Representing the creative future



There is poetry in Edward Cuming’s clothing that is mirrored in his speech and approach to design. Cuming has a fascinating way of inviting us to slow down and consider the actions of the quotidian, creating a temporal space to consider our daily and seasonal “ceremonies” and appreciate the specialness of those moments. As he describes coming into his brand, he speaks of a slow and earnest growth and a commitment to his instincts and the essence of his designs.

You were born in Australia and went to Central Saint Martins for school. Now you’re running your brand from Madrid.

I left Australia and did my BA in Barcelona. Then, I worked in the industry for a year just about until I did my MA at CSM and moved to London. Now I live in Spain.

“Transitioning from school to starting a brand was a couple of years of slow growth to get us to the point where we are now, 3 or 4 years later, where we are a ‘proper brand.'” – Edward Cuming

Looking at all of those different places that you have lived in, has that influenced your perspective as a designer?

Everyone is affected by their surroundings, right? I’ve been in different contexts, different cultures, with different people. For example, Sydney doesn’t really have a big change from season to season. I wasn’t used to wearing big coats or having a winter wardrobe. There are only a couple of days in the year where you have to wear an extra layer. This last season was the first season that I did winter clothes and heavier pieces. The brand has always been associated with quite light, summery things, so it was living in these places like London, or even Madrid that has these very distinct kinds of seasons throughout the year. Here in Spain, there’s this culture of “the changing of the wardrobe”; whole families will do a big taking everything out, packing it up and changing the wardrobe over. It’s kind of ceremonial almost and I had never seen that in my life before. London is a very inspiring place and especially CSM. It opened my eyes up to a whole new world of fashion and the way people dress. All of that feeds into what I am doing.

That’s wonderful how even something as simple as how seasons present themselves in different places can change how you consider design. Can you tell me what it was like to start your brand and make that transition from school to practice?

It was really kind of slow. I hate the word organic, but it was organic. I thought I wanted to go and work for a house after finishing CSM, so I was sort of interviewing at many places, getting a lot of rejections and had lots of issues with visas because I’m Australian. Then, the British Fashion Council asked me if I wanted to show part of my MA collection 6 months later at London Fashion Week in January, and I thought “Why not?” just to give the collection another go. Opening Ceremony in the United States saw my collection and wanted to know if I was doing market. I had these pieces – they were from my MA collection, and I remember getting the 1 Granary girls, who were handling my press in London at the time, to shove 9 or 10 pieces into a plastic bag. I picked that up in Paris and went to the hotel room and the buyers took this stuff out of this disgusting bag and then they placed an order. So I was like “Great, let’s just give this a shot then! I’ll try to reproduce this collection to see how I deal with that process of production,” and one thing led to another. For a few seasons I was still treating it as a trial run: Can I do it? Is there a space for my work in the market? In my second season Matches wanted to place an order and I did a proper showroom(ish) in Paris and kind of took the next step. Before I knew it, I was in the spin of it all without really having like ever made a strict decision to do so. When Comme des Garcons came and met me and bought the collection just before the pandemic, that’s when I started feeling like “Ok, I’m having luck with some stores and there is a space for the work and people who understand what I am doing.” Transitioning from school to starting a brand was a couple of years of slow growth to get us to the point where we are now, 3 or 4 years later, where we are a proper brand I suppose.

“When you’re in a school environment you’ve got so much time to experiment, you aren’t really thinking about how to produce something with a commercial end, so there were a lot of treatments and details that were hard to do at scale.” – Edward Cuming

As you went through this gradual process of trail collections, what was it like actually doing the production?

