Heralding a new era at ACW*, END. visits Samuel Ross in his London studio to talk utopia, minimalism, and designing with permanence.
Beginning the next chapter in his life and career, ACW* founder, Samuel Ross, has become the embodiment of the boys-to-men story he’s been writing since launching his label in 2015. Elegantly segueing from Virgil and Kanye's young protégé into an intellectual design force entirely of his own creation, Samuel Ross is a creative visionary for a new generation.
A cornerstone of the art-meets-commerce movement which has characterised young British design for the past decade, Ross is turning over a new leaf: maturing his output into a subtler amalgam of his high-concept narratives and technical prowess and moving the label in a more refined direction ahead of the inevitable pendulum swing as streetwear (in its current configuration) stalls at saturation point.
Beneath the strategic switch up, however, Ross' drive to take a less provocative approach is symptomatic of a larger transition in his personal life. Father to a young daughter, Ross’ relationship with consumerism has changed as he shifts gear, opting to build a new vision of utopia through his collections versus commentating on structures and society in their current form - a theme which dominated the first chapter of his career. In essence: ACW* is no longer about holding a mirror to society and saying ‘this is how it is’; ACW* is a hologram from a not-so-distant future, beaming in to tell us ‘this is how it could be.’
Tucked neatly away in an interconnected maze of buildings on the Westminster Embankment, Samuel Ross has managed to surround himself and his team with an ever-evolving mood board, manifest in the form of a brutalist-cum-contemporary structure currently being repurposed as London's latest hub for top-tier design talent. Nestled amidst the chaos of construction - a litany of natural and industrial materials coexisting in a jarring harmony that feels distinctly ACW* - entering Samuel's studio on the second floor feels like being sucked through a vortex into a utopian idyll. A space where the colliding references and materials which lay in disarray just beyond these four walls suddenly come into focus: vibrating with clarity, as though entering a slip-stream into Samuel's mind's eye.
Marking the beginning of this next chapter as ACW* AW20 launches at END., we sit down with Samuel Ross to inaugurate this new iteration of A-COLD-WALL* and hear a story of evolution in Samuel's own distinctive words.
ACW* has felt like a paragon of reinvention since the beginning; constantly evolving both internally as a company and externally in terms of what you’ve put out to meet the needs of the now. Does this idea of reinvention or rebirth fuel your creativity?
Correct - the initial dialogue and purpose of A-COLD-WALL* is rooted in communicating what is typically not highlighted, or by default by-passed - though it's not youth subversion, its closer to examining soft-power, extrapolating points of interest.
Messaging is communicated and informed through the laws of brutalism, social theory and industrial practise, centric to fabrication, experimental pattern cutting and material treatments.
Between 2015 - 2017 our form of communication was more attuned to maximalism and hyper- experimentation. These seminal years established our signature palette, material treatment, created by hand - and refusal to define the practise (these two years represent the stirring and building of artistic expression). Garments being the nucleus of the dialogue, cultivating a communal energy surrounding the topics highlighted and the results of such experiments.
2018 represents a tipping point; abstraction was retained and embedded into the garment language, a defined focus on asymmetry begins to appear alongside the introduction of luxury fabrics and producers, signalling a structured approach to collection development.
To focus the above sentiments, the next phase leads directly into the evolution AW20 demonstrates.
For AW20 there was a definite shift in tone and direction for the brand; moving away from the conceptual streetwear foundation and settling in a more refined menswear-centric space. What was the impetus behind the change?
The change was fuelled by absolute truth. Establishing a minimal, function, performance-tailoring based conversation. Cementing the change, notions of boyhood to manhood come to mind - the transition to a far more refined frequency supports a lot of personal development. I became a minimalist; threw out and sold hundreds of objects and garments. Removed all decorative objects that had no function or qualitative attributes in my living space and studio. AW20 summarises a distilled, sharp opinion, inverting the concept of risk, proposing risk and progression, through a quantifiable format, versus the abstract.
