‘Creativity’. What exactly is it? It’s one of those abstract go-to terms, like ‘happiness’ or ‘love’, which means so many things to so many different people. And yet, ‘creativity’ is often overused, as though everyone knows exactly what it means, and so, it runs the risk of meaning nothing at all.
Some of history’s greatest philosophers, mathematicians and writers have tried to pin down, capture, describe and dissect the nature of creativity. Still, it evades us. The question of what creativity is, of how it works, will perhaps, remain one of humanity’s most unanswerable. If you could bottle, market, mass produce and flog it somebody would have done so by now. We’d all be paying over the odds and popping it in pill form.
Could this be because the art of creating, of being creative is, by necessity, the art of defying the rational and the explicable? It’s a feeling, a moment of inspiration, an idea which draws on multiple influences and yet, somehow, conveys the creator’s truth and vision to those who see it.
There is a rejection required in creativity, it breaks through the mundane to create a new kind of order: a mystical sort of chaos which somehow, oddly, makes sense.
This will strike a chord with anyone who ever went to one of Meadham Kirchhoff’s shows at London Fashion Week or followed their work with any interest. Their shows were immersive. Their collections were a seemingly ramshackle bunch of references which, somehow, transported you to another realm and made complete, fantastic and utterly ridiculous oxymoronic sense.
Their last collection was SS15. It was a tour through punk and riot grrl, with a simultaneous and paradoxical nod to hyper girlishness with New Romantic chiffon layering. It was a confrontation of conventional notions of femininity as well as a deliberately loud iteration of the politics of Punk.
Fittingly for their final show it was a historical tour and political medley of subcultures that also served as a comment on the difficulties of working within the fashion industry today; an industry, of course, which has both a complicated relationship with female oppression and prescribed ideas about femininity as well as its own internal political struggles.
Reject Everything was the title of Edward Meadham’s last collection as part of Meadham Kirchhoff. ‘Freedom is not reality’ was the sub title, the warning…the final message.
On a sunless and smoggy afternoon in November Edward Meadham opens the door to his Dalston flat.
His tiny Papillion Trojan bolts out before Edward can get his own foot through the crack and begins to run laps of the walkway.
The scent of lavender fills the room, misting from a diffuser. Edward sits in an armchair by the window dressed in nail-varnish-red PVC pants, a black jumper, his usual pearl necklaces and pointed black Miu Miu boots with a cleated sole from a couple of seasons ago, thanks to a determined Ebay search.
It’s one of those days, in mid autumn, when you realise that it’s time to put the heating on. Summer is over, any hopes of an autumnal heatwave are now little more than a pipedream and, inevitably, it dawns on you that the year is drawing to a close.
That’s the natural rhythm of things, inscribed in our calendar and reflected by the seasons. Beginnings in spring, comings together in the height of summer, reflections in autumn and endings in winter.
The breakup of Edward’s label and the events which followed were much publicised. Today he sips tea, reflecting on what made it work and on what made it so particular, so distinct and distinctive from anything else out there.
For a long time, his life was his work and vice versa. ‘The studio was my house. I only moved out 3 or 4 seasons before it all stopped. I worked in the same place as I lived for years….it was Helter Skelter, that collection with the rubber and the velvet…the one I didn’t like…that was the first season I didn’t live at the studio…the really black one.’
It was an immersive way of being, ‘it was a choice but then I became completely trapped in it, in my head, physically – literally I became pretty agoraphobic’, he says. ‘It was intense – it was all so consuming.’
Even now, in his flat, you do feel, as a guest, that you have walked into into Edward’s realm. Cutesy ceramic lamps in the shape of Bambi sit on vintage lace doilies, and a picture of Courtney Love peaks out from the corner of an antique mirror.
His environment would always inform his creative vision, he says. ‘There were times where I used things like this in a collection’, he picks up the lace doily, ‘it became a cut out denim’. ‘I would need to fill a gap and I’d pick something up and put it there. The collections were full of my surroundings…often specific references that were directly chosen but sometimes I’d just be sitting there thinking...my surroundings, everything…what I wore, what I saw – it was all important.’