The first collection was really hard because it had been over a year since I used the fabrics but the buyers wanted things to look exactly the way the MA collection looked. That was difficult because when you’re in a school environment you’ve got so much time to experiment, you aren’t really thinking about how to produce something with a commercial end, so there were a lot of treatments and details that were hard to do at scale, even though it was small still. It was a lot of running around London trying to find that one fabric that I had used. It was a very basic lining, but it had a nice print on it and the way it morphed in the wash made it become very special, like a seersucker, even though it wasn’t. I went to the store and the store had closed down. I looked inside and I could see that they were packing all the fabric up and half of the store was empty. I managed to convince the moving people to let me in just to see if the fabric was still there, and they had a whole roll of it. I managed to call the owner, they had already sold the fabric to some warehouse, and I convinced them to sell the roll to me. I kept producing with that fabric for a couple of seasons, as people kept asking for it. Production is hard, but having small orders at the beginning with a few stores gives you a chance to understand “How do I scale a pattern properly?”, “Do I need to digitize?” All these bits and pieces so when you do have to scale up you’ve worked out a lot of those kinks already.

“You’re not going to do anything perfectly, so my advice – to myself but also to anyone that wants to start a brand – is don’t dilute what you want to say too early.” – Edward Cuming

As you look back at how you came into your brand, is there any advice you would give to your past self?

I don’t have any regrets. You learn things from season to season and you do them better, but you have to go through those to understand how it works. You’re not going to do anything perfectly, so my advice (to myself but also to anyone that wants to start a brand) is don’t dilute what you want to say too early. I think brands are naturally capitalist and in this consumerism environment, you can feel this pressure to dilute what it is you’re doing and make a merchandising-type of product. We’ve been really strict in our brand – in the work that I do, and the work that my team does – to not create an unnecessary product and stuff that I don’t feel is interesting or cool. That’s not to say that everything is out-there and wild, but I’ll ask “Does this say anything or can people find this somewhere else where they’re already doing this and doing it better than us?” You need to stay really clear with your vision and the pillars of your work, whether that’s finishings, fabric, textile manipulation, whatever that may be, keep that as strong and true and as raw as possible for as long as possible. Repetition works, one season a store will see it, they’ll see it again another season, and then the 3rd or 4th season maybe a bunch of stores will say “I’ve seen this now. I need to buy it.” This is the same for the people that are consuming it, so I think it’s important to stick to that vision whatever that may be and not worry so much if the first shot you take is slow, because it takes time.

“Repetition works, one season a store will see it, they’ll see it again another season, and then the 3rd or 4th season maybe a bunch of stores will say ‘I’ve seen this now. I need to buy it.'” – Edward Cuming

There’s a very human and personal feel to your work, so I would love to hear how you would describe your last collection.

I think it’s about elevating classic pieces, like a shirt, but layering that up, or cutting it away, or washing it. I love this process of making things that feel like they’ve had to be handled by someone. It’s like a rejection of the industrial process – even though we need the industrial process. I love the idea that we receive a bunch of shirts and we are going to hand cut these circles out of each one. It’s such a simple gesture but it’s something that people who connect with the brand or know about fashion and how a garment is made will see that and go “ok that had to be done by hand.” There’s no other way for it to be done, especially when you’re not producing thousands of units and you can convince a factory to do that for you. That handheld touch and feel is in everything, even the volumes we create as well. If I am trying to make something comfortable, I really want to exaggerate that so like the cardigans in the last season are really really oversized but also very cropped so you can really swaddle yourself in them and that feeling in conjunction with the way we layer and things, and how things will fray, is what we are all about.

Looking at the very literal human touch in your collection that you just spoke to, your pieces also have this very ephemeral quality to them; they seem almost inspired by observations of simple moments in daily life that are then made special through your designs. How do you source that inspiration? 

When I was doing the MA at Saint Martin’s I would take a lot of photos and it felt so intuitive. Taking so many photos to keep on my phone of just things and people. Actually, for my first project there my research book was just full of photos and photos – a whole journal just full of photos: someone walking down the street and their top was just kind of pulling up in a weird place or a guy on the metro and he’s like laying against the window and his shirt crumples in a certain way. It’s just little things that catch my eye or catch my attention and sort of the banality of getting dressed in the morning. It’s just these very nuanced things like seeing someone who is wearing three t-shirts for some reason – whatever brought them to do that, I don’t know – but it all catches my attention. One piece that was kind of integrated from last season is mimicking a large top that is slipping off the shoulder, so it is about engineering and integrating these feelings that I notice into real pieces so that it becomes less of a styling thing and more of a garment. That’s the information that I am always looking for: you’re in a taxi and someone outside is on motorcycle without a jacket and you can notice the texture or the lightness of the shirt and maybe that can inspire a jersey that evokes that feeling that it is really really light and with just a little bit of wind that the whole thing is just going crazy. I don’t know, that’s really just how I start thinking about garments. My process is not so much “okay this season is about the 1950s and this is all the research we have on the 1950s.” It is so much more about pieces and garments, and as we start making and experimenting, the whole thing just starts to develop and we’re making, and making, and making and somehow with the help of our stylist, Patricia Villirillo, a collection comes out. That’s the process.

