Sartorial thrill-seekers Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff are the perfect antidote to fashion's current austere and minimal mood - the wonderfully eccentric East London duo talk Courtney Love, having groupies and being the 'village freaks' with Indigo Clarke.
LULA: Hi Edward and Benjamin, how are you? What are you up to this afternoon?
Edward: I’m okay, just getting ready to prepare our make-up artist for all my ideas for next season…
Benjamin: And I’m very excitingly sewing labels onto our t-shirts.
LULA: You’re based in London, is this where you grew up?
Benjamin: I’m French but I grew up in Guinea, West Africa. It was very boring for me there, because it was really devoid of Western cultural references. I grew up in a white environment, but without anything that represented France or even Europe, where my family is from.
LULA: Well boredom does spark creativity! Are your parents or siblings creative as well?
Benjamin: Not really, my dad is a mechanic, my mum is an accountant and my sister is a stay-at-home mum of two. I think my creativity definitely came from feeling bored and having to find ways to overcome that.
Edward: I grew up in Sommerset, which was sweet, picturesque and very quiet. It was a very ordinary childhood – then we moved to West Sussex to a horrible little little village, very boring, very urban countryside 60s council estate. My childhood, like Ben’s, was boring so it was very important for me to create my own little world of things that I was interested in.
LULA: Did your own little world include a lot of music? Your collections often reference bands and musicians (like your most recent with Courtney Love lookalikes)…
Edward: Yes I was really, really, completely into music as a teenager – bands like Hole, Huggy Bear, The Supremes and The Shangrilas. Very eclectic, and actually the same music I love now. Before that, when I was a little kid I used to make dresses for my teddy bears, but as I got older I became immersed in music. My fashion style was a real preoccupation for me, and it was generally inspired by the music I listened to. I loved being the village freak.
LULA: I loved being the punky freak too! Do you think this is why you approach ideas of beauty in fashion differently to other labels?
Edward: Yes, our idea of beauty is not about innate or natural good looks, rather we’re interested in people who make themselves who they want to be, they create their own kind of beauty.
Benjamin: I wasn’t as obsessed with music as Edward growing up, I was considered a retard by the other kids for the kind of music I liked! I loved cinema and film. In Guinea the cinemas would play really random world cinema, and I would see whatever was playing whether it was a Chinese film or Almodovar. I was really interested in people’s visual references – one of my favourites was Alfred Hitchcock. I think that’s why I loved the cinematic quality of designers like McQueen and Galliano so much.
LULA: What did you want to be when you were little – was fashion design always a consideration?
Edward: I didn’t actually know that there was even such a job as ‘fashion design’. When I saw Gaultier’s drawings for Madonna’s tour, that was the first time I realized that could be an actual occupation. When I was younger I had wanted to be an actor, but only because I loved the idea of getting your hair and make up done.
Benjamin: I always wanted to work in fashion… Well, there was a little while where I thought I wanted to be a vet, but only because I like animals.
LULA: How did your teen years as the ‘Village freaks’ shape your aesthetic and the way you approach fashion do you think?
Edward: It’s difficult to explain but my teenage years have been integral to my whole aesthetic for sure – because I still have the same interests. My taste hasn’t actually evolved since 1999, I haven’t really liked much new stuff since then…
Benjamin: I had such all-over-the-place child and teen years that until I moved to London at 19 to attend Central St Martins, I hadn’t developed a real idea of what I liked and what my aesthetic was. 19 to 25 were the most formative years of my life in terms of feeling confident in my own tastes – for the first time I didn’t have people around me telling me what I should like.
LULA: How do you like living in crazy, ramshackle Dalston?
Edward: We live together in an industrial space that we’ve built a house on the other side of. In a way I don’t love Dalston, but what I do love about it is the freedom – noone cares what anyone else is doing, in a good way. It’s such a hodge-podge of different cultures and people. It’s kind of like a small town in a way and it feels like everyone knows each other, there’s a lot of cool kids around and the way they dress can be inspiring.
Benjamin: I feel like Dalston is what London was like 10 years ago.
LULA: You have such a strong and inspired aesthetic universe – how would you describe the Meadham Kirchhoff world?
Edward: I don’t know if we’re capable of describing it! It’s such a visual thing that we do, and I believe it needs to be understood visually.
Benjamin: We are offering an alternative point of view…
Edward: Yes exactly, we are offering an alternative to all the things we don’t like about fashion and culture today. We’re constantly whinging about the things we don’t like, and that’s why we want to present our own point of view and a new message each season that people like us can relate to – even if it’s only visual entertainment.
