Fashion and music have long been intertwined. From the emergence of subcultures, style-conscious visuals, to the dancefloors of any local night scene, art always thrives on collaboration. So there’s no better way to cross boundaries of both disciplines than merging them together into a spectacular project.
That’s why one of our favourite independent music platforms, rooted in world-wide club culture both online and offline – Boiler Room – joined forces with an initiative promoting local creatives from across the UK -Unlock Your City – for a special event series. They invited three of the most exciting up-and-coming independent designers to transform their chosen space into a world looking and sounding like their brand: November 2021 belonged to them.
Today, when the parties are over and their ever-going spirit lives in urban legend alongside photos and memories of anyone lucky to be there, it’s time to shift the spotlight onto the talent who made it happen. We introduce you to the coolest noisemakers in the fashion industry.
Adam Jones’s approach to fashion is exceptional. Brought up in the Welsh countryside, the designer built his brand on smalltown 70s-flavoured soil and gritty, urban foundations. Whatever projects grow from that paradoxical base, they’re always one of a kind. Whether it be Jones’ Holy Grail-like search for materials or his modern DIY infusion, the pieces tell stories rooted deep into society’s habits, subverting what fashion is. “There wasn’t really fashion growing up in Wales in the countryside. People didn’t really dress up. There were no interesting shops. People are quite reserved in Wales in how they dress. I didn’t know the fashion world existed really. It came from the love of making things,” Adam explains.
Jones hasn’t changed much since childhood, always a little bit reserved, he found solace in expression through art: “I was a quite shy, introverted child so I was just spending time indoors drawing or making tree houses. It was all about imagination and making things, making anything,” the designer shares, looking back at those first efforts at building his own world. “I was a really shy child but had this weird confidence in dressing. I didn’t really care what anybody thought. Even though I was shy, I quite enjoyed the reaction even if it was negative, people staring at me for what I wore,” he smiles, “I’d be very quiet, but I would wear these outlandish outfits”.
We picture young Adam in fabulous retro pieces, running through the car boot sales where his family would often take him. “I was growing up in this house that was still stuck in the 70s surrounded by old tapestries and old paintings. My grandma was quite a hoarder. I was just surrounded by just so much like tacky 70s visual culture,” he says, “I probably hated growing up there at the time. But looking back, I see all the positives and all the inspiration where ideas now come from, it was obvious that it started very young”. The appreciation of little things and the afternoons he spent munching on a bag of crisps in an ‘old man’s’ pub with his dad are ingrained in his DNA.
A mix of old and new, this smart subversion of tradition smells like punk spirit. “It feels modern because people haven’t seen these kinds of fabrics or thought about using these things for a long, long time,” he says. The process of sourcing materials is everything to Adam, and it shows in his practice. Nobody repurposes beer towels or vintage nature embroidery into garments as well as Adam. Stable on his pure countryside-influenced spine, his cyborg-like target customer also loves the aesthetic violence of the city. “My work is really about that clash. Wales is very, very clean. It’s very, very clean, very green. When it comes to somewhere like Manchester or London: there’s graffiti, there are pigeons everywhere, there’s rubbish on the floor for days. It’s just much more brutal and colourful so that was exciting to me,” Adam tells us, “Then as time went by, I looked for places in the city that reminded me of home”. And so Adam’s brand exists in his mini-Wales within England.
For his Boiler Room x Unlock your city project, the designer decided to relocate his connections, inviting England-based and Welsh DJs to join forces for a club night, marrying the two cities together. “Reminds me of my early days, growing up listening to Boiler Room: it was the height of cool,” Adam remembers. He adds that “we found this old Jacob’s cream cracker factory in Cardiff. It really aligned with my brand. Jacob’s cream cracker boxes are something that my grandma would keep her jewellery in.” Inspired by the interior, the designer covered the floor with tapestries, and beer mats and hung up a disco ball: the 70s all over.
“There’s an old Welsh TV soap called ‘Pobol y Cwm’ so we had that on old TVs flashing”, he says, “It was literally like we were dancing in my grandma’s house. That’s how it felt to me”. People would turn up wearing creations made to impress, to steal five minutes of the rusty spotlight and make the workdays worthwhile, just like during the old times. “That was the fashion show for these kids that didn’t have much, so I feel like, that’s really like my brand. The fact that you’re wearing something that I’ve made from very little at the end of the week in that club for other people to see.”
Taya always had a thing for knits. After finishing university and feeling tangled in designs and concepts, she had to look into the past to join the dots in the present. “I felt like I was more focussed on being aesthetically pleasing and ticking boxes throughout school. Now I look at my own heritage and how I connect to it and use that as a way to explore fashion. It was a personal journey for me,” Taya says. From there, she kept cutting new aesthetic patterns and translating that mindset into a brand, Knit and Ting.
“It’s looking at where do I fit in and what do I feel like my upbringing is: just a point between the two. Growing up in the UK, I’m naturally going to feel like I’m British, but also having Jamaican family and having those cultural moments, they do influence how I connect with my Jamaican heritage,” the designer says. Her brand is deeply rooted in a rich Black culture fused with British tradition: “when referencing Jamaican rude boys in the 70s and 80s, I would look at street style images of these young men and see that they’re wearing Scottish jumpers and vests which was very English/British,” Taya elaborates. Through immigrants’ eyes, England was often seen as a fantasy future land, an ultimate chosen destination. Coming to terms with reality, in the end Jamaican and British cultures influenced each other quite equally.