“Sometimes you get something else from the same image; you get two different feelings or two different ideas from one thing, so I really try to recycle research as much as possible.” – Edward Cuming

It must be very stimulating to look through your research book and to discover all of those little moments. 

Yeah! There are so many little moments and my research is just an ongoing thing. I have folders, and folders, and folders of images and every season I’ll look back through because sometimes you get something else from the same image; you get two different feelings or two different ideas from one thing, so I really try to recycle research as much as possible. When I have a new intern in the studio, I give it to them, or even now I have an assistant and it’s cool to give him things that I was looking at 4 years ago and say “Well what do you think?” or “What are you seeing?” It gives you an opportunity to look at it in a new way. I think it’s important just having people around us to keep us thinking in new ways and at the same time the brand is really rooted in real clothes; I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s just a nuanced way to think about a garment – engineering and elevating things that feel quite normal to make them a little bit more special.

Once you’ve got this wealth of research and you’ve bounced your ideas off of some of your creative collaborators to hear their input or their vision, what does the design process look like for you when you sit down and start to draw out your collection?

Well, I don’t draw. I have to be honest; I don’t draw, or maybe I’ll do some crappy little sketch, so really I would just say “let’s start with a shirt, there are three ideas” and then let’s look at this manipulation with the fabric and see what we can do with that. Then things just get things rolling from there. I think about everything like a category, so I will think about knitwear because that’s the first thing we need to work on in order to launch because it takes a bit longer. We’re thinking about qualities, defining some key images and then developing off of that – it’s very organic because the design process goes simultaneously with production and with everything that you have to do on a day-to-day basis with a brand. I think just to get the ball rolling I need to see a trouser, a shirt, and maybe a piece of outerwear maybe in toile form and then from there it’s off to the races; it’s time to develop, develop, develop. I also never feel like it’s done. I don’t know how to explain it, but I never have a start point and an endpoint for a collection, I just keep going and saying “this is the last piece,” then “no, this is the last piece.” It’s kind of cathartic you define these feelings or these little notions that you want to put into clothes, ideas for color or print and then you just vomit it all out.

It’s fascinating to me how this parallels your story of how the brand slowly started to grow from trial collections into what it is today. The collection starts with these little moments and garments and organically grows into its shape.

Yeah, totally, and of course, there are the realities of wholesale – people want certain things or certain amounts of things – they want to have options, but I try to keep things edited. I don’t like the idea of overproducing or oversampling, so for my collections it’s more of a question of what feels like a sensible amount for the brand that we are and the amount of space that we take up in the retail world. Making a 100-look collection or even a 50-look collection for us would be silly because it would start diluting things, so I like to keep it edited. I don’t want to make things that feel unnecessary or that don’t feel like “I would really like to see that on somebody” or “I would love to wear that myself.” Even if some seasons have less or more, I try to keep it open and edited because sometimes the overproduction of things or oversampling is insane. Some large brands produce so much stuff that it just kind of becomes a merchandising exercise.

“Are we going to stop creating things simply because they may not have a commercial endpoint? The answer is no.” – Edward Cuming

To come off of that and tie in your goal of never wanting to dilute the brand and your vision, as you have developed your brand do you feel like there are any sacrifices that you have had to make for the business?

