Marshall James On His Sentimental London Fashion Week Debut
The London-based designer talks about his latest collection and rejecting conformity.
“This is the story of me, the story of being far from home, in search of a new home, and in search of myself,” writes Marshall James in a heartfelt statement for his third collection, Find The Others. The collection takes its name from a quote in a passage written by Timothy Leary - a message which encouraged the rejection of conformity and the encouragement of finding like-minded individuals through practicing free thought, as well as forging one’s own unique path . This is a sentiment which Marshall James has held close to his heart in preparing for his London Fashion Week debut, presented at the coveted 180 The Strand.
“I believed that the quote described my purpose of the collection pretty well. I use clothing to find the others… With every collection, new supporters, collaborators and friends come with that.” tells James.
In his latest collection, he’s paired a fresh interpretation of masculinity with refined experimentation. Think imposingly circular trousers, conspicuously draped dresses and fur shorts - all constructed using innovative textile treatments including paraffin wax, PVA glue, structural elements, boning, heavy interfacing and paper maché skeletons.
James’s designs have been heavily influenced by his interest in sports and military uniforms - in particular helmets, masks, pads, and various different elements that embellished the body. Owing to his mixed African-American and French heritage, his practice also reflects his own interpretation of his black culture. “I’m not manufacturing anything about it, it’s work that comes from a Black man, and it comes from my Black experience, and my experience in general.”
James spent a year in New York City working with a tight-knit community of independent fashion designers and creatives. “It was very raw, and very DIY, but not in the context of it being poorly made. We were just people who did not have money for seamstresses or ‘nice’ fabrics - instead, we were making garments with recycled fabrics and upcycled clothing.” James recounts. “There was a big arts community, where everyone would just kind of fuel each others’ projects.”
New York City was where Marshall presented his first two collections, supported by the city’s celebrated creative community and influenced by a culmination of thoughts and experiences jotted down in his diary.
Things shifted when the designer moved to London to study menswear at Central Saint Martins at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. He was met with long periods of solitude and feelings of displacement - which provoked the ideology behind his current collection.
“This is where the very large circular trousers come in, where they don’t really fit through hallways… it was like me imposing myself to this new place and this refusal to be pushed to the side,” James explains. “Or it’s the distorted shoulder, the traditional button-down, but it’s being pulled to the side. I’m not going to let me being in a new place affect how I express myself in the best way that I can.”
In a presentation of 12 looks, the models walked into a dimly lit room, each one meticulously styled and dressed by James that night. Playing gently in the back, DJ Wayne Atkinson’s vinyl selections - a smooth concoction of jazz and cumbia along with soft spoken-word poetry read and written by Phoenix Yemi. I followed from backstage, capturing the intimate moments leading up to the show. James thought it was crucial that he’d cast his friends and ordinary people as models - rather than the traditional runway standard of tall and skinny. It’s this aspect of the fashion industry that he agreed needed to progress.
Before the show had closed, James was met with ravenous applause. Here is a young designer, away from home, with limited resources, who proved that, while it’s not without its difficulties, he had presented a collection that transcends gender, age and size in one of London’s most important creative institutions.
“The one thing that I always tell myself is that people will only take your work as seriously as you do. So I make sure that people know that this isn’t just a hobby but something that I’ve poured a lot of time and heart into. And I think that by doing that, people have started to take my work far more seriously - like they don’t see it as just a boy in his room sewing.”
I assured Marshall they did not. With his third presentation, he had caught the eyes of i-D, SHOWstudio and Perfect, just to name a few - and his garments have been making its appearances in fashion campaigns within the industry worldwide. Not to mention, a piece has recently been worn by Pinkpantheress on tour.
Marshall James Fur Shorts in i-D's Earthrise, 2022
Pinkpantheress on tour in Marshall James
“Ultimately it is fun, it is me just expressing myself and more of a spontaneous release. I pride myself on doing whatever I want.” James says. He remains humble as ever, forging genuine connections with the city’s creatives, perhaps continuing his search to Find The Others.