This was palpable in his work: a nod to an Elizabethan lady trussed up in her ruff, a Disney princess cartoon reference and a wry sideways glance at fetish wear, all topped off with swampy grunge hair.
So how did he begin to conceptualise the collection each time? ‘Research. That’s how I began. Normally I’d have a couple of months after a collection –I was lucky – all I did was make collections – Ben did everything else. I would introvert between them and just think.’
His process was transformative, ‘I would become something else in a way…. after spending such a period of time being completely obsessed with one vibe I would be completely sick of it and then I’d have a period of being unutterably lost, like I’d given everything away and feeling empty and everything I would look at and hear and feel would be wrong but then gradually something new would sink in…but really more or less once that process was complete I’d begin researching.’
‘I would then go to the library and I had a brilliant girl, Daisy, who used to do a lot of this with me. I would just pick up piles and piles and piles of books – whatever books made my hand want to go to them. I would pick them up and go through them.’
‘I’m not always looking for something specific’ he stresses. His creative process is not prescriptive but, rather, one that’s open to possibilities. Once he’s collected material, he says, ‘I’ll keep editing and editing. Then suddenly I’ll remember an image that I saw…and I’d be like ‘in one of the issues of Vogue from 1992 there was a picture of somebody that had this on…’ This is where Daisy was amazing – she’d know exactly what I meant and go and find it. It was just a massive editing process…and that’s why there were so many elements brought together.’
So creation is a process of editing? Of selection and rejection? ‘I’ve been doing some teaching recently’ he says, ‘and it’s very depressing. I listen to teachers talking to kids about their research, they’ll be telling them to edit out irrelevant stuff – but I don’t see that. You have to bring it all together, even if I couldn’t articulate why I was bringing stuff together there was always a reason…’
So, is it the case that sometimes you can be so busy looking for one specific thing or chasing one idea that you’re actually blind to what’s in front of you that might be unusual or unexpected?
‘It sounds glib but it is all very instinctive and emotional for me. I’m so obsessive…completely instinctive. I wouldn’t be able to control it. When I did A Wolf in Lambs Clothing, up until that point, I had only ever worn black. From that point I just banned black from my life. There was no black anywhere other than the outline of an eye on a cardigan…. I was just done with black.’
So, ‘Reject Everything’? A motto for creation? ‘I think that this is important in everything – rejection is part of editing and choosing – design, in the end, is reduced to choosing something. Choosing a colour and a shape, and then it becomes more than that but it’s all essentially a choice and an expression of a particular point of view.’
In a way this speaks directly to the politics of Punk. Overthrow the old, by drawing on it but keep pushing things forward. Turn it into something new, something else, something other, something confrontational and unconventional. ‘What we did was completely and unavoidably connected to Punk’ Edward says. ‘It was in the days after Reject Everything that I found out what was actually happening [to Meadham Kirchhoff], even though I think I knew it already…the death of everything.’
Did that knowledge, the sense that things were coming to an end, prompt him the name of his final collection as part of the duo? ‘Reject Everything was really about being really really sick of everything…that’s the process of fashion, of what it looks like nowadays. But it was also so much more than that. It was about being sick of the environment we live in.’
So it was political in essence? ‘That collection was so political but, honestly, I know fuck all about politics like…who’s the government?! I don’t know. Really I was just sick of the world – so I referenced something 35 years old quite directly – Punk – because that seemed directly relevant, because with Punk it was the idea of destroying and recreating – the shit that they were in, that really doesn’t seem any different to the shit that we are in now – that everybody was completely blind to. This false sense of security about things being much more evolved and the world being better now because we’ve got iPhones and fuck knows what. Nothing is better, nothing. People are still – I say oppressed – it sounds so dramatic but I don’t think people are free. One of the mottos of Reject Everything was ‘freedom is not reality’ …’
He’s touched on something that’s part of the zeitgeist. Raf Simons recently stepped down from Dior. Before his final collection showed he said ‘I’m questioning a lot’, directly referring to the pace of fashion today and the sense that the overheated runway system has reached a volatile tipping point.
‘We have a lot of conversations about it’ Simons said, ‘where is it going? It’s not only the clothes. It’s the clothes, it’s everything, the Internet.’
