Representing the creative future

Thoughts on Fashion and Ego with MCQ

The new Alexander McQueen label rewrites fashion hierarchies by focussing on creative collaboration

MCQ GENESSIS II

Fashion has an ego problem. This much we know. Essentially, fashion deals in the commodification of identity, and the most efficient way to do so is through the creation of personalities. Few other fields know how to seasonally find a muze, glamourise their lifestyle and distil it into covetable, click-to-order merchandise. These muses might be models or musicians, they can be clients or a sample-wearing editor but in most cases – and this is what makes it all so confusing – the overbearing identity of the label is personified by the designer themselves. Even in their absence, designers can be influential personalities. (We’re looking at you, Mr. Margiela).

But for a system that centres around the ego, human subjectivity is given little agency. Outside of our habitual fascination with sellable personalities, barely any attention is given to the actual human beings that make up this industry. This is problematic when it comes to outsourced production (no one needs a reminder of the labour issues that plague the industry), but equally concerning when it comes to the organisation of the creative process. Indeed, either you are the star, or you serve them. There is no in-between.

This traditional hierarchy of creativity is not easy to change, but there are some who try. MCQ is a new label under Alexander MCQueen looking to break down the standard design model through collaboration. Rather than appointing a single creative director, MCQ wants to combine as many voices as possible.

“In the fashion industry, collaborators often have to work within quite rigid frameworks in terms of a brand’s design aesthetic and creative vision,” a member of the MCQ design team explained. “By decentralizing how we operate, it allows us to work with freedom and gives the collaborators more scope. Nothing is off the table creatively. All ideas are valid.”

FASHION AND EGO WITH MCQ GENESIS
Photography by Alexandra Leese, styled by Bianca Raggi
FASHION AND EGO WITH MCQ GENESIS
Photography by Alexandra Leese, styled by Bianca Raggi

Still in its infancy – the official launch was on September third – the label presents itself as a place to experiment with work methods and eventually set up a new paradigm for creative production. Their first collection, titled GENESIS II, focussed on the creative collaboration that happens at the communication stage, bringing together eight creatives from different fields and giving them carte blanche, only to start with a new team for the next collection.

When asked about it, every single collaborator on the MCQ project agreed: good things come in groups. “There is almost nothing more exciting than to see how a project progresses when different creative minds work towards the same goal,” said photographer Alexandra Leese.

“One problem for a lot of fashion brands is time – or lack of,” the design team continued. “We are actively trying to change our design path and improve our supply chain to allow more time for collaboration and ideation, which is key to our overall ethos.”

This method seems particularly fit for the mix-and-match generation in fashion, one who no longer believes in head-to-toe mono-dressing and is used to combining different genres, switching their style icons each season. The MCQ model also taps into something Calum Gordon referred to as the hip hop approach to creation, where collaboration isn’t just a creative partnership, but also a way to prove your knowledge, connections and credentials.

FASHION AND EGO WITH MCQ GENESIS
Photography by Alexandra Leese, styled by Bianca Raggi
FASHION AND EGO WITH MCQ GENESIS
Photography by Alexandra Leese, styled by Bianca Raggi
FASHION AND EGO WITH MCQ GENESIS
Photography by Alexandra Leese, styled by Bianca Raggi
FASHION AND EGO WITH MCQ GENESIS
Photography by Alexandra Leese, styled by Bianca Raggi

This begs the question: where does a creative idea come from and who does it belong to? The traditional model would have us believe that each button is the brainchild of a single Karl or Marc or John, and that those who work below them are nothing more than a pair of hands that carry out the orders. This idea is not just outdated, it also stifles creativity. It’s what forces that categorisation: either you’re the creative or you’re the executor.

This does not have to be true.

“We don’t believe creativity is something people innately have or don’t have, rather the context helps creativity flourish,” explained Leanne Kemp, founder, and CEO of Everledger (the tech-company that developed the MCQ website which permanently logs the journey of each produced item).

