“It was when we were awarded a giant golden penis at the Erotic Awards, prostate malady that has to be my best moment here so far. It was a fashion show that went really well and everything came to plan.” Holly Jade picked up, check with grinning pride, a huge, winged and golden figurine of male genitalia. As manager of a successful London business, you might expect a more contained answer from Holly, who sits adorned with silver chains, ripped tights and purple streaked hair. Wait a second. Scrap that.
Prangsta Costumiers is far from conventional. “We don’t try and be something that we’re not.” And quite rightly so. Why play the fashion game when their concept already oozes the type of London decadence, imagination and crisp tailoring that one would expect from the likes of Westwood? Seem like an overstatement? Well, yes. But don’t knock this place until you’ve seen it.
I first came across Prangsta when strolling through the streets of New Cross with my mum (as you do). We stopped outside the barred up, clouded shop window and strained our eyes through the metal, trying to fathom what this place was. Despite my mum’s adamance that it was a brothel, she confidently ducked under the corrugated iron and called out for any possible inhabitants. A French lady emerged. She beckoned us inside, casually wearing a riding helmet (as one also does).
An Aladdin’s cave still is the only way to describe it. Trunks and dressers spilling with jewels, brooches, elaborate belts, crowns and masks; dishevelled bustiers heaped with wigs and mad fabric; a trapeze swinging from the ceiling. There was no order. It was undisputed beautiful chaos.
The best part? Every costume is hand-made and tailored by the tight-nit Prangsta team. “We try to purchase as little material as possible so we go to a lot of vintage markets and also get a lot of materials donated to us. We take apart old costumes and old fabrics and then restore them and make them into our own Prangsta designs.” This kind of eco-awareness has been a core principle of Prangsta ever since Melanie Wilson founded the company in 1998. “She studied fashion at Central Saint Martins and really hated how wasteful the fashion industry was portrayed to her.”
Theatrical and period costume dominates Prangsta’s extensive mish-mash gallery of stunning work. A Victorian suited wolf, a burlesque fox or perhaps a two of diamonds playing card? (The shop does have an astonishingly brilliant Alice in Wonderland collection). Simply enter their hidden world and you could transform into characters you barely knew of. Hell, you could make up your own! Or at least leave the imagination to Holly herself, who styles her clients’ costumes rather than creating the pieces in their 1500 square foot studio in Deptford.
I of course guided the conversation onto that 21st birthday party of one Daisy Lowe. Daisy, her mother Pearl and several members of the star-studded guestlist were dressed by Holly and her talented team. Daisy, in particular, wore floor-skimming jaw-dropping ‘Ice Queen’-esque attire. “It was great… They are rock n’ roll royalty. Daisy is a lovely girl and a pleasure to dress.” ? ?And their impressive list of clients doesn’t end there. Prangsta have also dressed The Noisettes (Shingai, the lead singer, used to work for the company), the Moulettes, the White Stripes, the BBC2 comedy drama ‘Psychoville’ and, get this, have even dressed Florence & The Machine.
Holly insists, however, that dressing such high-flying stars aren’t considered amongst Prangsta’s greatest achievements. I know. ‘You what?’ was my reaction too. But she continued… “I think it’s more of an achievement that we’ve been going like this for 12 years. We’ve made everything ourselves and we’re a London-based local business. Everyone works really hard. We work long hours, sometimes 12 hour days, and keeping the business running I think is more of an achievement.”
And she’s right. The Prangsta team do seem to work incessantly hard. They don’t just simply lend beautiful costumes to individuals. They tour all different festivals throughout the summer. They organize community nights for local performers and artists. They scour markets and thrift stores for the beautiful trinkets and treasures you’ll see placed around their shop. They even run their own dressmaking classes which take place in their Deptford studio. “Classes are taught by Mel and two of her seamstresses,” she says. I then of course comment on the advantage to the class members by being taught by Melanie, being an ex-Saint Martin’s student and pioneer of this mad palace. Holly even mentioned to me how Melanie began squatting in the building that we were sitting in. “Mel started out completely alone, from nothing. She now owns this row of shops and rents them out and also has Prangsta.”How’s that for a success story?