Yes, I think so. I think that’s reality. In the beginning, there were some pieces that we were making that were very intricate in the sense that the process was long. It was like dying 7 fabrics in different colors then hand-tearing them apart and hand-patching them together to make 1 shirt. I have seen what that is like in the production process now, on a slightly larger scale, and there comes a point where you are like “We really love what we have done, but we can’t put this into production.” But that’s fine! I wouldn’t even call it a sacrifice; I would call it a compromise. Are we going to stop creating things simply because they may not have a commercial endpoint? The answer is no. I want us to keep doing these things and just have enough awareness of our situation to say “Ok, we’re not going to offer this to every store” and we’re not just going to say “Order, order, order, order,” because it’s too much. But, we still make those pieces and there are some stores that we have a longstanding relationship with or where we have a good relationship with their buyers and we’ll know that they’ll be interested and that’s the compromise, even if it’s just for this one piece or two pieces. Then of course there are fabrics too – it’s money stuff really it’s just understanding what’s possible and what’s not possible because sometimes you’ve just made this piece and you do your calculations for your price and you’re like, “I can’t even afford that.” It’s hard to compromise, but you have to think about how to balance the offerings so that it’s affordable but doesn’t lose their essence. For example, we’re not a brand that will ever make logo t-shirts because that wouldn’t make sense for us – I mean I love a logo t-shirt and I’m wearing one right now from a Gyro restaurant – but I think that’s the kind of merchandising stuff that doesn’t fit inside what were making.

I think even compromises on a very honest level mean that when you’re the founder of a brand you also realize that you’re the last person that gets paid. If you want to grow your team, you have to have them reimbursed for their work. I can’t have someone working for me 5 days a week that is not earning anything. We have interns – we only take on 1 or 2 a season – and they are often doing that for credit with the university – but if they are going to be here and work for me, I prefer to pay them first and one day my time will come to have a salary. I teach on the side; I am a teacher at the university in Barcelona. I take on this other job so that I can keep doing the brand. I think that the sacrifices and the compromises you make are to put your team first because you can’t do it without a team, you have to have a team that feels respected and valued for what they are doing.

“Compromises on a very honest level mean that when you’re the founder of a brand you also realize that you’re the last person that gets paid.” – Edward Cuming

I really appreciate your perspective there because the fashion industry can be pretty cutthroat. 

And people at some places can take advantage of the clout associated with what they are doing and that can often create loopholes. One thing with an internship is that companies have their own conditions on what that entails, but you’ve got people that have graduated from university and there has to be compensation for what they are doing. It doesn’t feel right otherwise. Then of course there’s this oversaturation of interns and some really talented design students that are just sweeping the floor and making coffee all day, and it’s just a waste of time – you’re not offering them anything in that way. That’s why we try to be very careful about how many people we bring in so that I don’t see that someone is doing nothing. There’s nothing worse than that. I’ve had that feeling before of being a bit useless, and I think that’s awful. I don’t want anyone to feel useless. I want to inspire them and make sure that they feel involved in the project, so I think being careful of the people you have around you is really important.

“I really want to begin to invite people into the process and create that universe in a more tactile show.” – Edward Cuming

Looking at your next collection and the evolution of your brand, what’s next? What will the brand look like a year from now or five years from now?

We want to continue this slow growth. We took a big jump last year and we’ve grown quite a lot. We are now in 20 to 25 spaces in the world as retail, which was a big jump. We want to keep growing that but really maintain and understand our relationship with the consumer better because we want this to last for a long time. Our goals for the brand for the next season are hoping to start showing in a more physical way because right now we don’t do a show or presentation. We have showrooms in Tokyo and Shanghai but hopefully, we’ll be back in Paris soon because we would really love to start presenting in a more physical way just to open up that universe to people that we do have and we’ve got so many great collaborators and artists that we work with. I’ve got people that have a lot to show so I really want to begin to invite people into the process and create that universe in a more tactile show.

I can’t wait to see what that looks like and what that space grows into.

You and me both! I have no idea right now, but there are a million ideas, so it’s just about figuring out what feels right for us. It is exciting and I think in the next year or so we can continue to grow and expand the operation, have more people around and possibilities. I want to invite more people into the world of the brand and show them what it’s about.