So if creative expression can be shared and is born in-between people rather than inside of them, what makes that context ideal? It goes without saying that the moments spent outside of the studio can be crucial.

Like the time the whole MCQ team went out for drinks at the end of a long week, and after-work cocktails turned into after-rave smokes on the curb, where they collectively witnessed dawn and univocally decided the bright purple hues of the sky would have to be integrated in the collection, prompting them to fly to New York for a brainstorming session at Pantone, who were able to develop the custom colour “Hyperlilac.”

James Massiah who, together with Shy Girl, developed the concept for the MCQ launch party, agrees: “I suppose our time together is usually spent out at clubs, as revellers or performers or DJs, and in that sense we’re often in the mix with a lot of other artists fulfilling different roles in that space. When you’re sat with another poet conversing about our favourite writers or whatever, it’s always about collaboration in some regard.”

FASHION AND EGO WITH MCQ GENESIS
GENESIS II in progress
FASHION AND EGO WITH MCQ GENESIS
GENESIS II in progress
FASHION AND EGO WITH MCQ GENESIS
GENESIS II in progress
FASHION AND EGO WITH MCQ GENESIS
GENESIS II in progress

Ewen Spencer, a photographer, filmmaker and contributor to the MCQ project takes it even further. “Without clubs and parties it’s difficult to communicate a movement. Subcultural moments are steeped in grace, under pressure, acceptance and understanding of how you can change your circumstances even for a moment, that can be hugely emancipatory and generate enough energy to make real change.” As a documentarist on youth and subculture, he has seen first-hand how ideas flow through and are strengthened by communities, not individuals. That they can be born in studios, skate parks and raves, not just in individual minds.

Thinking about creativity as a shared experience rather than an individual’s expression also raises questions of ownership. Who deserves the recognition? Afterall, it’s in the space of social validation that egos are at their most vulnerable. David Rudnick, who worked as a consultant art director on GENESIS II, sees the need for a system change: “We must build new systems that offer people better ways of finding value, originality and creativity in their lives, without selfishness, where ideas are shared and creativity is rewarded.” As founder of graphic design studio Terrain, he believes the key is generosity, “creating platforms and approaches that make selfishness less valuable, creating rewards from crediting others, offering value to the viewer, so more people can take the stage, be given opportunities, and have talents and passions recognised.”

Rudnick points at a key player in the creation process, too often given a passive role: the audience. “Only the things you make just for yourself, the things that nobody will ever see, are truly yours. As soon as anyone else sees anything it occupies a completely different space. That’s no bad thing, it just is what it is,” wrote director Duncan Loudon. Who something is designed for is equally important as who it is designed by.

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Hyperlilac by MCQ, Francis Plummer
mcq_1granary_genesis
Duncan Loudon
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Hyperlilac by MCQ, Sasha Davai
mcq_1granary_genesis
Crowd Shot by Ewen Spencer
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For MCQ, this meant keeping the connection between the brand and the client alive even after the design has been sold. Through data tracking technology, developed by Everledger, all product information is being registered on their blockchain. This shows each item’s journey and allows a customer to register the digital asset of their purchase on my.mcq.com. “The technology is designed to connect designer, producer and wearer, to each other and to the origin. Thus, we aim to tackle one key problem of the apparel industry: product depreciation.”

MCQ only just left the starting blocks, so any conclusion on these working methods are mere hypotheses. Nevertheless, it is worth considering how collaboration could be further nurtured by our industry at large. Does the cultural framework within which we operate offer enough compensation, both financially and symbolically, to those who decided to share their skills, ideas and talents? Who truly benefits from the idea that creativity is a lone man’s job?

There are no unified answers to these questions, but starting the conversation could be a first step in breaking the ego of fashion (and that of our own).

FASHION AND EGO WITH MCQ GENESIS
Photography by Alexandra Leese, styled by Bianca Raggi

 

* In collaboration with MCQ

1 Granary

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With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

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