Tired of the stale image of British menswear being so entrenched in its legacy of fine tailoring, Christopher Shannon founded his eponymous menswear brand in 2008 after graduating from Central Saint Martins’ MA Fashion. Fast-forward to today, and Christopher Shannon Menswear is a firm fixture of the menswear calendar – in fact, he will show his Fall Winter collection today at 18:00.

And if that isn’t enough, in June last year Shannon was awarded the inaugural BFC/GQ Designer Menswear Fund, while in September he presented his first line of womenswear for spring/summer 15, which FCP graduates Joyce Ng and Alice Neale have shot for us. We found out about what to expect from Christopher in the New Year…

So, let’s start at the beginning. Growing up when did you first feel an affinity with fashion?

I don’t think I ever felt an affinity with the fashion world. I was into music and visuals, but I didn’t really understand them as having anything to do with fashion. I was never into womenswear or fashion shows. That wasn’t really what I was interested in. It was only when I went to art school that it happened; everything that I wanted to do seemed to centre around fashion.

And what made you want to go to art school?

I wanted to get out of Liverpool and I thought art college was the best way to do that, so I went to Saint Martins. All I could really do at that point was draw, I wasn’t a particularly good craftsman and I always loathed pattern cutting.

What about in terms of personal style, did you always take an interest in how you dressed? 

I was always into clothes and what other people were wearing. But I was more into music, art and drawing. I never got into fashion, but I suppose I was always interested in what things looked like.

“With Louise it wasn’t really about didactic teaching. It was more a slow invasive torture. She doesn’t teach you anything; she just encourages you to think for yourself and to understand your own point of view.”

When was the moment you realised you could make a career out of what you were doing?

I think I’m still waiting for that moment. Haha. I don’t really think like that, I just kind of roll with it. After the BA, I did some styling for a bit and worked as a print designer and doing bits and bobs. But I went back to do the MA because I really enjoyed working with Louise Wilson.

How did working with Louise shape you as a designer?

She helped me find a validity in my work that I’d never really thought of before. She pushed me so hard and she gave me that scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to do the MA otherwise. At the time I didn’t think I’d get an interview let alone a scholarship. She gave me the opportunity. But even then, that wasn’t about wanting to work in fashion, it was more about wanting to work with Louise and see what she drew out of me. I just wanted to work with her really. If I’d have left the MA and gone on to do something else, it wouldn’t have surprised me.

What was the best thing she ever taught you?

There are so many things. With Louise it wasn’t really about didactic teaching. It was more a slow invasive torture. Haha. She doesn’t teach you anything; she just encourages you to think for yourself and to understand your own point of view. I always thought that her way of teaching could be applicable to anything; she could have been a fabulous landscape gardener and it still would have been amazing. She was very good at bringing skills out and she was very exacting with those skills.
“You can plagiarize so many things today because everyone’s attention is about three seconds long so no one really gives a shit if you just copy things.”

What kinds of things do you draw inspiration from?

Everything, really. I was looking at the collections I’m working on at the moment and thinking, ‘’God what a odd mix of things.’’ I’d spent most of the summer in Provence, but then when I came back to the studio I was in Edmonton all the time, and every time I drove through Edmonton I kept seeing these people with these really odd outfits on. So it was really a combination of being in the south of France and having quite a chic time going to galleries and then coming back and seeing the state of north London. I just try to combine the things that I see and I that I think is desirable.

What about things other than visual tropes, do you ever concern yourself with bigger, more loftier subjects like notions of masculinity or themes of identity?

I think the bigger subjects are so inherent to the work and the things that you look at. The work never stops. At least for me it doesn’t. I’m always doing something that is a continuation of what I’ve done before or a reaction against it. And all those things carry big ideas and tiny ideas. You don’t know it till you see it. It’s quite an odd process really.

“If I designed on a whim every season, I’d never make any money.”

Do you see a collection in your head before your approach making it or does it evolve more organically?

I think I’m more reactive than that. I always see what I don’t want it to be. And I sort of move around that. I’ll look at the last [collection] and see what it lacked or something I wasn’t happy with or something I need to push my team on. Or it could be as simple as going, ‘’we’re not doing enough shirts and shirts do really well. We should do a shirt story.’’ We have to take all those things into account. Because if I designed on a whim every season, I’d never make any money. And I’ve always been quite good at making money when I focus, so I try and meet the two things together.