This aesthetic switch-up went hand-in-hand with moving the label’s shows to Milan - accessing the rich patrimonies of tailoring and suiting which exist there. In a post-COVID landscape, do you think the geo-location of shows will remain as relevant as they traditionally have been?
Without a doubt - the psyche of a geography retains its minutiae, its permanence and tangibility through shared memory, impermeable cultural values and verbiage. Our seasonal films, output and storytelling will remain inline with Milan's calendar - though capacity to interject into new geographies remains an exciting prospect.
The AW20 collection was designed pre-COVID. As a designer who’s always sat right on the pulse of the zeitgeist, do you think the pandemic and subsequent lockdown will have a lasting impact on your work in seasons ahead? How might that manifest?
Yes - essentialism as a talking point is incredibly important. COVID amplifies the dilemma a myriad of fashion labels have faced: decoration does not supplement or supersede purpose and function. Value systems must be re-engaged. The existential question of purpose is slicing through the Victorian facade of fashion right now. It's beautiful; we’re in the 21st century. One alluding totalitarianism, which has justly fallen under scrutiny throughout COVID. The other value proposition signalling an egalitarian philosophy within an industry that previously did not offer the individual options of purchase, supported by underpinning principles and philosophies.
You’ve been exploring a more minimalist approach - in your work and your personal life. How has this mindset changed the design process for AW20? Do you think the general size and scale of fashion collections should be reassessed?
Indeed, the focus on minimalist approaches to processing and organising information brings far more focus and time to consider objectivity and product needs. It's the pursuit of producing ‘perfect’ garments, suited and designed for a purpose. There’s simply more time spent on communicating high quality product and problem solving versus encoding theatrics.
Similar to the endless debate about whether fashion is art or something else entirely, there’s also a debate around whether or not fashion exists as something social. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that?
Fashion can be host to art, sit parallel to art, and be in continuous dialogue with art. Fundamentally 'Fashion' (a multi-industry, free-market conglomerate) must identify and serve its user, offering a unique perspective or service through its end product to generate revenue. The honesty of this system highlights the transactional nature of goods for sale within a competitive landscape. Art has no master. Fashion is tribal. Garments are codex.
To me, ACW* has always been this electric infusion of high-concept narratives and technical, almost utilitarian, design ideals. How has that value system been woven into this new era of ACW*?
I’d agree regarding high-concept narratives and technical ideals. Utility is replaced with functionality, which goes beyond replacing words - this progression has fundamentally recalibrated how and what we design - why we design.
Ideals are now actualised as a product - which is brilliant. The ideals speak through material, construction and quality. It does take some time to build a reliable supply chain and we’ve spent a lot of time doing that. Moving away from the hyperbole of flurried messaging on socials to time dedicated to process, foundation building, and precise execution.
These shifts, and the evolving values, have determined the culture of the company and permanence of A-COLD-WALL*s future. We’re far closer to product and industrial design in terms of our values. It's less about hyper-communication and more about methodical processes you can rely on.
I read an interview where you said you felt it was time to pass the streetwear baton on to the next generation - a reflection of how it feels as though Virgil passed the baton to you in a sense. Who do you think is coming up now who would be ready to take streetwear in a new direction?
That's a succinct analysis.
It's hard to comment. It’s better for a wider pool of individuals to elect that person.
Do you think as you’ve gotten older and more experienced, your desire to provoke with your work has been satisfied some, or are you just getting started?
The risk of provocation becoming a trope or novelty can be easily hi-jacked and misconstrued. There's also the fallacy of art as fashion we spoke on above. My current thoughts are that provocation is more enjoyable and widely understood through soft power and granular detail - it's more appropriate and attuned to wearability.
Provocation has moved into performance regarding A-COLD-WALL*. SP1 and user-engaging installations (digital and physical) will supplement the esoteric approach highlighted between 2016-2017, opening up communication as an open forum versus a single narrative.
Other avenues have also developed to facilitate such expressions. I’m spending more time developing furniture and public sculptures which facilitate hyper-experimentation of form in public forum.
What does utopia mean to you and how do we get there?