Wednesday 1 January 2014

The rise of Craig Green


"We always put ourselves under pressure," Craig Green confesses before his wide smile spreads across his Bethnal Green studio. As we're sat in a hushed corner, the light filled space is alive with activity, during the supposed festive break, in preparation for his third and final MAN performance. His name glows from the London Collections: Men schedule. In a whirlwind of promise, he has emerged as the crowned prince of the adventurous silhouette, transforming beautiful boys with wearable masterpieces and abstract theatre. The weight of expectation would weigh heavy on the shoulders of most design talents but Green, backed and spurred on by his closely knit team, shrugs the pressures of others off from his broad shoulders whilst floating ever higher powered by the pressure he places on himself.

"We try to change it up and push it each season, we don't want to stick to what we've done previously. We don't want to be just one thing. I think there's a fear in fashion to move away from what you're known for but it's good to feel uncomfortable and scared at times. As with most seasons, I'm scared about autumn/winter 14 but it's exciting," Green adds, eyes wide, full of focus and enthusiasm.

This fearlessness combined with his undeniable talent and hunger has propelled Craig Green forward and deservedly won him the hearts of the press and pockets of the world's finest buyers but it can be divisive. The pitchfork wielding tabloids were furious with an incensed Daily Mail dedicating a number of pages to their angst fuelled, confused rants whilst a perfume peddling waxwork mocked the designs live on Alan Carr. "I even received hate mail, directly to me, after the first MAN show. I was so depressed that I began to questions what I was doing. A week later people made me see that it's good to split opinion at times," he adds wisely. It is. Having bounced our way across the full spring/summer 14 spectrum, it could easily be described as a season of nice. Banality can be contagious but Green is one of the few designers offering something new, something exciting "For me, it's important for a show to be a show. It's really rare now that I look through catwalk photos and dream of being there. There are very few experiences like John Galliano's couture. any and every Comme show or the recent Rick Owens show. Gareth Pugh was the first ever show that I went to. I rushed from Central Saint Martins to make it and we were the last to get in, it was amazing, my heart was pounding. Shows should make you feel something special and that's what we strive for."

His tribe of faceless, psychedelic sculptures emphatically established Green as one of the capital's brightest stars but pushing continuously, excitement has closely circled Green from the moment his three dimensional, Russian folk robot inspired fantasies floated down the Central Saint Martins BA show catwalk. A collection that bubbled with creativity and craft, seeing him awarded a full MA scholarship. Weeks after presenting his award winning final MA collection, he confirmed his promise at the inaugural London Collections: Men. Offering another glimpse into his world of well crafted whimsy, the emerging talent, with his tonal crinkle washed calico, mohair and muslin cheesecloth creations, was the standout highlight at Fashion East's Installations.

"I'm drawn to making something out of nothing, or very little. You get the cheapest materials and use your skill to make it expensive." For Green, the real craft is in the textile transformation, in fabric alchemy, elevated do-it-yourself. "That first collection was made out of calico that we washed, tumble dried and put in a salt solution that softened it, before hand painting the edges. It was a cheap collection but that's an important idea not to lose sight off. Rather than buy silk and make something expensive, we're interested in using more attainable materials that can be improved, it's more of a challenge. The cost of producing in London already rises prices so we save where we can." Green thrives on challenges and constantly introduces them to his work, both out of need and his desire to push it that bit more.

"We do textiles in-house. All of the tie dye of spring/summer 14 was worked on here. 450 metres were dyed twice in metre by metre pieces. Twisted, poured, washed, left to dry for three days and then repeated. It was a nightmare process but this season, we're also working on a nightmare process - we love it really. Everything is hand painted, there's no digital or screen printing and they are heavily worked. We're back to handmade textiles and techniques but it's a different feeling.""

