Friday, 30 September 2011

Agi&Sam SS12

After the initial excitement of the opening round of shows, the adrenaline of Menswear Day began to be replaced with fatigue and fashion weariness. Just when I needed a pick me up, Agi&Sam offered a shot of Tobasco, Tequila and Tomato Juice. This was not served in a glass but instead thrown in my face. Weary onlookers like myself were given a visual shock as the exciting design duo took our outstretched hands and led the way on a sartorial journey across Central America. The sights, sounds and smells of a cacophony of cultures and festivities whizzed by and merged before tired eyes deep in the East Wing of Somerset House.

Thanks to their penchant for clashing and layering print upon print, the design duo once again opened my mind to print possibilities. Much like the shooter that inspires the SS12, the duo threw a number of unexpected ingredients together to create something intoxicating yet tasty. In most pieces, references are torn apart, manipulated and reassembled to create eye-catching yet ultimately wearable clothes...

Agi&Sam's cross section of Mexican characters brought some much needed colour to the SS12 presentations.
Shots from the many I took throughout a snap happy day.

As the hangover of Menswear Day subsides and the weekend arrives, we could not help ourselves from ordering another shot of tobasco, tequila and tomato. Here we talk through the collection with Sam Cotton as we devour another hit of the hard, colourful print stuff with the help of their look book...

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SS: Tabasco, Tequila and Tomato Juice takes us on a a journey through a colourful patchwork quilt of influences from Central America. What was the starting point point, what drew you to this region?
Sam Cotton: Tabasco, tequila and tomato juice. It’s a great shot that was introduced to us by one of our friends. It entails the same methods of a tequila slammer but changing the salt and lemon for tabasco and tomato juice, respectively. After one too many we then began waffling on about tequila and its uses within Mexican society. Strangely this led on to thinking about Mexican 'Day of the Dead' and its social significance, the collection evolved from there.


SS: What was your mood board like for SS12?
Sam Cotton: For the first time we actually developed a colour palette which was quite unusual for us. Normally we tend to throw things together and see where it takes us, although it has worked in the past we felt this time we needed more cohesion in the collection. When we research we tend to cover an entire gulf of cultural and social influences; artists, photographers, filmmakers, criminals, heroes etc. From this we are able to get a feel or how societies cross over and why. Especially important to our colour palette were the works of architect Luis Barragan; regarded as being arguably the most important Mexican architect of the 20th century. His bold and unashamed use of colour within architecture showed us a way of tying the collection together without compromising the colour scheme too much and risking it looking too safe.

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SS: How did these Central American influences evolve in to the collection we see today?
Sam Cotton: We tried looking at a cross reference of the traditional Mexican man. Firstly we began looking at the labourers and farmers of Central America, in particular their sartorial requirements and the functionality of their work wear. From there immigration became a key point of our research, in particular the Bisbee deportation where 1300 Mexican American mine workers were illegally deported by vigilantes on July 12 1917. The workers were kidnapped at a local baseball park and transported 200 miles for 16 hours through desert without food or water before being unloaded in New Mexico without money or transportation.

Delving deeper we headed into the underworld, happening upon those living below that acceptable line; those that create their own rules and live under their own guidelines, the gangsters, ‘gangbangers’, drug barons and prisoners. The underbelly of society being the catalyst that propels ‘normal’ life is what really pushed this collection into its reality, and in tow, the idea that one cannot live without the other. We wanted each of the looks to hold characters taken from each of these sub sectors, we like the look book to have character and personality. Some of the shots are of the Agi&Sam Farmers and Labourers, where as others are of the Agi&Sam Columbian drug barrons and prison gang members.

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SS: You've experimented heavily with texture and colour, stretching the boundaries of digital printing. In most pieces, references are torn apart, manipulated and reassembled to create eye-catching yet wearable clothes. Could you talk us through a selection of the prints. How were they manipulated and clashed?
Sam Cotton: We like to play with texture and the whole process of printing, were able to experiment a bit more of certain safer fabrics such as canvas and even plain t shirt prints which in some ways is harder than working with the kind of techno fabrics we worked with last season. As stated earlier we always think big when gathering inspiration for a collection. Having very eclectic tastes can sometimes be a hindrance because you begin to dissect and develop every little bit of inspiration, and this is why our research becomes so wide. Its not always a bad thing as it gives you a lot more scope to play around with but I think this is why a lot of our prints, colours, silhouettes, and details are clashed. For example, one of our prints is a lumberjack, usually seen on ‘the lumberjack shirt’ and the idea of using this came from looking at early 20th century workwear and the photographs of Mike Disfarmer. From a distance this is how it appears but in reality, the lumberjack itself is taken from traditional Mexican blanket weaves, dissected, and placed into an irregular check. This check is then placed over another layer of print, which appears like wood. This is a wooden fence print we designed, and is to signify the barrier between Mexican workers and the land of opportunity; an idea highlighted when we were researching immigration; in particular, the Bisbee Deportation where 1300 Mexican American mine workers were illegally deported by vigilantes on July 12 1917. We did put this print onto a shirt, but instead of following strict rules of expectancies, we smartened it up, and put it on a more classic, tailored shirt as opposed to a work shirt. On top of this we spread the print out over even more garments, such as a tailored suit, a parka, jersey, and within our shoe collaboration. We do this because we believe a print can become more accessible this way, and challenges the way one should look at it, rather than it always being the norm. This is similar to the way we did a Fairisle knit in our ss11 collection to look like knitwear but when you come close you realize its actually a print.

