Jordan Dalah first encountered Tudor aesthetics as a teenager while learning how to paint in the style of Old Master realism. Each painting was an exercise in layering: hours of painstakingly adjusting lights and darks destined to disappear beneath the surface of the painting. “So much of it you don’t see, and at the last minute it comes together with like the subtlest touch of red,” he said. It was this aspect of painting that intrigued him – the gradual, meticulous build-up – a quality Tudor-era portraiture shares with the historical fashion it portrays. The period owes its fulsome silhouettes to armatures of “undergarments and underbustles,” basically three-dimensional underpaintings. “There’s a lot of layering that goes on in order to get that final product, like a corset or a big dress,” he said. Contemporary costumes of the period work like this too. “It’s basically a shell of so much stuff going on underneath, exactly like the principle of painting.”
“I’m inspired by theater and costume, and I say that a million times, but I’m not making clothing for theatre or costumes. It’s inspired by that.”
Despite Dalah’s fascination with costume, he hates his work’s designation as such. “I’m inspired by theater and costume, and I say that a million times, but I’m not making clothing for theatre or costumes. It’s inspired by that.” To him, the difference is categorical. “A costume is just shapes placed on a body,” he said. “Nobody cares about what the inside looks like.” It exists only as an exterior for an audience. To look within a costume, then, is tantamount to trespassing. On the other hand, a garment has no secret interior given that its viewer is a wearer who has full access. “You turn my stuff inside out, and there’s just as much thought in the inside of the garment,” he said. “All my stuff has to be made beautifully. That is the difference between costume and what I do.”
This stance Dalah learned on the BA womenswear course at Central Saint Martins. “My tutors would say to me, you can make a white t-shirt, but if you’ve not thought about the finishings of that shirt, for them, it’s not deemed fashion, it’s costume. But equally, you can get a TV screen and plaster it to a body, and as long as you’ve thought about the finishings of that, they will validate that as fashion.” No matter materiality, wearability, or disposability: of principal concern here is technique. “That really stuck with me,” he said. Not all the orthodoxy did though. “I was always battling a little in tutorials because I would never have enough 2D work to show. My sketchbooks didn’t look interesting enough, just very functional books of work I wanted to make.” He hated the pretense of retroactively curating process pages to justify ideas he’d already had. “It was so two-dimensional, and that really frustrated me. I spent my teen years just drawing fashion because I didn’t grow up learning how to sew. I drew and drew and drew. And then I got to fashion school and it was just more drawing!” He persevered, graduating in 2017 alongside Mowalola Ogunlesi, Goom Heo, Alex Wolfe, and Sheryn Akiki – an illustrious year for the course. Unlike those classmates, he evaded the gravitational pull of the MA and created his business right away.