Representing the creative future

New Waves: James Crewe

What do Alexander McQueen, Richard III and Blondie have in common?

James Crewe’s journey to his graduate collection has been inspired by his lifelong love of Lee McQueen, an obsession with collecting vintage catwalk clothing, modelling antics and panic, which all led to a free creative spirit shaping his designs.

Crewe is from Constable Country on the Essex/Suffolk border. He explained nostalgically how Lee McQueen triggered his application to Central Saint Martins. “I was very engrossed in all things McQueen when I was terribly lonely at school. I would read Judith Watt’s books on him, amongst others and read all the references I could get my hands on that she’d drawn from. I also started collecting the clothes from the collections I loved, I still do, when the dollar comes in. I’m very lucky to have met some of his collaborators through modelling and I really burn inside when I hear the stories they tell me of his passion and the process of forming a vision. Positively thrilling!”

James recalls his tutor at school making it clear to him Central Saint Martins was beyond his reach. “She told the entire GCSE class that it was her dream to become an artist but it didn’t work out for her, and we should face the fact that it’s not really going to work out for any of us in here too. Art is an after-work hobby.” Devastated and disappointed to see a dream being punctured, Crewe applied to CSM anyway. “That was the most tear worthy experience for me, to leave my portfolio on the desk for the foundation tutors to say yay or nay. I knew if I got onto that course I would be one of the lucky ones to get onto the BA. It was instinctual.”

His fear conquered, Gail Evans was the teacher Crewe immediately found a connection with on arriving at CSM for the foundation course. “She was a great encouragement on getting my portfolio ready to get on to the degree course,” he explains. The moment he saw the BA acceptances posted on the wall was thrilling. People crying with tears of pain or gain, some were fuming others euphoric. “I loved seeing it, it was pure theatre. Whenever I see something or someone at CSM who is questioning why they are here, I always cite that moment. The fight! Why give up now! You would be letting all those people down who got rejected along the way.”

His final collection’s initial inspiration came from watching a documentary on Yesterday by David Starkey about the Princes in the Tower of London and Richard III. This historical reference was combined with images of Debbie Harry of Blondie fame, who James admits always having had an ‘intense crush on’. He wanted to juxtapose these two worlds, using the ideas of a collaged dressing up session as a starting point.

The colour palette for the collection came from both Debbie Harry imagery and heraldry from the 15th Century. He developed heraldic patterns in various colours and printed them onto a soft banner paper to create trousers and a series of tie up tops. The collection was designed to be layered together, creating textural depth with crepes, chiffons, satins and lame combined. Alister Mackie helped style the final outcome to look as if these newly imagined princes were bedraggled with time, sprinkled with the carefree attitude of Blondie. The final outcome boasted crepe suiting, in the form of backless draped jackets bedazzled with metal diamonds, all encapsulating a fusion of early 80s Blondie and reinterpretations of 15th century slashing techniques often found on doublets. Stockings scattered with ostrich feathers dyed to match are used throughout the collection as a continuous styling choice; “They were very sexy tied at the thigh on the boys we cast for the show!”

On a visit to Westminster Abbey to see the princes’ tombs, James spotted some wood carvings. Preliminary sketches were developed into A1 drawings and with the help of sponsorship from Italian luxury leather brand, Foglizzio, who specialises in outfitting yachts, the designs were laser cut onto leather. This technique formed the basis of two looks. Feeling it was essential he had a shoe that ran throughout the collection and was as considered as the rest of the look, James rallied his friends Emma George, Younghwan Kim and Lilla Juhász from London College of Fashion (LCF) to collaborate with him to realise his suede winkle picker shoe with its unusual inclined heel; these were sponsored by Mastrotto.

He describes his current design process as “Panic! There really isn’t one. I’ve got a very overactive imagination. That was the biggest issue of the whole year, not knuckling down on one idea. I had too many. But in the end, it all came together in one month. I scrapped everything I had done for the previous eight months and started from scratch a month before the hand-in. I stopped looking on social media, online, books, films etc and got on with it. This is one of his main reasons for wanting to do the MA; to establish a method to his design process.”

Looking to the future a MA is on the cards as well as some modelling in Japan.  As for the immediate future, he has some more personal priorities, “I am bleaching my eyebrows tonight, it makes your makeup look that much more fantastic. I’m also considering facial hair laser removal; this beard nonsense is frustrating.”