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SS: If at all, how has the design dynamic that exists between the two of you developed for this season?
Sam Cotton: We don’t think that the dynamic has necessarily ‘changed’, more that it has developed, and maybe hopefully matured. This is our third season together and it feels like now we are really beginning to understand exactly what it is we are doing or trying to establish as a brand. In the beginning we were literally like ‘okay lets make some interesting clothes that contain our own prints and can inject humour into fashion’. Now we are reading between the lines, tweaking things, and playing off each others strengths and weaknesses, so that we can develop in the best possible way, and with a clear direction and vision. We want the brand to have some kind of longevity, so we are purposefully tackling it from all angles.

The last two collections we did were all out of Agi’s living room floor and we had no stockists so this was never in our heads. Since AW11 was released in Feb, we’ve picked up six stockists, a joint business account, a proper studio, interns, and dealt with factories and production. So with this, came quick responsibility, and I guess this is what pushed us to think more intelligently and maturely about Agi&Sam. In a way its amazing to see it progressing, but sometimes you take a step back and realise, ‘its not just making clothes with your friend anymore’ its an actual business. And that is ridiculously scary.

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SS: This season marks the debut of two new collaborations to provide the accessories for the collection. Printed oxfords and slip ons with New York shoe brand Osborn and fedoras and straw hats with J Smith Esquire. How did these collaborations come about? How was it working with both of them? Who would you like to work with in the future?
Sam Cotton: Accessories and shoes are something we’ve always wanted to do, and when Agi was at uni he always thought of complete ‘looks’ rather than individual separates. We’ve done them in some way or another in past seasons but they’ve always been done in house, and, to be honest, not that well. So in keeping with our wanting to mature and grow as a brand, we thought now would be the perfect time to collaborate with people that could actually do it properly. We actually stumbled across Osborn shoes through a friend during the research stage, and were instantly awe struck with they’re amazing designs and how similar they were to the kinds of shoes we’d imagined in our minds. The fact that they are all fair trade and cobbled together in Guatemala almost felt like fate so we simply got in touch with them began the collaboration process.

The same thing happened with Justin Smith Esquire, we had been looking to collaborate with a milliner for a while especially with this collection in mind and our friend mentioned he was a nice guy and he might be up for collaborating. He certainly was for both of those things and even on a last minute deadline of about two weeks he was able to produce these incredible hats, both printed and made from straw.

It’s hard to tell for the future of collaborations. We don’t like working with the obvious as its all a bit too easy and safe. It’s more exciting to work with a brand that is either new or a bit left field. Although the idea of someone like Nintendo or FILA would be quite exciting but it would have to be relevant to the seasons direction. We tend to mix up our influences for every season and not stick to a certain type of design, one season we could be inspired by sportswear and FILA would then be relevant but then the next we could be doing worker wear like this. Although saying that maybe it would be interesting to approach FILA in a worker wear way. So scrap that last paragraph, haha.

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SS: Finally, what's next for Agi&Sam?
Sam Cotton: Another season, another collection. We are working on production for the second time which we feel a lot more comfortable with now after the first year. Our first stop will hopefully be Paris again with the BFC at London Show Rooms in January. It was such an eye opener for ourselves, especially for the kind of quality you need to be producing in our position, it was also great to stand back and almost hold a retrospective on what we had designed for SS12. It didn’t change the initial design ideas we had but it gave us a chance to add key things into the collection and start polishing the entire thing.

Look book credits:
Styling by Rose Forde, photography by Luke Stephenson and 
modelled wonderfully by Jerome Robeiro

Always aiming to be revolutionary in their approach to print design, Agi&Sam once again experimented heavily with texture and colour. Stretching the boundaries of digital printing and pushing me to consider unexpected print combinations. As colourful and dazzling the collection certainly is, I'm most excited by the design duo's continued evolution. Having brought so much to the Fashion East Menswear Installations for two seasons now, I'm in little doubt that this pair have a bright future. 

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