Representing the creative future

Kiko Kostadinov, Laura and Deanna Fanning, Haley Wollens, and Eric Mack on their work-in-progress

The designers, stylist, and artist speak about their collaboration for an upcoming book

Last weekend menswear designer Kiko Kostadinov, and his womenswear counterparts Laura and Deanna Fanning, sat down with stylist Haley Wollens and artist Eric Mack in the cozy concrete basement of the newly opened number 9 Cork Street gallery space in Mayfair. The talk, hosted by Frieze and moderated by curator and writer Jeppe Ugelvig, centred around collaboration and exchange within the art and fashion worlds, the grey area at the intersection, and also actors outside of it.

Haley and Eric, who have been friends since they met on the street when Eric first moved to New York over a decade ago, are currently collaborating with the Kiko Kostadinov brand on a book of images that defy the norms of fashion imagery- favouring a slower, more artistic approach to fashion. After years of conversation, bonding over fashion and art, the pair are overjoyed to be finally working together on a book, “To be able to give a life to this bond Eric and I have had for years was just so exciting,” Wollens explains .

The work, they argue, represents the blurring that exists within New York and other global centres between the fashion and art landscapes. “Usually, when an artist comes into the fashion sphere, it’s not very good,” Wollens explains. “I think that’s because artists see it as so outside of themselves.” This work, which places a central role on the clothing of Kiko Kostadinov and the Fanning sisters, is born out of a desire for collaboration. Kiko and Eric met in the latter’s studio while Kostadinov was in New York working on his first Dover Street Market installation there. They have kept in touch since, but according to Kiko “Never thought about working together,” until just before the pandemic began when the group decided to collaborate on a book.

“The clothes are essentially the palette that we work with, they are the medium of the project.” – Haley Wollens

The project is very much a work-in-progress; “It’s amazing because we have so much time,” says Kostadinov, “I’m not interested in seeing the images until the book is ready.” It is a slowly evolving work revolving around the collaboration between design, styling, and art. According to Haley Wollens, “The clothes are essentially the palette that we work with, they are the medium of the project.” She goes on to speak about the beginnings of the project, “The goal was to make something that had a purpose. We both took photos at the same time. It was really boundary-less in terms of what we both gave to the book.” Wollens went on to explain the heightened significance that is placed on books versus other publications such as magazines, work that is generally more fleeting. “For Eric to co-sign, saying this is the two of us together collaborating, it unlocked this world within me and gave me this confidence,” Wollens adds.

Eric Mack then spoke of how creatively open this work has been. “It was such an intense, melding, and bonding experience. Thinking about the intent of the garment and its form.” Having no set deadline, it seems, can be hugely constructive in improving the creative outcome. “We did four or five shoots over the year, we had a bunch of conversations that we recorded that will also go into the book,” the work is constantly changing. “It’s such a luxury to have this time and discussion with an artist I admire so much,” Wollens notes.

“Having these clothes, which at the start were just colours and shapes, substances… It was really cool to have this process of discovering the pieces, inhabiting Eric’s space. To see the similarities between what he does and what I do,” Wollens explains. Jeppe Ugelvig probed further here, arguing all four practitioners go about their work in similar ways starting with a form of collage as the basis, quoting Elizabeth Wilson, “Getting dressed in the modern world is a matter of bricolage, of the coming together of garments and accessories that we have usually not made ourselves, combined to create a finished appearance. Every individual is a walking collage, an artwork of found items, or perhaps something closer to a contemporary installation, changing as it interacts with its audiences.”

When asked about this collaboration in relation to his practice, which centres around assemblages of textiles, discarded clothing, and various other forms of found objects, Mack explains: “It was an additive process, we sat down in the studio and workshopped.” Mack’s work focuses heavily on relics of a material time, creating pieces that become timeless and tactile. Speaking of Haley’s work, “A lot of it has to do with a sensibility around sensuality, sexiness, but also there’s emotional quality around much of the selections, it’s very much about tactility, the feel of something,” and element that he proposes transcends the work of Laura and Deanna Fanning.

