at London Fashion Week. Now, we should all know by now that the talent showcase is all about heralding what’s new in menswear but this lineup is one of the most exciting to date. For the SS12 roster, Martine Rose is joined by two newcomers, Matthew Miller and Shaun Samson. Both newbies are deservedly winning plaudits, competitions and buyers for their style and innovative garment techniques. In today's piece I'd like to focus on Shaun Samson's needle punch felting technique.
The International Talent Support (ITS) has been a platform for emerging designers from all around the globe. This year’s stand out was from the California born and now London based designer Samson. He only graduated from the MA course at Central Saint Martins back in February but his modern sportswear stole the show. Sponsored by Woolrich, his seamless fabric manipulation saw chunky knitwear, denim and wool all fuse harmoniously together in oversized t shirts, cigarette trousers and accessories. Samson might have been studying various forms of fashion design for almost a decade but he is ready to take centre stage at London Fashion Week. Before he does, I'd like to learn a little bit more about his technique. Here we sit down with the design talent and chat through his design process before taking a closer look at his craft...
CSM MA shot thanks to catwalking.com
SS: What first drew you to the effect of needle punch felting?
Shaun Samson: I had known about needle punch felting for a while, I can't remember the first time I encountered it but I had it my head for some time but didn't start working on it until my MA. As I played around with the technique, I started off with solids and then found old garments and through a process of experimentation, I soon began to understand what worked best. My earliest samples show a more obvious process, where you can see one fabric sitting on another but I wanted to make it more subtle, cooler. I paired them with woven, knits and cashmeres, experimenting with weights. Finally, I decided the best way to show off the technique was to have a wooly fabric with a linen because the fuzzy fibres of the knit help it to mingle. From there I came up with a fabric and colour story and it is here that I first contacted Woolrich with 'Hey, you're an American company and I'm an American student living in London, let's show show them what we can do.'
SS: How was the working relationship with Woolrich?
Shaun Samson: They were so responsive and helpful. Straight off, they sent me a stack of archive fabric examples. It was great to be able to go through everything and immerse myself in the variety of plaids. There was one fabric that I needed to be sent overnight and I pensively asked them, didn't hear anything and thought I had soured the relationship with my excessive demands but low and behold, it arrived the next day. They were just so nice to work with and helped me so much. From this point on it was just a case of building the collection.
SS: Is it a partnership that you'd like to continue?
Shaun Samson: I hope so. I'm just afraid of over using it but I'm keen to slowly build on the relationship in the coming seasons and beyond. I'm so happy that a company liked Woolrich believed in me and supported me as much as they did. When I first approached them I showed them samples of the technique I had in mind but
SS: Needle punch felting is certainly a labour intensive process. Were they any other difficulties that you encountered?
Shaun Samson: This process is like embroidery, you have needles going in and out the fabric until it is done. There is no quick, or short cut way of doing it. To do it, I feed it in to the machine on the reverse so there is no way of knowing exactly what it will look like until I've taken it out of the machine and turn it forward. There is a lot of experimentation while I try and figure out the process and each piece will be subtly different. When you're introducing thicker knits, the process has to be slowed down even further because there's a significant chance of breaking needles. I also had this problem when I was felting denim, it is just a matter of understanding the fabrics that you are working with and changing elements of the process accordingly so that it looks the best it can.
SS: How long does it take to make one piece?
Shaun Samson: The felting process itself takes around three to four hours. To finish the piece, the entire process is done by hand. Hems and linings are tacked down by hand. So to complete a whole piece it takes around a day in total but that's when I dedicate an entire day to it. I enjoy the process and the more I do it, the more acquainted I get and ultimately the better I get.
SS: As production grows, would you pass this process on to a factory?
Shaun Samson: There are some amazing factories out there. I've been told it can be done but I've not seen it work well with pattern fabrics, only solid fabrics as yet. With the pattern fabric you have to ensure that the pattern continues and matches exactly. If it is out, even by the smallest of margins, it gets punched and the appearance is crooked. The lines have to match precisely. This is where the advantages of doing it by hand come in because you can really follow the needle. I'm sure a machine exists that could replicate it but I've just not encountered it yet.
SS: The collection explores an over sized silhouette. Now, I've seen the t shirts in particular referred to as many things, would you call them t shirts?
Shaun Samson: That's how I viewed what I made from my MA collection, they were oversized t shirts rather than tunic tops or man dresses. It is nice that people think that t shirt is new but I've been wearing them large like this since I was a little kid.
As Samson talked me through his award winning MA collection he brought the described techniques and creative processes to life by flicking through his sketchbook and rifling through his draws of fabrics. To attempt to replicate this luxury, I'd like to share a selection of studio shots accompanied by the designer's own musings....
"I was drawn to Woolrich even before I knew that I'd be working with them. I've been a fan for so long"
His sketchbook contains catalogue shots and a cocktail of fabric swatches.
Woolrich catalogue images are cut and sewn together like Frankenstein's monster.
"Woolrich sent over an archive of tartans and plaids to choose from"
A selection of Woolrich tartans
Samson's sewing machine
"My earliest samples show a more obvious process, where you can see one fabric sitting on another but I wanted to make it more subtle, cooler."
"I paired them with woven, knits and cashmeres, experimenting with weights."
"After a process of experimentation with the needle felting technique, I decided the best way to show off the technique was to have a wooly fabric with a linen because the fuzzy fibres of the knit help it to mingle."
"Initially, my first drawings concentrated on button up shirts and coats but along the way I opted to simplify them to make a stronger statement."
A work in progress
A close up the mingled fibres of the tartan and linen.
A heady mix of chunky knit and wool.
Whilst so many young designers explore fabric manipulations in their work, it is rarely achieved with the finesse and skill that can be seen throughout this collection. Having taken a close look at his process, all that's left is to showcase his look book imagery (and impatiently wait for Menswear Day)...
Look book credits
Art Direction by Rob Meyers and photography by Pelle Crepin.
During my studio visit, in addition to finalising his plans for MAN, Samson was collating and packing off a number of key AW11 pieces for his first store. The buyer of Cement in Japan was quick off the mark and Samson's much coveted designs will soon be available. Following his London Fashion Week show, I'm in little doubt that buyers closer to home will soon be picking up this young talent. We'll certainly be hearing a lot more from Shaun Samson. Roll on Menswear Day.