Enter a state of “aborted happiness”.
There’s a hint of quiet, a sense of reserve on the other end of the line when Glamcult dials into the London studio of design duo MEADHAM KIRCHOFF. Benjamin Kirchhoff and Edward Meadham are men who speak deliberately, carefully weighing their words, revealing their world with great composure and restraint. Over the next hour and a half, we speak about their delicate universe, reactionary minds and the importance of honesty.
Every story has a beginning. For Benjamin Kirchhoff, that story begins in West Africa, where he spent his formative years before moving to France and ending up in London. Growing up, Kirchhoff felt perpetually underwhelmed—or, as he puts it, “slightly bored”. Creativity became a means to carve out his path, as he sought inspiration as a form of escapism. Documenting and drawing incessantly, he curated his world from within. While Kirchhoff was growing up in Africa, in England Edward Meadham spent the years from 11 to 16 gorging on pop culture, art and cinema. There was a crossover, he says, “between idolizing Kylie as a youngster and later on appreciating the punk allegories of Vivienne Westwood.” It’s a dichotomy that has permeated the duo’s womenswear collections since the label’s launch in 2002—at once theatrical, whimsical and intricately made.
Both Kirchhoff and Meadham reveal a clear understanding of the reactionary nature of their designs. Kirchhoff says he designs purely from instinct, embracing a state of “aborted happiness”, his path one of pensive reflection and the countering of forlorn identities. Both express distaste at the institutionalized paradox of fashion, an industry they feel is “based on a repetition of ideas, often aimed at product placement”.
Meadham Kirchhoff’s instinctive approach to fashion is refreshing, giving a novel edge to what constitutes interaction and development. This is clearly underlined when Benjamin says he wants people “to understand Meadham Kirchhoff right. The brand has a very profound connection with our first-hour followers.” Each show comes from a deep place, filled with sincerity, says Meadham: “Each show is about exchanging a full sensory experience, with scent, visuals, light, music and garments uniting.” Highly personal and highly styled, their shows overwhelm the senses. Their A/W14 presentation slowly but steadily drew the audience into their escapist world, sensory, direct and emotive. Glamcult is reminded of a comment Meadham made last year: “The most important people you smell before you see them.” In explanation, he says: “I was thinking about the world, a place of which I am not terribly fond, at times. Only two people had such a profound sensory impact on me, before encountering them. Both Maria Louisa and Courtney Love. For me, in a way this connects to a sense of domination. By perfuming oneself lavishly, one dictates any room one enters. Perhaps it is about leaving something profoundly tangible behind, whilst navigating the world.”
Perhaps not surprising given that Meadham studied womenswear and Kirchhoff menswear—at Central Saint Martins, where they met—their eponymous line is known for presenting both, with each designer concentrating on his own speciality. The last menswear collection was S/S14. The designers describe the Meadham Kirchhoff man as “a little genteel, kind and even a little shy”; while they have previously said their ideal female is the aforementioned Courtney Love, and even went so far as to populate their S/S 2012 runway with Love lookalikes. Both mens- and womenswear pieces are extremely detailed in terms of fabric research, tailoring, colour contrasts and textural interplay.
There has always been something curiously obsessive about Meadham Kirchhoff garments. “If I am not obsessed with something, I frankly do not care,” explains Meadham. He goes on to explain that it is key for him to extract a clear vision with each collection. It is a layered world we enter, one of sincere complexity. Kirchhoff describes the transformation of garments into something emotional: “We often use unconventional techniques through intense tailoring research and focus on precise craftsmanship. In a way this is obsessive, but we like to be thoroughly involved in what we develop.”
For Meadham, too, each collection is a personal reflection: “In many ways, what we do is forging a contradictory state, embracing our reactionary rebellion within the world.” For some, that contradiction would lead to anger or frustration—but not here. Meadham Kirchhoff work from a contemplative palette of emotions and thoughts, making their work extremely dense. Meadham explains: “Muses can be seen as part of a reductive state. I’ve always felt that feeding off such a premise is not actively creating; it is rather a passive movement. I am more interested in the activation of creativity, hence I prefer to focus on my own mind.”
All the diverse layers of meaning informing Meadham Kirchhoff’s work comes together with the designers’ oft-stated mantra that they do not exist solely to please others. It is part of their insular universe, crafted and perfected since 2002. They do not rush into things or appreciate being dictated to by the pace of the fashion industry. Kirchhoff concurs: for him, designing is about engaging in a sincere dialogue, with the brand’s loyal fans—who attend the shows and end up wearing the garments—being their key audience. “Our process of design is very intricate and emotionally pensive. Each can have his own interpretation of what we create.”
As Central Saint Martins alumni, both designers have experienced the sometimes-painful process of working towards their own line. In relation to the climate for today’s graduating designers, Kirchhoff is quick to remark that young talents, before they graduate, should go against the grain of what is prescribed by their teachers. This is innate to developing as a designer, for Kirchhoff; it is essential to act as an individual by embracing “what you want to do”. To develop and thrive as a designer, there needs to be a sense of personal activation, achieved by always remaining open to what he calls “accidental finds”. Emotive design is all about losing oneself—and, at times, countering a sense of business-like calculation.
As the conversation nears an end, we have been talking non-stop for over an hour. Meadham Kirchhoff have drawn us into their world, just as they do with each collection. As they get back to work on their new collection, Glamcult cannot help but feel more connected to their arcane world. These two individuals are bound by their process and their approach to irreverent creation. Deeply connected, their world is a moving display of what can exist when one turns towards what lies within instead of merely interacting with the world outside.
Words by Marlo Saalmink
Photography: Michiel Meewis
Styling: Tom Eerebout
Set design: Danny Hyland
Make-up: Marina Keri for MAC Cosmetics
Hair: Maki Tanaka
Assistant photography: Sami Havaluoto
Assistant set design: Joshua Bowman
Assistant make-up: Meena Bhella
Models: India Tuersley and Sienna King—Tess Management
Thanks to London College of Fashion Lime Grove and James Montgomery
All clothing Meadham Kirchhoff A/W14