Creating and solving problems each fabric, silhouette and pattern at a time, Craig Green dances, delves and delights in duality. Opposites attract in his studio. His closely knit team of fantastical friends and crafty collaborators, don't just blur lines or introduce opposing forces but rather, majestically manifest creative collisions. Each garment is the playfight of light and dark, traditional and modern, familiar and fresh, reality and fantasy.

"The first collection played with seriousness, the spring/summer 14 was poppy and played with darkness and euphoria. We design by thinking about what we'd be excited to see in a show at that moment. This collection clashes utilitarian and ornateness. function and unfunctional, traditional and new. It's grounded in tradition because we were conscious of it not being seen as too faddy because there's a lot of that around. The challenge is always to do something that is not expected."

"Each season starts with the feeling that we'd like to portray, that always sounds a bit poncey but it's true. 'What do we want to see now after everything that's been?' That's always the driving force. We never stop talking, driving each other mad. I'm on the phone to Helen at midnight discussing every minute detail, discussion leads everywhere, from the studio to the pub, it's an ongoing process. This season has shifted and changed. Things get made, are scrapped and we start again. It's one of the most last minute collections but for the better. 

I never say my, it's always us and we. Perhaps I need the comfort of others but we do work so closely together. We're friends that like to make things. Different moments have brought us together, from old boyfriends to house parties to studying together. We all get on. They love doing what they do, they're not doing it for anything but the love, they are all crafty people and that's who I'm attracted to. It causes problems in it's own way because we push each other and can make things more difficult for ourselves but it's good. We just have a laugh," he adds before giving into a quiet giggle. Over the course of our hour long chat, Green didn't deviate from 'we' or 'us.' There might be one 'i' in Craig Green but the design talent is not one to downplay the role of and interplay between, the team of creatives that nestle under his umbrella.

Now, Craig Green could happily and skilfully turn his hand to any creative medium, so why, for now atleast, ground himself in London menswear? "It is one of the very few places that is open to suggestion and not scared of change.” Growing up in a quiet enclave of suburbia in North West London. surrounded by a loving family of craftsmen, Green's daydreams were filled with aspirations of being a sculptor or painter. "I initially went to Central Saint Martins because I wanted to be a portrait painter but whilst on the foundation course, I met friends who were studying fashion." Thankfully for us, the impressionable young talent followed suit and fell into fashion, textiles are now his canvas as he shapes a new modern menswear menswear between his hands. Beyond the fabulous fanfare of his MAN shows and as the applause fades, a Craig Green collection continues to captivate with delicious details long after the curtain falls. 'The beauty is in the details,' is an oft used phrase in menswear but when Green is concerned, beauty is omnipresent. With sweaters that artfully unravel, garments tie-dyed with a richness that forever teases the eye, a subtlety that envelops any considered viewer and a knowing of touch that excites the heart of all craft enthusiasts.

Craig Green spring/summer 14, my snapshots from the front row at MAN.

"Spring/Summer 14 was the first season that we've really sold.  Previously, we used to work on small scale production after the show, a rush of month from start to finish but this season, production has been in tandem with the design of the new collection. A bit of a strain but it's exciting to grow. We jumped from three to twelve stores this season. We're now in Dover Street Market New York and Tokyo, Other-Shop, 10 Corso Como in Milan and  IT in Hong Kong to name just a few."

Whisked into a whirlwind, the last eighteen months must have whizzed by Craig Green's eyes in one marvellous blur of surprise and success but as we wave goodbye to 2013 and with the industry at his feet, I ask what the plan is for 2014 and beyond.

"Every couple of months something good seems to happen. I started out just at the beginning of London Collections: Men and I've been lucky because I get to sell at the time of everyone else and there's a real platform and network of support through Fashion East and CFE. It's exciting to be a part of it. I'd love for it to grow to a point in which I can pay people properly, rely less on favours and to move out of my mum's house. That would all be lovely but I love it all. I get to work with my friends doing what I love and we have a great time. In that we're lucky," he adds with another grin. Enveloped by the craft and smiles of Craig Green, we are all lucky.


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