I also just HAD to ask about that haunting but quirky shop-front that had my mum so convinced we were about to come across prostitutes. Holly laughed when I told of her of this. ?“We do what we can. We’re in New Cross, not in Soho. And I guess we’re quite an urban team. We’re quite subversive, eccentric characters. It is quite dilapidated but we’re a small business in a rundown area.” But no excuses were necessary. I really and truly loved the subversive exterior. And, well, the mysterious look of Prangsta is certainly parallel with the mysterious Melanie, who apparently prefers not to do interviews (damn, eh?). ? ?Prangsta sure has got a good thing going, but they’re not stopping there. They have pretty big plans for future expansion. “One day we will have an online shop. People will be able to click on, say, a little hat and will be able to request one to be made for them. Within the next five years I’d say we’d like to be working on expanding our costume collection and maybe pump out a fashion collection aswell. We’d like to break through this wall to next door so that we can have an exhibition space and put a lot of costumes up on the walls like a bit of a gallery, have some music playing with a DJ, have some chai on the go. Above all, we want to provide a really quality service by restoring and recycling aswell as contributing to the community.”
After seeing the place for the second time, and speaking to Holly, it appears that not only Prangsta’s enchanting costumes, but also it’s intriguing story and extensive achievement is a true example of what those young, fun, London minds are made of.
Prangsta can be found at 304, New Cross Road, London. ?Costumes are between £80-100 to rent for 5 days and are also sold at individual prices. ?Their next dressmaking classes begin on Wednesday 22nd September from 7 – 9.30pm and cost £200. There is a maximum class size of 10 (so get in there quick if you’re interested!).
Eugene Lin, page A/W 2010, stomach illustrated by Abby Wright
It is the impeccable designs of Eugene Lin that have captivated us here at Amelia’s Magazine. The Central Saint Martins graduate’s intricate and feminine designs are a force to be reckoned with in the near future, patient and it is his expertise in pattern cutting that has given him this power. While we wait for Eugene Lin’s ultra-swish designs to bulldoze their way into magazine editorials and on the bodies of celebrities alike, we get to know the designer behind his eponymous label…
Your autumn/winter 2010 collection ‘The Gordian Knot’ and your spring/summer ?2010 collection both have a unique, tailored simplicity that flatteringly ?emphasises the feminine form. Is this a key factor when designing your collections, or do you feel it comes naturally to you?
In the words of the great Hubert De Givenchy ‘Adding a flower or piling on details is not couture. But make an utterly simple dress, with a simple style line, this is the key to haute couture.’ The legendary Coco Chanel also said, ‘Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.’ My clothes are not haute couture, but the essence of what the two aforementioned designers is something I totally agree with and embody in my work. Simplicity should not be confused with plainness; the elegance of my work becomes very evident on closer inspection and that is what the women who buy my pieces appreciate and love. While some of the pieces from both collections are very feminine, there are also large appropriations taken from menswear, right down to the fabrics of the S/S 2010 collection where I used fine menswear shirting for the best-selling dresses. Ultimately, it is a combination of both a feel and a conscious reminder that it is a womenswear line after all. ?
You’ve spent a lot of time with influential British designers – Preen, Vivienne Westwood, Roksanda Ilincic and Ashley Isham. Do you feel your designs exemplify what British fashion is all about? Would you define your aesthetic as British, or otherwise?
I love British fashion. I always have and always will. British fashion for me stands for designers who are bold, directional and cutting edge. There is a burning spirit and huge support for new British designers which far surpasses any other city, including the other three fashion capitals. While the catwalks are teeming with unwearable showpieces which often draw flak from the public and other cities, there are also other designers such as myself which push the boundaries in a quieter, unexaggerated way in terms of innovative cut, fabrication and wearability. Jackie JS Lee and Joana Sykes are examples of this.
I would define my aesthetic as Euro-centric, but not necessarily British. A designer can say all they want about who they think they are or are like, but at the end of the day, the buyers and customers are the ones who ultimately decide because customers never lie with their money. They are the ones who, through the pure forces of economics, decide which market responds the best and whose collections sit alongside yours in the multi-brand boutiques. So far, my work has been described as very chic, very Italian and very Parisian. But I am stocked along other great British designers both in the UK and in Asia, hence I feel the label has a broad European appeal. ?
