Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with Ross Paul Keenan, menswear designer

Illustration by Gareth A Hopkins

Graduate menswear designer and Savile Row trained Ross Paul Keenan has proven to be a huge success. His first collection was shown at Graduate Fashion Week and his second chosen to be shown at London Fashion Week. Beginning at The University of East London, thumb studying fashion, this his craftsmanship and attention to unique detailing was spotted at GFW and, as he explains, will be a career-defining highlight.

Firstly, and most importantly, when you heard the news that you would be showing your GFW collection at London Fashion Week, what was your initial feeling? I hear you were in California at the time…
Yeah, that’s right. It was a great feeling to know that I would be showing as part of London Fashion Week. It’s most designers dream to show in London and to be given that opportunity was amazing.

You have mentioned before that your ‘Up To the Nines’ collection was ‘rebelling against traditional tailoring’. Where did you get the inspiration from?
From being on Savile Row, I learned how to use all the cutting and construction methods used in ‘traditional’ menswear and galvanized this with my designs. My design research came from rebelling against tradition and looking into riots. It was a kind of Savile Row tailor goes to a West Ham v. Millwall game. (Laughs) That was where the inspiration began.

Illustration by Darren Fletcher
I loved the black floor-length coat and cropped shirts. What is behind these particular pieces?
It’s still looking into rebelling and questioning the idea of traditions. All of the collection came from my own curiosity… asking why it had to be done that way and what if I did it this way. The white cross over shirt with the braces came from looking into police riot uniforms; protecting the chest and hiding weapons.

I hear there are some famous fans of your creations. How does that make you feel?
It’s nice to get a positive response for what you do; seeing people like your stuff and want to wear it makes it all worthwhile.

Were there any pieces in particular people said they liked?
I got really good positive feedback from all of the collection really. The trench coat with bucket pockets and bias cut waist coat seemed to be a favourite at Graduate Fashion Week and when I showed at the Design Museum, people seemed to like the riot shirt and asymmetric waistcoat- I guess different people like different things. But the overall reaction was really encouraging.

What is your favourite piece from the ‘UTTN’ collection?
It would probably have to be the suit. For me this captured the theme of the collection and what I was trying to achieve, with the inconsistent pinstripes and velvet waistcoat that wrapped over the jacket and flashes of floral pocketing which could be shown outside the trousers as well. The outfit was all made bespoke so the hand craftsmanship could be seen.

What are you planning to do next?
I’m just going to keep going, keeping designing and who knows. I’m not one of these people who make plans. Plans always get changed; if you make a plan you find yourself fighting so hard to stick to it that you are blind to other opportunities that could arise. 

Illustration by Cat Palairet

Describe your style in your own words.
I would say stylishly simple, with clean lines and a neutral colour palette works most of the time. My style is quite similar to the kind of person I design for. For me, style is about timeless designs that could be locked in your wardrobe then one day you could decide to bring it out to wear it again. I was always collecting things as a kid and guess I’d like my clothes to become the same.
Who would you say you design for?
Modern gentlemen who want to prevail with confidence. Most men like getting dolled up as much as women, and appreciate a well made garment. After all, what gives you more confidence than walking down the street dressed to the nines?

Are there particular people who you admire in the industry or otherwise?
Lots, it would be too difficult to just pin point one. Everyone… don’t we all? Everyone you meet effects your life and inspires you. We all take inspiration from something but just might not know it. I look to different people for inspiration- my family and friends inspire me, artists, writers and people who can connect and communicate with other people through their work. Everything someone does has a story behind it and everyone that comes across this creates their own interpretation of it. And… oh yeah, I tend to day dream a lot. (Laughs) That’s where the best ideas come from- I drift off into my own little world quite often when I’m out and about.
What piece(s) would you wear from the ‘UTTN’ collection?
I’d wear everything; I’d like to think there is something for everyone in the collection. It’s great to see people using your designs with their own style. I sold two of the bias cut waistcoats a few weeks back; one guy, he wore it over the top of a t-shirt with jeans and I sold one to another guy who wore it with a pair of cords and a tweed jacket. It’s great to see people with different takes on my clothing.

So what’s next for Ross Paul Keenan?
I’m always working on new bits, but at the moment I have been working on a S/S 2011 collection. But it’s all about funding and it’s hard for young designers. The plan is to just keep going with the flow, even if a few bits get produced from the collection that’s all a step in the right direction and then next time a few more… Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Categories ,california, ,Cat Palairet, ,Darren Fletcher, ,Design Museum, ,Gareth A Hopkins, ,Gentlemen, ,Graduate Fashion Week, ,london, ,London Fashion Week, ,Millwall, ,Riots, ,Ross Paul Keenan, ,Savile Row, ,tailoring, ,University of East London, ,Up To The Nines, ,West Ham

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Amelia’s Magazine | Exhibition: Small Things at 67a Gallery

On the first cold Wednesday of November, my brisk walk up Kingsland Road was rewarded by ‘Small Things‘ a collective exhibition of photography at 67a Dalston Lane. The works on display are an exquisite foray (two of the four participants Annie Collinge and Amy Gwatkin contributed to Amelia’s Magazine whilst in print) into the possibilities of photography. Here the four participants, Annie Collinge, Anna Leader, Bella Fenning and Amy Gwatkin discuss their involvement in the exhibition and introduce a few of the threads running through their work.

Annie Collinge’s tightly composed portraits documents the faces of four girls dressed as their favourite comic book heroines.

For the Small Things Exhibition, why did you decide to sidestep the girls costumes at the Comic Con convention?

There were a lot of people taking photographs there, so I wanted to take a different approach. I actually just used it as an opportunity to photograph strangers, because they were at the conference, they didn’t question why I wanted to take their picture. I actually shot a lot of men too but when I looked at the images, the pictures of the girls were much stronger.

