“The thing is, I’m not a big fan of fashion.” Unexpected words, perhaps, from the Central Saint Martins BA Menswear alumnus who has just presented her second collection since graduating in 2013. Having adopted a slow fashion approach, Israel-born Roni Ilan purposefully chose not to partake in SS16, alongside having taken a two-year gap in designing since her Isamu Naguchi-inspired menswear collection that she presented at the CSM graduate show. Following this impressive start, Ilan found inspiration for her subsequent AW15 collection from being pregnant and giving birth to her daughter, Baxter, entitled, ‘When One Becomes Two.’ AW16 manifests the next stage in that evolution: Initiation.
Having stowed away the idea of initiation since finishing her previous collection (two seasons ago), Ilan admits to having over a hundred sketches of what this season would look like. Instead of pandering to the pressure that the fashion industry creates to be constantly churning out new material, especially as a young designer, Ilan adopts a slower approach, believing that there’s no point doing something without dedicating enough time to do it properly. She explains: “It was a matter of where I was in my life. When I did AW15, my daughter, she was nine months old when we produced it. It just meant that I needed a bit more time. I just feel that it wouldn’t have come out the way I wanted it to come out. So I had to wait. The idea was there, but I had to take some more time.” Needless to say that this is a bold move for any designer, but an even bolder one given the recent announcements made by the likes of Tom Ford and Burberry to align their shows with retail. Far from being daunted by the #SeeBuyWear approach, Ilan instead rationalises its existence, believing that it’s “amazing, but you need money to produce it. The whole industry is a business, but it doesn’t make sense for young designers.”
“I look at the same thing again and again. I’m not really broadening my horizons. Rather, maybe doing the opposite, like focussing more on one thing.”
Ilan’s slow-cooked approach to fashion manifests not only in the time she takes, but also in the volume she creates. ‘When One Becomes Two’ consisted of four different looks, rather than “twenty looks that nobody is going to buy,” which is a quote taken from her previous interview with us last year. Having designed an eight-outfit collection this season, it’s evident that the principle still prevails. For Roni, it’s definitely a matter of quality over quantity: “So many changes had happened to me since my graduate collection, I had to kind of take it easy and produce something that I was really happy about. I didn’t have a studio, I was working from home, so I wasn’t there in the sense to just make loads of clothes, I wanted to make one thing that was strong.” In the same way that producing around twenty different looks that nobody is going to buy is just not economically viable for an emerging designer, neither is it necessary.
When it comes to inspiration, Roni says: “It’s mostly not just something I look at. I have very limited interests. I look at the same thing again and again. I’m not really broadening my horizons. Rather, maybe doing the opposite, like focussing more on one thing.” For Ilan, without a strong concept, there’s nothing. We can see how this approach manifests, looking to the very specific concepts from which she draws inspiration, which have thus far been connectivity and childbirth. Roni divulges that she cannot be inspired by the inanimate, because it’s more about reading behind what is displayed on the surface. Fashion, to Ilan, is just the medium through which she produces an image, which comes from an initial idea, explaining that, “you need to have visual inspiration, but it comes from a concept rather than just a thing.”
Initiation is both name and inspiration for AW16. Since giving birth to Baxter and finishing her previous collection, Ilan informs that she has been doing a lot of yoga, referencing Elisabeth Haich’s book, also by the same name. It’s an evolution from the physical connectivity that she used as a motif for AW15, into the incorporeality of this season. Ilan states, “AW15 was about one becoming two and how we’re connected in that way…physically. This collection is more about a spiritual connection.” Connectivity plays an integral role for Ilan’s work, both past and present, but also future. Without divulging too much about the inspiration for the upcoming SS17 collection, Ilan simply mentions the Bhagavad Gita – the main spiritual book in India – and the story of Krishna going to battle. But she has two weeks before she needs to finalise anything.
Roni Ilan AW16
“Because I’m a girl doing menswear, it’s not like what I would wear, it’s more of an artwork.”
But back to this season, where Ilan ups the ante. The strong, clean and masculine silhouettes are now connected to their surroundings on a twofold level. In particular, Ilan describes a jacket that she credits as being the defining piece of the collection: “This jacket [pointing to an image on the front of her lookbook] took more time than all the other garments together. This is the one that made me happy, and once you produce something you’re really happy with you can, from that, make a lot of other clothes. Most of the patterns from the collection are derived from this. The most work was this one.” The aforementioned ‘connected jacket’ extends from its own technical boundaries and is interlinked with its peripheries, giving it a physical element of connectivity. Within the different layers of cotton exist openings that connect the jacket to metal and concrete sculptures. The other level of connectivity manifests in the form of two films that Ilan projects onto the collection during her fashion week presentation. She explains, “I like the whole changeability thing, I’ve always been interested in clothes that change from one thing to another, and since that’s not really practical, I thought that by projecting onto them, it would make them change in a way.”
As our interview in her studio comes to an end, the question of whether or not Ilan plans to move into womenswear arises. Roni states that she likes the, “non-separation of men and women,” believing that the collection can be worn by anyone, regardless of their gender. While this is true, it is perhaps the distance of gender separation that allows her collections to be so successful, given the significance in which Ilan puts on having strong, conceptual inspiration. She states: “For me, because I’m a girl doing menswear, it’s not like what I would wear, it’s more of an artwork. I think once I start doing womenswear, I would maybe think more about myself and what I would like to wear, which is not what I am doing now.” What exists as most striking about the collection is the symbiotic relationship between design and presentation – and this can only come from a strong starting concept. Roni jokingly states that an Art MA is next on the agenda when asked what’s next for her. But to be honest, it’s entirely possible…
Words by Jake Pummintr
Studio photography by Jonas McIlwain for 1 Granary