Having recently moved back from London to Nottingham, Taya appreciates networking in a smaller creative community as an alternative to the capital-oriented craze. “Nottingham surprised me with how much people are open and friendly. I get messages from random people who just want to meet up and go for coffee and talk ideas,” she says, “There are people wanting to work with other people across projects. That’s really exciting.” Despite the size of the city, a lot is going on.
Bringing something new to Nottingham’s nightlife, Taya Francis’ collaborative event for Boiler Room x Unlock Your City captured exactly what the designer stands for: Taya thrives on challenges so a project outside of her comfort zone was an interesting chance to dip into the music world. “I was pretty excited when it came to putting things together. I was quite particular about the sounds that I wanted to be represented by and the mix of talent,” she says. Inviting musician friends from both London and the East Midlands to spin discs for her, Taya explained “We had a lot of input over what we could do so having that flexibility, it’s what you want to do and being given so much freedom, I think that made the project successful.”
“My night was called ‘Big Tings’ and was paying homage to my graduate collection, which is where everything for my brand started. I wanted to go back to that space that I was in at university and funnily enough, I had playlists that I created based on my collection, a part of my portfolio while I was there. I wanted to have a DIY feel to the evening,” Taya explains. A throwback to Taya’s dancehall times, the party was a fashion-forward homage to the Jamaican culture hosted in an all-inclusive and safe space: “Comfortability was the first thing in my head. I was quite considerate to what people wanted to wear but also trying to keep it together”.
Grounded in the familiar, the event opened Taya’s eyes to a variety of creative paths she had stopped herself from exploring before. “I think that comes out of being scared that we’re gonna be seen as a fraud,” Taya shares on dealing with shades of imposter syndrome. A way to face that saboteur is by realising your self-worth perfectly on the dancefloor, boogying the night away in the company of closest collaborators and mind-bending beats. ‘Big Tings’ was only an entrée to something grander coming very soon: “It definitely has given me a lot more confidence to feel like I can just push into different avenues when I know that I have a clear vision and I know how I’d want that to look,” the designer admits.
“Emerging designers especially are taking on the responsibility of not only educating people about consumption and being honest about how things are made, but they’re also trying to fix it.” Away from the industry’s rigid schedule, Taya Francis makes sure to serve her best every season, whenever that may be for Knit and Ting – a brand threaded with history and consciousness.
Born in Belfast and based in East London, designer Tara Hakin, hacked into the female form to subvert and elevate its very construct. Tech-forward, graphic silhouettes are made for modern warriors too busy to comply with any norms, just like the designer: “It’s never been about the fashion industry. If anything, I try and go against that in some of my more costume design pieces which are more experimental,” Tara explains. The designer races for the authentic and empowering forms of self-expression from two sides – her ready-to-wear collection line, favoured by a legion of celebrities like the Kardashians, as well as costume work for iconic artists including Celeste and Rosalía.
“It’s a dream really having the two sides to my work because I feel like people come to me when they know what they want. They approached me because they liked that side of me as well which is great,” Tara says. Like her work, Tara’s design process is unique: “I tend to make things 3D on the mannequin in person and then I can translate that and develop it in real-time, in real life, instead of sketching”. That approach lets her think freely in a digital sense, exploring beyond two-dimensional limitations. “A lot of my past research has been strong in post-modernism. I love the juxtaposition of a certain energy. A lot of graphics,” she explains. The graphic work, born mainly from a collaboration with an artist An Nguyen, bends over itself and melts metal that wraps around the body like an A.I. tailored protective shield. “The shapes I do are quite feminine. Making the prints of cars and metal is subverting the form, the individual’s form. It’s like armour for the female,” Tara says, “An extension of yourself. You just feel good”.
That’s exactly what she amplified in her Boiler Room x Unlock Your City event in East London, entitled ‘Roadkill’. “It was very much like a world of how I pictured my brand being. The set design was very led by a 3d aspect. It was all cars, used car parts, wiring and reflective surfaces. It was incredible,” the designer shares, “Getting to have four incredible people on the line-up who are all great in different ways, it moulded together very well.” The creative collaboration flourished from the ground of mutual understanding, from graphic to set designers, everyone wanted to be a citizen of Tara’s distorted utopia led by femme post-fighters.
Though Tara doesn’t design with a club in mind, her pieces look spectacular on dancefloor-ready bodies, especially customers’ favourite print dresses that play with shape to give off the coolest-looking illusions. The venue quickly filled up with friends and creatives bringing Hakin’s vision of a future-forward army to life. “Everyone just turned up wearing my clothes. It felt like my funeral or something. Everyone wants to have fun. More so since the pandemic.”
On a highway now, it might seem that Tara has been rolling like that since day one but in reality, the road was full of traps and surprises. Especially when working odd jobs and having to re-evaluate in the lockdown: “Conversations need to be had about the transparency of that. Instagram is such a highlights reel. People don’t see what goes on behind the scenes sometimes. I like to be really upfront with that because no matter the amount of celebrity attention, that doesn’t pay your rent,” the designer opens up. Luckily the struggle has paid off. Working on new capsulate collections and still in an after-collaboration enthusiasm mode, Tara looks at what she’s constructed so far with a sense of pride. Well-deserved.
“I’m in a very good place right now mentally. Just building on what I’m working on and I’ve just got a good routine. I’m in the studio pretty much every day. I love what I do so much, so it doesn’t really… very rarely, sometimes very rarely it feels like work,” she says, “I enjoy every day. I used to wake up every day when I had other jobs and felt like dread”. There’s nothing more precious than waking up in the morning and setting yourself off on a creative mission, and Tara Hakin’s one is grand. She wants to prove to us that we’re fierce, no matter what. And if we need an extra layer to help us realise it and protect us, so be it.
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