A/W 2010, illustrated by Gareth A Hopkins
Your spring/summer collection made use of a beautiful royal blue colour, ?whilst your autumn/winter collection visited a flattering and seductive red. Do you find inspiration in the rich colours, or do the rich colours inspire you? Do you feel you must be selective in your colour choices to match ?your aesthetic?
There is always an accent colour in each of my collections, but the question is finding it and making it work in harmony with the rest of the palette. I choose my colours very carefully, and if I cannot envision a piece in a certain colour, I will re-evaluate the entire palette. The accent colours are rich, but the rest tend to be muted to balance it. Sometimes, the fabric jumps out at me and I immediately know I will use it, like the rich blue for S/S 2010. For the red in A/W 2010, the inspiration came from the concept; red is the colour of Mars, the Roman God of War. Finding the right shade, weight and texture is very tricky especially for new designers who cannot afford large minimums. The colours have to sit in blocks across the collection, as well as in the order of silhouettes. This process is a constant delicate juggling act, but getting it right really pays off as it makes each collection cohesive – something that all my buyers have really appreciated when visiting my stands and buying into the collections for their stores.
A/W 2010, illustrated by Katherine Tromans
Your intricately made ‘Bella’ top (above) is both draped and unmistakeably tailored to fit the female form. Is your unique tailoring going to be a pleasantly recurring theme in your future work, like a calling card or so to speak?
The key difference between a Eugene Lin piece and many other designer pieces is the amount of attention that is paid to the intelligent cut and detail, both in draped and tailored pieces. The entire front of Bella is actually draped out of one single piece, being pinched together at the knot. With such a rich experience in pattern cutting, it came as a natural progression to my work, and it’s one of the few things that is incredibly difficult to imitate due to the level of technical difficulty in my work. S/S 2010 had a lot of panels and pieces which were cut from a single piece of fabric – draped or intricately split, while A/W 2010 revolved around the knots and loops. I have been accused of being a minimalist, but ask any one of my interns or machinists who have worked on my pieces and they will laugh it off. As I mentioned before, my work always reveals something on closer inspection. I find it incredibly insulting to both customers and other designers who really put in a lot of effort into creating a real designer garment when a pretender slaps a couple of metal studs and rings onto a piece of leather and calls it a designer dress or jacket. I would never insult my customers this way. I will always push my tailoring in different directions each season to give them something new, yet draw them back because of the familiar guarantee of quality of an impeccable fit. ?
Speaking of your future work, what do you have in store for the future of the ?Eugene Lin label? Can you divulge any information on future ventures, or even ?Spring/Summer 2011?
I will be exhibiting my third collection, S/S 2011 ‘The Vanishing Twin’, on-schedule at Somerset House this coming London Fashion Week, and for the first time taking the collection to Paris Fashion Week to an even bigger international audience. S/S 2011 was inspired by Stephen King’s novel ‘The Dark Half’ and based on the medical condition foetus in fetu (FIF), commonly known as Vanishing Twin Syndrome, whereby a foetus develops around its twin in the womb. The result, although rare, causes cases where a foot has been found growing in a boy’s brain, and limbs growing in stomachs. However, for me a concept is only as good as its translation, and I’d like to think I’ve translated all my themes successfully so far. The pieces for S/S 2011 feature tailored trousers with extra ‘grown in’ features like an extra waistband, mutated skirts and dresses and separates which have been draped to resemble muscle and tissue. Bottom line, I am selling clothes, and even if the customer is not aware of the inspiration or does not buy into the concept, they can always walk away with an incredible designer piece. The concept becomes a bonus for those interested in more than just a beautifully created garment. ? ?
A/W 2010, illustrated by Jaymie O’Callaghan
Do you prefer sketching designs or actually constructing them?
I prefer constructing them, although I do sketch of course. Seeing the piece come to life is like birthing an idea, and sometimes I discover things on the stand which makes it even more beautiful than the sketch. Anyone can draw a sketch, but a woman is not going to walk into a boutique to buy a sketch to wear to an event now, is she?
?What do you like most about designing clothes?
The fulfilment of seeing women buy and wear a piece of their identity based on my aesthetics which originated from a simple thought. It’s like watching a seed grow right to fruitation.
?Describe your personal style in three words.
Clean, precise, elegant. In that order.
What does fashion mean to you in three words?
Love. Life. