Biology, culture, and social coding no longer confine the expectations of the roles men and women occupy. Gender is not a new topic in fashion but it is rarely approached in the right way. So let’s take Kitty Garratt’s collection, which has focused on creating clothing for the individual and not for gender stereotypes. Taking inspiration from her childhood home, a house filled with clashing prints and kitsch William Morris wallpaper, the knitwear graduate combined nostalgia with her immediate surroundings of London’s concrete jungle to create a gender crossing collection that translated her womenswear collection into a menswear catwalk. “At one time William Morris was seen as posh and expensive but now it can be seen as kitsch or tacky. I wanted to play with the idea of taste and that’s the basis of my collection.”
Kitty’s surface design research and inspiration came from old traditional pottery and paintings, sourced from back issues of the Saatchi catalogues. Having a mother who worked as a potter made it a natural starting point. For her silhouette, she started by fixating on historical imagery of medieval clothing with their long winkle picker shoes and tight leggings combined with formal jackets and gathered shirts. The proportions of this medieval attire triggered Kitty to look at playing with unusual proportion, awkward shapes and show stopping shoes. “I made the shoes really early on as I became obsessed with them, and getting the shape right. I started by just playing with wire and mud rock before painting them. I then used them in every fitting from the start. The shoes were a really big part of my collections and process.”
Playing with that idea of proportion, scale and taste, Kitty designed a collection of awkwardly fitted, slashed and manipulated garments that used techniques like patchwork, embroidery, and knitwear, combined with elements of traditional suiting. Simple alterations were made to patterns to make the suits feel slightly off kilter, enabling the garments to naturally gather or crease in specific places, for example at the knees and shoulders.
The knitwear was moth-eaten and decorated in embroidery. The prints were taken from tapestry and pottery and placed onto the knitwear in the form of a machine embroidered placement prints. The tops were hand painted to resemble Monet water lilies. “It was about taking an object that has been around for years and associated with a certain time or meaning and creating a new meaning for it. Like classic Wedgwood pottery; I took elements of that design and turned it into a single embroidered patchwork. Suddenly it feels new again. During my year out I lived in Paris and kept going back to the Monet water lilies. I did small studies to use as prints so I could transform end of the line and cheap fabric into something luxury.”
Greys and neutrals reminiscent of concrete and pavement collided effortlessly with the muted and subtle floral prints and painted watercolour tops. “My concrete look was inspired by Henry Moore sculptures, which also became my inspiration for my bags. The whole collection was a juxtaposition between growing up in the country surrounded by fragile and delicate nature and then moving to London where you are surrounded by concrete. These contrasts allowed me to play with texture. While most of the looks had floral touches the concrete look was harsh by comparison, I made it with a mix of paint, soil and paste.”
The final garments were pulled, tight, awkward and looked slightly shrunk on the male models. Originally designed for women, the silhouettes looked exaggerated and more unusual on men. The clothing pulls in places that wouldn’t pull on women. Reflecting on the outcome of her collection, Kitty explained, “It was a simple collection with little leggings and quite girly touches; if it was on woman it may have been seen as a more girly collection which is not what I envisioned so really it worked out perfectly.”
Kitty is keen to reinforce the point that she would not tell people she is a menswear or womenswear designer, as she believes the focus should be on the clothing “I just make a garment and then decide who looks best in it. I design a lot for myself and it’s amazing how one garment can become so many different things depending on who you put it on. It is a new way of designing. It feels natural to me that something can be transferable and adapted to any person regardless of gender. I did womenswear the whole three years but decided last minute to put the collection on men. I decided it looked best on men and that was that. To me it really does not matter who it is on.”
Words Naomi Barling