A lot of designers ignore the commercial side as they see it as impinging on their ‘art’, but it seems to me that you’re quite interested in the commercial side, is that right?

It’s kind of a thrill to do it from a business point of view just as much as it is from a creative point of view. And I think that people who rely on their work as art exist through hype and that hype then turns into financial gain. It’s not completely either/or really. It depends on what you think has merit. The main thing you learn from the MA course is that you want to have integrity and a point of view. You can plagiarize so many things today because everyone’s attention is about three seconds long so no one really gives a shit if you just copy things. But if you’ve been educated in a certain way, you don’t really think that way.

“I don’t think you have to have a degree for anything. There are thousands of stupid people with degrees that can’t do anything and don’t have any point of view.”

Do you think that a degree is necessary to have a career in fashion?  

I don’t think you have to have a degree for anything. It depends on who you are, who you grew up around, how determined you are and how motivated you are. I was always interested at looking at things; I didn’t have to be motivated into looking at things. Just look at Judy Blame, he never went to college and he’s amazing. He’s so knowledgeable and informed. Those people are rare. There are thousands of stupid people with degrees that can’t do anything and don’t have any point of view. The graduates that do well are those that have a point of view. You either have one or you don’t.

Who do you design for?

I try to design for my team. There’s always some core viability. I don’t want the work to be ridiculous or for the sake of it. I design with a lot of people in mind. I probably wouldn’t wear a lot of it, as I don’t really wear fashion.

“The graduates that do well are those that have a point of view. You either have one or you don’t.”

I always love your choice of models, how do you go about casting for shows?

Do you know what? I don’t think that I’m good; I just think that everyone else is really bad. I just don’t understand why designers wouldn’t cast their own shows. They don’t even choose their own music. Those things for me are so integral. I would never be able to let anybody do that. Maybe that’s a bad thing on my part.
What about stylists?
I style my own shows. For some people it works really well. But every time I’ve worked with a stylist they may as well have not been there as I did what I wanted anyway.

Is it a case of too many stylists spoiling the broth?

Exactly. I mean I work so well with my team anyway and so many of my friends are stylists. It’s not that I’m secretive; I do all my soundboards with my friends. But working one on one with them…I don’t know. I need more support in terms of technical support, places where I lack concentration. But when it comes to putting things together, it’s the best bit. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to do it.
What’s been your proudest moment so far?
I don’t know; I’m not really good with things like that. I wouldn’t really know. I don’t think I’ve ever had a big moment. I mean winning that prize this year was nice. It’s quite a nice sensation to be able to pay people and have a team that relies on you. It’s nice to have things all turned over and allow people to keep their jobs. That’s a good sensation.
“I just wanted a really solid rail of good, wantable things that lots of people in the industry would wear. There are so many people making clothes that no one buys.”

What are you working on at the moment?

LC:M for men and then Resort for women as well, which we’ll take to Paris with us at the same time.

How’s it all going?

It’s good; the women’s looks nice. I like it. It’s really nice to not do a show and concentrate on a project and just look at ideas as opposed to putting a spectacle together at all that expense. I’d rather think about the pieces and the customers and the finishes and getting something down that’s viable and looks good. And at the moment it does look good.

What can we expect to see?

We did loads of knits, because I think we’ve been quite good at knits recently. And autumn/winter is a chance to do loads of it. There are a few continuations from the spring/summer collection because not everyone saw it. It was quite a quiet offering. This will be a bigger offering and the girls will be a bit older. I just wanted a really solid rail of good, wantable things that lots of people in the industry would wear. There are so many people making clothes that no one buys.

New year’s resolution?

I haven’t thought about it.  I don’t really get a new year as the show is in January! I just want another month in France in the summer – as long as I get that I’ll be happy.

Interview by Tish Weinstock

Photography, styling, everything… by Joyce Ng and Alice Neale

All clothes from Christopher Shannon’s first womenswear collection for SS15 – a special thank you to Paul Barlow and Sarah Winton from Concrete Projects!

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