LULA: It’s incredible that you have actual ‘groupies’ – kids that wait outside your shows in their Meadham Kirchhoff DIY wares. It is incredibly moving that you affect people on that level…
Edward: Wow, yes. That is really what I love most about what I do. I live in Dalston and love all the cool kids around me, and I reference them in my work because they inspire me.
Benjamin: It’s inspiring that what we’re doing has become interactive – that the kids are inspired by us and are dressing in our style in their own way, and that we are in turn inspired by them. It’s nice to know we have an engaged audience.
Edward: The ‘groupies’ are the people who understand what we’re doing – they get our visual codes and seem to understand us more than the fashion press.
LULA: How did you two meet and decide to create a company together?
Edward: We went to St Martins at the same time – Ben was doing Menswear and I was doing womesnwear. We were at opposite ends of the classroom and as we’re both not the kind to speak to people we don’t know, we never spoke to each other until close to graduation – and it was just by accident really that we even met. The way we created our label was very organic, it’s always been a very organic process with us no matter what we do.
LULA: Is this the same way you approach designing your collections?
Edward: For me, things have to be intuitive. I let things happen as they happen – which is exactly the way the collection comes about each season. I feel as though the collection’s have a life of their own regardless of where I try to take them consciously.
LULA: How do you work together – is it quite a symbiotic relationship or do you each have defined roles and bring different things to the partnership?
Edward: I do the designs and research, and create the vision for the show along with the sculptor Phillip Wiegard who creates our sets.
Benjamin: I work a lot on the business side of thing. I work closely creatively with Ed and Phillip as well to make sure the show’s atmosphere communicates our ideas, that it is unique and will touch people. I don’t do the drawings like Ed, but I speak my mind and put my foot in and get involved – but the initial designs and silhouettes are Ed’s.
LULA: What do you love most about what you do? Any drawbacks?
Benjamin: Good question. I enjoy the freedom, and I enjoy our place in fashion – the fact we are allowed to do what we do and that we have a receptive audience for it, that’s great.
Edward: I try to avoid that question… Because I hate it all half the time (laughs). I like that I get to what I want to do, we’ve managed to avoid having any real restrictions – and I’m very pleased about that. The drawbacks: It’s extremely hard work and can be utterly, utterly frustrating when things go wrong… I could whinge but I don’t want to, because I’m fortunate to do what I do for a living.
LULA: Are you ambitious – do you have big dreams for your label?
Edward: Yes we are ambitious, but we’re being careful and trying to let everything happen organically. I’m sure we could play certain fashion games to realise our goals more quickly, but we don’t want to rush things. We’re being strategic so that we never have to compromise on our vision. We want to get where want to be on our own terms. It’s taken 10 years to get where we are now – but we are fine about that.
LULA: Your SS12 collection was amazing and fittingly Meadham Kirchhoff-style eccentric – what was the inspiration behind the collection and the incredible performance-slash-show?
Edward: It was all about presenting an iconic image of beauty. Using glamorous and beautiful inconography, and symbols of beauty throughout the ages – so we had lots of girls dress up as showgirls, strippers, Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple, Madonna, Jean Harlow, as well as other Hollywood goddesses and actual mythical goddesses. We were playing on the traditional concept of feminism being to ignore the beauty you’ve been given as a woman, to turn it around and make it empowering for these women – pushing beauty to the point of aggression.
LULA: And of course you had a troupe of Courtney Love’s doing their thing…
Edward: Yes of course, had to have the Courtney’s! We also had our five ‘goddesses’ standing atop a great glittering cake – a pedestal of beauty. There were also little girls performing a sort of infantile ballet performance.
Benjamin: The show was a performance – the production could have been slightly higher – but at the same time I love the home-spun, honest quality of our work.
LULA: Now a couple of quickies! What do you hope for?
Edward: I hope for everything to work out, for their not to be too many problems in the near future and that everything goes according to plan…
Benjamin: I hope to see more cities, places and people. I’d like to experience more cultures – life can be insular here in Dalston, so I’m hoping to travel more.
LULA: Tell us a secret?
Edward: Oh, well we’re collaborating on an issue of A Magazine coming out next year.
LULA: What did you last dream about?
Benjamin: That I was being molested by a fashion journalist…
LULA: Ha! Well there won’t be any funny business today ;-)