"I stumbled in to fashion really," confesses Alan Taylor in his soft Dublin drawl as he sits at the cutting table of his Dalston studio. "I didn't even do art at school. I wanted to but somehow my parents convinced me to study business but I completely changed everything for my Leaving Certificate (A-Levels equivalent in Ireland) and went on to do an art portfolio." It was a delightful deviation that ultimately saw him fall in to fashion. The world of business might be at a loss but our wardrobes are rejoicing in the discovery of a rare gem. Having kept an hungry eye on all of the fruits on show at the major fashion markets this season, nothing whet my appetite more than Taylor's autumn/winter 13 offering. The moment my eyes caught sight of the Harry Lambert styled and James White shot look book from across the office, my heart jumped and my body longed to possess the entire collection. It felt familiar yet was truly captivating. It was like meeting someone for the first time and walking away feeling as though you'd always known them. Is that sappy? I make no excuses other than that I'm in love (and it's my birthday at the time of posting). With its considered construction, sculptural showcases, textural trickery and accomplished juxtaposition of both concept and silhouette throughout, it had everything, and more, that I hope to see in menswear. I had to find out more about the designer behind it. For me, Alan Taylor isn't just one to watch. He is one to stalk. So I duly invited myself to his studio for a cup of tea, a chat and to cop a feel of his tactile designs.
As he takes apart an Oreo and thinks about dipping the pieces in his tea, Taylor elucidates on his stumbling in to the industry. "Growing up in a small town in Ireland, I was utterly naive about fashion. It just wasn't on my radar. It wasn't until I got in to my foundation year that I went in to the fashion department and was blown away. It was around the same time that Gareth Pugh burst on to the scene with his debut collection and my eyes were opened to a new world. It was at this point that I realised you could be so creative, it wasn't just clothes, it was an outlet." Eyes opened and outlet found, he followed in the footsteps of Simone Rocha by studying at the National College of Art and Designin Dublin. "Simone was a couple of years ahead of me. I loved her stuff from the moment I saw it. It was amazing. When she graduated from her MA, I graduated from my BA and she approached me to work with her because she knew I had spent some time interning with the likes of Alexander McQueen, David David and Agi & Sam. I was with her for three amazing seasons." There can be little doubt that the pair are kindred spirits. Both design talents are fascinated with experimental fabric techniques and share a focus on innovative construction. Working in the romantic and tactile world of Simone Rocha, was he tempted to continue designing womenswear? "Having studied both, I actually opted to show womenswear for my BA. I don't think that you're either one or the other. I think if you're a fashion designer, you should be able to design both and just design them in your own way. Menswear interests me at the moment and I'm having fun with it." And the moment of autumn/winter 12 is one to savour.
The collection evolved out of the theory of the fourth dimension. The ever inquisitive and mathematically minded Taylor explored how if we were four dimensional beings looking at a three dimensional object, we wouldn't see the two dimensional view that our eyes perceive in reality but rather we would see every single side of the object simultaneously. "There's loads to the theory and for this collection, I was only interested in this one part of it. It led me to think about what the clothes would be like in this other dimension. It was about pushing it whilst still keeping the classic shapes that we have now. Looking at it now, I think it ended up being a little Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It's trippy." Mind and garment altering. The trip that Taylor takes us on literally sees the meshing together of individual garments. "I just love juxtaposing textures and fabrics," he succinctly declares as hind fingers wander from tweed and then mesh on one of the real highlight jackets. The evolution of precise outfit details into single garments becomes the focus. Jackets appear to grow naturally out of the back of other jackets. Trousers layered with flattened shorts and jacket vents demand a second, third and even fourth look. Developing this further, he revels in juxtaposing fabrics within the garments themselves - this season, netting and tweeds are intertwined. Following on from his spring/summer 13 collection, his admiration for Donegal Tweed is undeniable.
"A friend of mine who was on my course recommend Magee Tweed to me and I just loved what they were doing and I liked the idea of working with an Irish company. They are incredible. It is a sixth generation family Mill, so much heritage but they are doing some amazingly innovative things with the tweeds. For my last collection, I used a mix that is woven using the classic tweed techniques but with an added silk yarn, so it is much lighter and much more breathable. I was blown away. It was the same again this season when the Head Designer proudly brought out the latest tweeds. They were amazing. I just had to have them."
Building on this love, Taylor broadens his color and fabric story with a fresh palette of both tone and texture. The tweeds provide the foundations of the collection and Taylor duly builds on them while mirroring Magee’s own heady cocktail of classic techniques and innovation. Now, I’ve teased you long enough. Enter the fourth dimension with me.
My own detail shots alongside the look book by James White and Harry Lambert.
"Art, especially minimalist sculpture inspires me. I often find myself going back to the work of Dan Flavin, I just love the way that his light installations not only affect how the viewer sees it but it also affects the way the room is. I like to think that I do something similar in my work. I'm not just trying to make clothes, I'm trying to convey an emotion and get people to view things differently. I take a lot from sculpture and film, so much of the mood comes from films. This season, it went a little trippy because I was drawn to the idea of the fourth dimension. One of the other inspirations was Aaaron Sorkin from A few Good Men, West Wing and The Social Network fame. Moneyball is his most recent feature. It's a great movie with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill that tells the story of a manager of a low budget baseball team. Like the Fourth Dimension this, it was all about looking at something in a new light. I love watching films while I work, either shit films or films that I've seen loads of times so I don't have to concentrate on it too much but just have them on in the background and I can dip in and out of it. This season I watched Robert Downey Jnr playing Chaplin. One again it was about reinvention.
"I carry a new notepad with me each season and I sketch ideas or write words whenever they come to me, mostly in the middle of the night. For this season there are a number of sketches where I bring in and merge different garments. It starts from these and then I work on the stand, experimenting with form. I don't use concept drawings and illustrations. I love being hands on with things as early as possible, toiling things up and playing around, developing it and developing it until I have a solid pattern. I have ideas about the overall silhouette but I never know what the details are going to be when I start. For this season, I initially thought that the tailored jackets would have the slits on the arms but that changed during the design stage. I start with a shell and it often becomes something quite different. I always try and design the inside at the same time as the outside. I love designing every part of an item. For me, the details have to be as interesting on the inside as they are on the outside."
Alan Taylor on his in inspiration and design process
In just a few short seasons, an inviting design signature is forming with threads of continuity clearly visible as the designer's confidence grows. "I see it as developing every season,” he explains, head firmly screwed on. I take patterns and tweak them. Small changes can make a huge different. For example, we used the same jacket pattern as last season but added darts to make it more fitted, we changed the hem and added interior details to create something quite different. For me, It's important to have a voice and to be recognisable, both for retailers and consumers. Especially now when there are so many designers."
For me, it is all too easy to run out of superlatives when discussing Alan Taylor. Sitting down for an afternoon with him only proves to heighten and intensify my excitement. In my eyes, he has it all. Putting on my coat, I ask him what his hopes are for the coming seasons were. "I would love to do a catwalk soon,” he replies without missing a beat. Thus far he has quietly designed and developed his label with his head down, away from the the attentions BFC and London Collections: Men but he was clearly daydreaming about this very thing as he talked me through the rails. He is certainly ready to step in to the spotlight of an on schedule show. “I love working on the fashion films but I'd love the chance to show on a catwalk. We'll wait to see what happens in June." With Agi & Sam and Astrid Andersen moving to the next stage in sponsorship, I would love to see Taylor snap up one of the available slots on MAN for next season. Whatever happens next season, I'm sure this talent will continue to excite and enthral for years to come. For now, lets just enjoy and continue to explore his fourth dimension.