“In fashion, you make clothes that you want people to wear. The most important thing for me is that I make work that looks like it was made in the time I was alive.” – Haley Wollens

Talking about their design practice, Jeppe quizzed the sisters on their extremely specific references and praised the way that they are able to foster a shared pre-existing appreciation for fashion history and research. Speaking about their methodology when it comes to research and material culture, “You can signpost what these physical objects were, we then collage them and reinterpret them,” explains Deanna Fanning. That re-interpretation aims to “move the conversation about the way women are presented.” The designer goes on to explain the pair find clothing so interesting due to them being “objects, tools, even conduits into a contemporary woman and who that is.” Wollens agrees. “In fashion, you make clothes that you want people to wear. The most important thing for me is that I make work that looks like it was made in the time I was alive.” It seems Kiko and the team are united with Hayley Wollens on this, presenting the contemporary aesthetic and pushing the idea of fashion as the art of the time.

The material cultures that greatly inform the sisters’ work is born out of a shared “appreciation of objects.” According to Laura, “I don’t think we get very excited when looking at a flat image.” This is something, according to Wollens, that she was very aware of when reading the clothes, “I think our generation is swallowed by references, we can have everything at our fingertips at any moment. You see a lot of regurgitation and mediocrity out there. I like to look at things, and I like to remove things far enough so that you get a feeling of something you’ve seen, liked, or loved but it’s not obvious. I don’t think that is pushed enough but I think the fact that we’re all aligned on that is what made this project so successful.”

“[In London] you are always an emerging designer, you really need to get out of here to be taken a little bit more seriously. ” – Kiko Kostadinov

When asked about the approach of the young brand, Kiko responds, “Such a young, five-year-old company having separate creative directors for men’s and women’s is quite unique.” He continues to speak on his experiences of being a designer in London, “You are always an emerging designer, you really need to get out of here to be taken a little bit more seriously. There is so much encouragement for new designers which is great, but how many new designers can we have in the city?” On the archival approach taken with this project; Kiko argues that the brand itself is far too young to have an archive, but that he “didn’t want to focus on a particular season,” sending a body of work spanning five years across the pond to be reinterpreted by Haley and Eric.

Wollens posits, “It’s so important to document an archive when it’s young. I always tell people, before you started with the new idea for the next season did you even have time to make last season the way you really wanted?”  There is a huge importance placed on fashion imagery in its ability to affect the way people think about or interpret physical objects and garments. Haley continues, “It moves too fast, it’s disgusting.” Speaking about the seemingly unstoppably fast pace of work in the fashion industry she adds: “Too many good things are being lost. I think that as we create these new systems, new paces, the most important thing is that people really start trusting and working to the beat of their own drum.” She spoke of how refreshing she found it to be working with Kiko Kostadinov, a relatively young company, who lacks the creative blockages that often arise when working with larger, more established brands. “It’s so important to reflect on the near past, and look into that, and evolve it more,” Wollens argues.

The book began in the dregs of the first wave of coronavirus, visibly translated by the lack of models in much of the imagery. The pair, for the first shoot, used a mannequin, “Thinking about the mannequin as a structure and as a life-like femme figure, we could then really think about the limitations and expanse of the garments themselves,” Eric explains. “It becomes almost an architectural condition that the clothes are under,” Haley adds. “It’s very hard to get a shoe on a mannequin,” she continues. “Dressing a mannequin was so different to dressing a real person, but it was a cool way to ease into that process.” Later on in the project, the pair worked with Eric’s sister Gaby, who modeled for the images. Gaby is a fashion designer “who had so much respect for the clothes she was putting on,” Mack notes. The pair then managed to make contact with Azealia Banks, who Haley jokes “became the voice of a nation” over the past year, “she really struck a chord with both of us. She is incredibly talented as a musician and through our connections, we got to her somehow.” On the shoot day, Banks “essentially styled herself.”

The images beautifully blur the boundaries between fashion imagery and art, blending textiles with garments creating a real visual representation of the collaborating forces involved in the form of imagery unlike that you could expect to see in an editorial or commercial shoot. Looking forward to the finished product, whenever it comes; “By Christmas!,” Kiko Kostadinov insists.