Inciting a momentary anti-fashion movement in New York when it arrived on the scene eight years ago, cult label Imitation of Christ from the outset aimed to shock. Seemingly as invested in theatrics as fashion, the label, started by former art students Matt Damhave and Tara Subkoff, kicked off with a debut show featuring re-worked vintage upon models in faux mourning at a downtown Manhattan funeral parlour, while a successive season saw press and buyers forced to walk the catwalk while models lounged in the stands, and yet another unconventional show demanded money for charity from an unsuspecting audience. Indigo Clarke.
Making a lasting impression as much for their avant-garde antics and celebrity friends (Subkoff, also an actress, brought in perennial it-girl Chloe Sevigny as Creative Director for a time) as for their distinctive clothing, Imitation of Christ was never a commercial venture or success as much as a creative experiment. And while this particular experiment was for years accepted as a meaningful addition to an overly-saturated industry, the acrimonious business split that saw Subkoff steering the label solo in 2001 alongside the failure to live up to the hype of their early socially and politically motivated collections, resulted in the label’s growing obscurity. Now once again on the fashion radar with a new owner and design team, Imitation of Christ has been resurrected. Bought out early this year by Josh Sparks, the former chief executive of jean-queens Sass&Bide (responsible for taking the Sydney-based label from $5 million to $30 million in five years), Imitation of Christ has been experiencing something of a renaissance with its new diffusion line, Imitation, owned by both Subkoff and Sparks. “Imitation of Christ is a label with a very strong sense of identity and an incredible story behind it,” explains Australian designer Au Udomphol, who late last year relocated to New York to design for Imitation after three years at Sass&Bide. “The heritage of the brand - its penchant for the avant-garde and unique position in the New York fashion, art and music scenes has made it so interesting.” While many are familiar with the label and its creators, Udomphol points out that until this year it’s been principally from reputation alone as Imitation of Christ did not have regular or reliable distribution and was sold on a made- to-order basis. “It was kind of like an ephemeral brand - many people had never actually encountered the clothing first-hand,” says Udomphol. “The opportunity to reinvent the label is what attracted me to working on it, and to take the aesthetic in a decidedly more modern direction. I’m very much into functional clothing with unexpected and deconstructed elements,” continues Au, “marrying the unconventional and traditional. I love seeing women with a strong edge, but who also have a sense of the romantic about them. I am bringing these elements into the Imitation line, which started out as a small capsule of knits and basics with a twist, but now includes tailored pieces.”
Imitation’s looks for Autumn/Winter 08 took direction from strong independent female musicians and actresses, “from Patti Smith to Joanna Priess,” notes Udomphol, “and the German artist Anselm Kiefer. I looked at his work and the philosophy behind it, which inspired some of my favourite pieces – the double lapel vest and cropped jacket.” Looking ahead, Spring/Summer 09 took inspiration from visionary Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and fashion designer Hedi Slimane’s photography. “The way Eliasson’s work interacts with the audience and challenges their perceptions interested me. I was moved to create something that will be all about the wearers experience,” describes Udomphol, “where the clothes are functional, but the intricate details and choice of fabric create a sense of luxury.” The collection’s “Darker Spirit” was inspired by Hedi Slimane's ‘Stage’ photographs, “you can almost feel the energy seeping through these pictures,” muses Udomphol, “this has really brought out a darker edge to the collection.” Of the many plans on the horizon for Imitation, the next month will see the label present a ‘Resurrection’ themed exhibition/auction in Manhattan with New York photographic agency MS Logan, while for Udomphol, a future dream, “is to create my own line,” he says. “It’s been on the horizon for a while, it’s a matter of the right time, location and investment,” Udomphol considers. “Ultimately I would like to create both wardrobes for men and women, and create pieces that cross over.”