The moment we excitedly showcased the degree collections of the Dutch/English design halves that make up Baartmans and Siegel we knew we had discovered a couple of gems. Self described as modern-traditionalists, Wouter Baartmans and Amber Siegel’s work focuses on beautiful fabrics that seduce, and shapes that are accessible yet distinctive. The duo first met whilst at Viktor & Rolf, and were united in their belief of beautiful craftsmanship and imaginative design. The resulting label launched for SS11, instantly became one to watch, recognisable by the pairs use of interactive texture and sharp tailoring. It is a dynamic, luxury menswear label, that believes in creating interactive, innovative garments, and is currently shaping the landscape of contemporary menswear in the capital and beyond. As part of the strong Vauxhall Fashion Scout lineup on the final Menswear Day, the design duo took a confident step (clad in the fruits of their collaboration with Grenson) forward and offered a collection that should set the tone for their measured rise whilst leaving us hankering for our favourite pick of Britain's best loved chocolate box.
Now, the design duo tend to start at more of a thematic start point, with a character created and established in popular culture, for example the Jules Verne SS11 collection and most recently the Blade Runner inspired Deckard collection for AW11. For AW12, Baartmans and Siegel delve into iconic masculinity for inspiration with a distinct retro nostalgic feel. Continuing with their interest in popular culture from the last century, this season sees the pair focus their refined menswear eye on the late 1970’s British Menswear and cinema. Focusing on the iconic Cadbury's Milk-Tray man, his sartorial style and air of mystery provides a sense of playful indulgence, romance and adventure to the collection. Now if you're unfamiliar with the character we happily point you in the direction of the following YouTube clip. From 1968 to 2003, in a series of nineteen adverts and with the original strap line of All because the lady loves Milk Tray, the familiar box of chocolates were advertised by this rough, tough James Bond–style action man who goes through hell and high water to surreptitiously deliver the chocolates to a peckish lady. Utilising these landscapes of land, sea and the sky offers design references to ensure form and function are considered throughout. Before we take a look at the collection itself, Amber Siegel introduces and shares their visual references...
"We wanted to look at an iconic figure that had a nostalgic retro feeling- that wasn't James bond- but yet had the feeling of that sensibility and nature. The Milk Tray man was a character that was instantaneously recognisable- yet shrouded with mystery and so we wanted to build, update and evolve this character that was assumed rather than known.
We began by looking at masculine characteristics of fashion from the year the adverts were released 1968 - turtle necks, trouser silhouettes, suit jacket cuts- combining retro and modern sportswear- and skiwear-looking at these elements and then expanding adding modern functionality and versatility- amplified and refined luxury- luring and tactile fabrications. The colour pallets were very literal- sky, sea and land inspired- slates, metal,teal,murky ocean tones, electric Prussian blues Cadbury purple and Yves Klein blues. The whole collection was designed to feel indulgent, luxurious, relevant and iconically masculine in a European suave aesthetic."
Amber Siegel on being drawn to the Milk Tray Man for AW12
"Our mood boards provided a touchstone to connect with the character we were reviving - throughout the season - the confident adventurer shrouded in anonymity and appeal. Our mood boards looked at collecting visual references of texture, character, colour, silhouette - creating a context, grounding and a projected functional landscape- which we could then translate to a livable reality. Communist ad campaign posters, leather flecked with acrylic snow-like texture- 1930's ski holiday posters, spy thriller movie scenes, retro early graphic sci-fi landscapes, imploding atom bomb science prints, unitary geometric forms, linear op art and industrial metal cold reflective tones."
Amber Siegel on the moodboards for AW12
To help us see through the studio door and offer a real tease in to what AW12 had in store, I snapped away at Baarmans and Siegel's series of AW12 mood boards of image collages and fabric swatches.
Both instantaneously recognisable yet shrouded with mystery, Baartmans and Siegel build, update and evolve the character of the Milk Tray man and dress him accordingly in a wardrobe of lux tailored sportswear. "Instead of creating a fragment or snippet of an aesthetic and character, we now look to provide a fully rounded 360 degree view of an exploration - a story and personality that can be injected and applied to relevant, contemporary masculine landscapes" Siegel remarks as she takes a sip of tea in her studio before continuing, "we look to create collections that are not just representative of a moment in or minds- but more of a holistic projection of inclusive expression." Encompassing thematic qualities, the silhouette remains contemporary with the use of the brand’s modern fit combined with luxurious fabrications. Fabrics and cuts are selected and created to ensure effortless ease of wear. Knitwear is offered in rich pure Scottish Johnstons cashmeres whilst hand knitted British wool jumpers and mohair laced accessories add an artisan quality.
Outerwear progresses with the introduction of directional Puffa coats offered with Merino Lamb shearling collars and arctic fox fur trims providing a protective and comforting quality, whilst the reversible style adds versatility to the range. Casual wear is approached with a contemporary edge with the introduction of the first print collaboration with Scandinavian artist Jan Jacob Hakson depicting the protagonist spy character with a European feeling. Finishing touches include horn hand-polished and diluted mist colour bakelite buttons whilst tie-dyed calf leather trims balance the designs with opulent and modern touches Aquatic adventures provide the foundation for the colour palette with deep blues, rich slate greys, powder snow ash tones and the ‘Cadbury’ purple feature throughout. Tonal shades create a multi-layered interchangeable collection allowing flexibility to each piece for the wearer.
Accessories are key and the newly created in-house design logo jacquard is utilised across scarves adding an optic 1970’s quality in the new three shade motif. Atom print scarves in silk jacquard and cashmere incorporate the symbolic relationship of the masculine natural landscape with the adventure and fantasy of science fiction. The collaboration with Grenson footwear continues for Autumn Winter with two styles of shoes to reflect the dual sides of the masculine ‘Milk Tray’ figure. Slate grey patent monk shoes with contrast black soles and gold hardware sit alongside the midnight ankle boots in black pony and navy calf leather with patent nose evokes a streamlined and classic appeal.
Now, I've teased and talked long enough. It is time to present Baartmans and Siegel's Milk Tray Man collection and we have a visual feast for you. Gorge yourself on the selection box of lookbook and campaign imagery mixed with a few of our own detail shots...
"We are pleased to say that we are now one of the newest recruits of the prestigious Venture programme of the Center for Fashion Enterprise. We have been through each stage of development with them so it is gratifying to be awarded the Venture level. Also, Whilst about to jet off with the BFC for London Showrooms NYC, we are currently concentrating on the new Spring/Summer 13 season-preparing for the new format of London Fashion Week Menswear in June- which looks set to be a new and interesting dialogue of modern menswear. As always, we will be incorporating creative collaborations, and evolving/developing irresistible luxury elements for the collection."
Amber Siegel on the neat future
With Milk Tray Man, Baartmans and Siegel compound the core aesthetic of the brand brand, setting the tone for our future seasons, whilst retaining the key elements which were inherent from the very inception of our brand. While their collections grow, including accessories, knitwear, casual wear, outerwear and formal wear - the pair are more insular in their refinement than ever. Instead of creating a fragment or snippet of an aesthetic and character, they now look to provide a fully formed view of an exploration - a story and personality that can be injected and applied to relevant, contemporary masculine landscapes. I, for one, am looking to exploring these sartorial landscapes with Baartmans and Siegel and whilst watching this emerging brand continue to blossom.