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Soft Criminal

Work / Art

“A space with no rules”: stylist Ibrahim Kamara on his latest collaboration with Kristin-Lee Moolman and Gareth Wrighton

Before Buffalo, fashion stylists were considered dressers, not artists in their own right. Enter Ray Petri, and the ‘80s youth culture movement he spearheaded together with photographer Jamie Morgan. Together, with the help of a tribe which included Mitzi Lorenz, the Kamen brothers, Mark Lebon, Cameron McVey, the duo blended together art, fashion, photography and music, shaking up London’s subcultural scene from grassroots to high fashion and elevating styling into an art form. Pairing kilts with MA-1 flight jackets and Armani suits with Dr Martens, stylist Ray Petri created genre-defying looks that still possess a punk sensibility over 30 years on.

Born in Sierre Leone, stylist Ibrahim Kamara spent his youth in the Gambia, moving to London when he was 11 and later earning a place at Central Saint Martins to study Fashion Communications and Promotion. It was at CSM that Ibrahim started working with the late Barry Kamen, a model, stylist, artist and Buffalo man who Ibrahim has previously described as “like a dad to me”. As the Buffalo movement had retraced the lines around the modern man by blending tough with tender, in 2016, a year after Barry Kamen’s death, Ibrahim Kamara looked to the future of black masculinity with 2026.

2026 was a CSM project, which later became part of Somerset House group show Utopian Voices Here & Now. It blossomed out of a month-long residency in Johannesburg, with South African photographer Kristin-Lee Moolman, which found Ibrahim rooting around in dustbins and reworking his cast-off findings into outfits to dress a cast of Kristin’s friends – including performance duo FAKA. The project became central to Ibrahim Kamara’s perception of who he was, his “coming out story”. It not only told the world who he was, but 2026 unleashed Ibrahim’s Buffalo-trained flair for creating sense from chaos, through a flurry of press stories. It opened up a variety of high-profile opportunities for work, with Beyoncé, Sampha and Kendrick Lamar; editorials and campaigns for brands such as Dior, Nike and Stella McCartney; a job as i-D magazine’s fashion editor at large and a place in the BoF 500.

Two years on, and Kristin and Ibrahim are closer than ever. Their latest project Soft Criminal finds the pair collaborating with British fashion designer Gareth Wrighton, who Ibrahim met and started working at while at CSM, on a cinematic exhibition and live fashion show at New York’s Red Hook Labs, a public-benefit corporation in Brooklyn. “Gareth and Kristin have become family to me so its easier to create work with them,” Ibrahim tells It’s Nice That. “We all bring something special to the table every time we work on something and the idea of a space where there are no rules makes it very exciting.”

Soft Criminal narrates the tale of three families through a cast of over 20 characters which blossom to life across a live fashion show and a set of accompanying images. “We built our collection around three fictional rival crime families,” Ibrahim expands. “Old money, New Money, and Not In It For The Money. This helped us find a narrative across the whole collection, and find reason in what could have been quite a chaotic lineup of characters. We built a century-old royal family from scratch, complete with King, Queen, Prince and Princess and their New Money rivals; a team of activists who live in the clouds and are looking to overthrow the kingdom. Helping them do this is an anarchic gang led by lawless rebels who have their own vested interests.”

While working on a collection of suits and jumpsuits with a tailor named Chris in Yeoville, Johannesburg, Ibrahim, Gareth and Kristin unlocked a common language. “We would draw over and over how we wanted our garments to look, because the illustrations were universal in language, where we were perhaps lost in translation otherwise,” he notes. Afterwards, Ibrahim and Gareth embellished many of the looks back in London with “trinkets” such as bottle caps and ring pulls sourced from the streets of Johannesburg, bringing together new garments with discarded materials to construct the sculptural costumes, which sit more in the realm of artwork than wearable fashion.

“The inspiration came from our experience,” Ibrahim comments. “Gareth and I have always wanted to work on costumes together and this was the perfect way we could create something with no boundaries. We wanted to push our imagination as far as possible so creating a world like Soft Criminal was the perfect playing ground to explore this.”

Soft Criminal is an imaginative world, which spills even beyond the boundaries of the Red Hook Labs show. “The show has a line up of images we have shot apart from the collection,” Ibrahim explains. “These are characters that did not make it to the costume stages but have been styled to be part of the world. We wanted to flesh out the world a lot more, which also really helped in making the collection. The collection is a reflection of the world as they are the main characters of the world.”

Soft Criminal is on show at Red Hook Labs, Brooklyn until 23 September.

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