How do you choose your subjects?

I picked out people that had a natural, though awkward, appeal which in most cases they seemed unaware of possessing. Those with the best costumes didn’t necessarily make for the best subjects

How did you become involved with Small Things?

I was a Brighton with Amy, Anna and Bella and they very kindly asked me if I would like to be part of the show. Having worked in editorial for a while I think showing personal projects is by far the most important thing so I am really pleased I took part in it.

Anna Leader documents the components required for an amateur science project.

What was the concept behind your latest photographic series?

The series was a reaction to the title of the show, Small Things. I explored something simple but wondrous, one of the first things we learn in science: light refracting through a prism and being broken down into its basic components that are usually invisible to the naked eye.

Placing a crystal and a spectrum side by side, prompts the viewer to remember this phenomenon of cause and effect. The rainbow was created in a controlled environment however, using an overhead projector, a glass of water and a piece of mirror, a man-made trick that I relate with the nature of photography itself, a mechanical tool making use of the elements of what we see and creates something beyond the realm of the immediately visible.

What I chose to exhibit therefore were all elements: the beautiful spectrum and the real device that allowed it to be visible, rendering the crystal inanimate. The consequence is a continual short circuit between the three images and between three versions of the same story.

What intrigues you about amateur or DIY Science Experiments?

Amateur or DIY Science Experiments contain some of our most basic questions regarding what makes up the physical world around us and the results obtained are a celebration of the answers readily available through patient observation and the desire to see. Photography has the same power. We try to grasp what we see and record it for the future, putting the documents into categories: aesthetic, informative, emotive and so on.

Bella Fenning Arrivals and Departures presented on a tower of Photo Cubes, invites the viewer to participate in the narration of the images.

How did the photographic series for the exhibition Small Things develop?

I’m really interested in how we experience or engage with photographs. I wanted to get away from the traditional hanging of images in the gallery space, and the fear of getting to close to the work on display. Audience participation, or being an active viewer, was an important aspect. I wanted to make something sculptural that combined the 2 different languages I work with (still and moving imagery), but was also tactile and had multiple viewing screens.

This idea of what you can hold on to and what you can’t is conveyed in the images through a series of events that are fleeting yet leave a lasting impression. I’d started thinking about photo cubes, which had been a popular display object to have in your home when I was growing up. I happened to find one at a jumble sale when I was on holiday in the midst of making the work and that became the base of this project.

What intrigues your camera when photographing a landscape compared to a portrait?

To me, landscapes and portraits are of equal measure – I see as much personality or character in the landscape as I do when photographing people. I’m also drawn to the intimacy of people in their domestic settings, which is a common thread throughout my work.

Who are your favourite photographers or filmmakers?

I would say John Cassavetes and David Lynch for the profound effect their films have had on me. Maya Deren for the wonder of her timeless, playful and experimental approach, and the brilliant wit and poinancy of Sophie Calle. But I never tire of looking at the work of Nan Goldin, and the poetic nature of Duane Michals and Doug Aitken. The list goes on……

Amy Gwatkin’s Nothing Happened, forms a census of men smoking naked or partially clothed in the photographer’s documentation of a mass performed individualised act.

By advertising your photography project on Craig Lists casual encounters (please correct me if this is the wrong title) there is an element of danger when meeting strangers who are willing to pose for you naked, what impact do you think this has on the outcome of the photographs?

I think sometimes it forces me to be very quick – encourages lots of preparation. It’s tiring too; no matter how sure I feel that I’m able to control a situation, there’s always an awareness of potential danger somewhere in the back of my consciousness.

It does mean that some of the sittings are better articulated than others. I approach each model with a ‘menu’ of 2 or 3 ideas I want to explore. As soon as i walk in the door i can tell that some will/won’t work. It also depends which advert they answered – the artists’ community one, or the casual encounters one. So in the latter case, often the model’s face has to be cropped out/obscured. I think I must enjoy the risk. Occasionally it makes the images harder to look at/edit, as you can get away with doing certain things with strangers that you couldn’t with friends.

Voyeurism forms a long and complicated chapter in the history of photography, what your relation or thoughts on the role or aspect of voyeurism in photography?

(Def: one who habitually seeks sexual stimulation by visual means )

Although it is also officially classified as a term about sexual behaviour – I think now we’ve broadened it to include connotations of watching/looking but not participating; perhaps of being an outsider. Making a distinction between those who act/take part, and those who merely watch, getting a vicarious thrill. I think in the case of this project perhaps the thrill is in re-ordering/editing the images to create an impossible./untrue narrative. Is there something inherently sexual about the pictures? Yeah. Even though nudity doesn’t have to be sexual, sometimes it can just be beautiful, or vulnerable, or liberated.

Would you class these photographs as voyeuristic as they involved sitters with whom you know personally or who had agreed to be photographed naked, as the sitter themselves found the concept of being photographed naked intriguing?

I don’t know if I find the individual portraits voyeuristic – certainly the presentation of them is more so. Something about re-shooting the images from the screen before outputting gives them a contrasty, metallic edge – the moiré reminds us we’re looking at a screen, putting an extra distance between the portrait and the viewer. It looks like a surveillance image. But yes, my advert started with “exhibitionists wanted”, which I guess instantly makes them willing participants in a role-play in which I take the voyeur’s position behind the lens.

Small Things runs at 67a Gallery until 28th November.
67a Dalston Lane, London, E8 2NG
Opening times: Wednesday – Saturday, 1-6pm

Categories ,67a Dalston Lane, ,Amy Gwatkin, ,Anna Leader, ,Annie Collinge, ,Bella Fenning, ,Black and White, ,Craigs List, ,Photo Cube, ,portraits, ,Small Things, ,Smoking, ,Voyeur

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