A NEW COLLAB CULTURE

London based designers Matthew Needham and Helen Kirkum collaborate with the past on a collection that is very much the future.

PHOTOGRAPHY_ NORMAN WILCOX-GEISSEN

STYLIST_ WILLIAM BARNES

A NEW COLLAB CULTURE

The phenomenon of designers buddying up to create “collabs” has arguably defined the last decade of mainstream fashion. But what started out as heartfelt collaboration has largely become another thread of fast fashion; loveless, thoughtless, and pretty much endless. Go on any “hype” site to see these pairings churned out daily, or it seems hourly in some cases. What was once special — a cultural event — has become so ubiquitous as to make it practically invisible. While it’s unlikely that brands will stop slapping their names on “new” products with nothing different save the colorway, hope shines elsewhere. A generation of designers are emerging who are out to create a fresher, more relevant collaborative culture — and Matthew Needham is the pick of the bunch.

A Central Saint Martins MA graduate, the young designer regularly combines his knowledge and skill with that of his contemporaries to make concept-driven sustainable ranges. This eco-friendly approach has seen him work with the ecologist and ceramicist Brook Sigal, merging art and science for a line of accessories that purify water. A Peter Pan inspired partnership with Charles Jeffery Loverboy resulted in chokers made from window sashes, knitted y-front hats and knee braces embellished with Swarovski crystals. All were made from found materials and followed in the steps of the Lost Boys from JM Barrie’s famous novel. For his latest collection, Needham has gone further with incredible collaborations with three of the industry’s most promising artists. There are non-toxic sculptural headpieces made with the milliner Jo Miller, crystal earrings made from two months of collected tears with the sustainable-materials innovator Alice Potts, and a masterpiece with footwear upcycler Helen Kirkum.

Together, Kirkum and Needham have created a series of one-off pieces from dead-stock Vibrams gifted by the brand. Taking the iconic FiveFinger running shoes, the duo has chopped, spliced, and stitched them together with other disused trainers to create a beautiful concoction, breathing new life into items few would value. This resurrection of the cast-offs and unwanted items of others runs all the way through Needham’s work, whether it’s a dress made from a charity shop duvet or embellishing coats with zips and silk linings from old suitcases. It’s almost a collaboration with the past, the materials guiding and inspiring the design process, rather than Needham simply imposing his will. It’s also setting the way for a new approach; an answer to the questions so many of us have, that we can create, build and buy — that you can love design and fashion — without destroying. 

HELEN KIRKUM X MATTHEW NEEDHAM_ TOE SNEAKERS (LOW, WHITE)_ UPCYCLED VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS DEADSTOCK, RECLAIMED SNEAKERS, AND FOUND MATERIALS

HELEN KIRKUM X MATTHEW NEEDHAM_ TOE HEELS IN BLACK_ UPCYCLED VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS DEADSTOCK, RECLAIMED HEELS FROM SARAH MOWER, RECLAIMED SNEAKERS AND FOUND MATERIALS, NORWEGIAN ROCKS COLLECTED FROM A MOUNTAIN IN BODØ

"THE PHENOMENON OF DESIGNERS BUDDYING UP TO CREATE “COLLABS” HAS ARGUABLY DEFINED THE LAST DECADE OF MAINSTREAM FASHION. BUT WHAT STARTED OUT AS HEARTFELT COLLABORATION HAS LARGELY BECOME ANOTHER THREAD OF FAST FASHION; LOVELESS, THOUGHTLESS, AND PRETTY MUCH ENDLESS." — WILLIAM BARNES

HELEN KIRKUM X MATTHEW NEEDHAM_ TOE SNEAKERS (HIGH, WHITE)_ UPCYCLED VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS DEADSTOCK, RECLAIMED SNEAKERS, AND FOUND MATERIALS

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