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Features / Fashion

In chaos lies opportunity: designer Liam Hodges on leading a dystopian army

In the three years since Liam Hodges launched his debut collection, the Hackney-based designer has scaled his way to the top of London’s creative pile. With his flag waved by Lulu Kennedy, who welcomed Liam into the Fashion East fold back in SS14, and continued support from Man, Newgen and Woolmark, Liam Hodges has cherry-picked UK culture from far-flung villages and satellite towns and sewn it onto the bodies of a “polysyllabic” tribe of likely lads. Roadies, morris dancers, scouts, cockney market stall-holders, boy racers and pirate radio producers: no corner of British masculinity has gone unprobed. “It’s not blokey for the sake of being blokey,” he insists. “It’s a masculinity that’s a little bit fragile and dishevelled.”

Liam possesses an instinctive approach to design which is tangled with his own highly personal connection to clothes. He designs for people around him — “my friends, people in the studio, people that I’d like to see wear it” — and for himself. Today, as the designer counts down the hours to his AW17 show from the quiet of his Mare Street studio, he’s wearing a petrol blue patchwork hoodie from his stripped-back SS17 collection. “What I’ve realised since is that I’m quite interested in making clothes that people do want to wear. I’m making clothes that I want to wear, or a version of me would want to wear," he explains. "I’m not trying to be commercial, but I’m trying to make stuff that people would want to wear for a night out or to go to the pub.”

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“We’ve become more aware of commerciality from making the clothes, from wearing the clothes, and from trying to wear them but being like ‘I don’t want to wear 10 colours today!’", says Liam. "With SS17 we really toned it down — the patchwork was all one colour rather than six colours. It’s quite reactive to what I experience and what I want, which is maybe not the best way to run a business.”

But the strength of the eponymous brand is in its easily identifiable aesthetic. “For me, I think commercial success would be rather than changing creatively to sell lots, it would be selling lots through keeping to my current aesthetic and processes — all the patchworking and stuff — the same sort of graphics that I always lean on to. Creating the space in a more commercial market for stuff that I’ve been doing for a while, that’s commercial success, rather than flipping and changing to try and sell product. It’s evolving and changing rather than trying to tell a different story.”

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Take AW17. Where SS17 held an “introverted” tone which meditated on the feeling that “I was losing control of some stuff, so I was taking control back by reducing it to a core product level”, for AW17, Liam raked through his personal experiences and mapped them onto the mood of a generation. Digging through references as far back as his final collection as a student, “the old research books I’d had as a student had all these old dystopian future references, old trashy ‘80s sci fi films and screenshots from the D-12 music video Fight Music,” Liam became his own archivist. What he found was unexpected. The references to a dystopian future embedded in pop culture had an uncanny resonance with now. “I felt a real nuance with what is happening today: Trump, politics, Brexit, a Conservative government again," he explains. "I drew all the lines around what was going on then, when these films were made, and now, and I just quite liked pushing this idea that we’re now coming up to the years these films are supposed to be [set in], this dystopian future.” Fittingly, the working title for Liam’s SS17 collection is “dystopia lives”. “Life is a positive thing,” Liam says. “And whether we want to live in a dystopia or not, the fact that the dystopians are surviving is a positive thing.”

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Liam Hodges’ dystopian army is not only surviving, but doing so in a kind of camouflage that, idiosyncratically, commands attention. Combat green meets neon and fur. “Ideology is a myth,” the pocket of one patchwork puffa shouts. “I really got obsessed with the original Total Recall, so [the collection is] kind of an homage to that and the old anarchist era of Vivienne Westwood,” Liam explains. “So rather than the two boob print, we’ve got the three boobs from the film. We made myself some funeral letters — my initials and the word ‘waken’ which is old English for a wake after a funeral: a ceremony. It’s this idea that after death you become awake and you move into a new period, which is something I felt that I was doing as a designer and it’s also what we’ll all be doing during this new period. Not whinging about Brexit but about trying to make it work for us.”

“One phrase I kept on coming back to is from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, ‘in pure chaos is the biggest moment of opportunity.’ I get what he means in a sense of war but also in sense of now, when people feel quite scared of the future and of the unknown I feel that it’s quite a positive message to give people. Although no one knows what’s going to happen, it’s a chance to act on stuff and make things happen,” he says.

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To guide him through the post-apocalyptic chaos of SS17, Liam enlisted the help of goosebumps-inducing experimental musician Gaika and long-term collaborator poet and filmmaker Hector Aponysus. Together with Liam’s team, the trio constructed a shared vision that arcs over not only London’s splintered creative scene but across the world: a call to arms to anyone waiting to rise phoenix-like from the fire of 2016.

“I think this collection is about a wider conversation,” Liam admits. “I think all the previous collections have been specifically about groups of people or groups of blokes and an activity, setting out different areas of the Liam Hodges world, and all the people existing within it. Last season it was quite an internal, interior vibe, and this time it’s giving a view of a wider community. The muses and the people from previous seasons would all fit into this, which for me is important. It’s about building as you go. Building stories and communicating them, because that’s why people buy from designers rather than the high street right? Because it’s a story. There’s quality, there’s artistry, and there’s a story.”

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