Edward says, ‘you know, it’s great that someone like Raf has come out and said this’. Mass consumerism and hyper fast turnarounds are surely the antithesis of true creation and innovation.
‘I can so easily come across as being anti-fashion and anti-fashion industry’ Edward reflects. ‘I really love fashion. I just get upset that it isn’t really what it used to be. Someone like me is pretty irrelevant in the fashion industry, you’re not supposed to make lovely things, you’re not supposed to think…you’re not supposed to want to create something more than what everybody else is making. You’re not supposed to have an opinion or a point of view …what’s the point?!?! I really love fashion so this is what upsets me most of all…clothes are my favourite thing of all but I don’t know how people manage to do it.’
He regrets how everything has been sped up, both high fashion and the high street, but also real, day to day life which is intensified via social media. We we receive up to the minute accounts of other people’s lives and works online 24/7. ‘The dangers are that people don’t have time to think or make important work anymore’ he says. ‘Who is buying the stuff!?!? We are led to believe it’s the Chinese…but maybe things would sell better if there was a little bit less of it out there?!’
‘It is just a never-ending parade of really empty product…and there are other echelons of the fashion industry to provide that for the world – I don’t think fashion in the context that we are speaking about should really be that.’
‘It’s the speed of fashion. When I did Topshop I wanted people to get into our world if they wanted to but I didn’t want to water it down… make a pissy watered down version of something not quite as good.’
So when he said ‘reality is not freedom’ he really meant it? ‘I didn’t want any of my collections to have anything to do with reality’ he says. ‘In a way I wanted them all to be a realm. Each one was the idea of a whole lifestyle in a way. I always talked about creating worlds – realms and worlds.’
And, certainly, you were transported by his shows, by the clothes and their surroundings. The spaces were heavily scented like his house with Tralala (Meadham Kirchhoff’s collaborative fragrance with Penhaligon’s). They were decorated, most memorably with a fantasy tampon tree. They included reading material in the form of zines. They were immersive. Even down to the suggestively poetic titles of every show: He Gave Me Blue Roses, A Wolf In Lamb’s Clothing, I Am A Lie That Tells The Truth.
‘I tried to do something that was entirely whole’ Edward says. ‘Just to make clothes is almost of no interest to me. There’s only a reason for it as far as I’m concerned if it is visuals and sounds. I never got to make music, I just don’t know how, I wish I did. I would think so much about the music that would be playing as people entered the venue – the show music. And, it was all equally important to me. We sent perfume to shows as long as I can remember...’
Meadham Kirchhoff is no more, but it will live on. Preserved at it’s height, you might argue. ‘Reject Everything was experimental’ he says. ‘For me it went out on a high. I loved that collection at the time, it was really important for me to do that collection. I felt like I was doing something more than I had for the last few shows.’
I comment on the photograph of Courtney Love opposite me, clinging to the mirror and a copy of Viv Albertine’s book, Clothes Music Boys, in the bookcase. He is still surrounded by his influences.
He looks over at the photograph. ‘I grew up so obsessed with her. I got over it and I don’t even know when. It wasn’t that long ago that it stopped. That picture is the first time I met her’ he reminisces, ‘She was such a perfect embodiment, distorting all of the language of female sexuality and femininity – it was bleach and curls, lipstick and tiny dresses but she was broad and powerful and loud – partly my obsession with her helped other people understand what I was trying to say which was quite useful. It was about gender and this idea of feminity is all somebody’s imagination – it doesn’t exist – you can’t just categorize it in this definitive way…’
And perhaps that’s true of his own vision and creative process. It’s clear, you can feel it but it defies categorisation.
‘Viv actually came to visit me in hospital’ he says. He talks about how her book, her story of being a punk rocker with The Slits, getting married and becoming somebody’s wife before being reborn, yet again, inspired him. Currently he’s making some dresses for Kylie Minogue and regrouping. ‘This is how I started out’, he says.
There’s a quote from Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit at the end of Viv’s book,
‘I seem to have run in a great circle, and met / myself again on the starting line.’
Edward will be back, somewhat different but fundamentally still himself. ‘I don’t know how to do anything else’ he says, ‘I’m not made for anything else’.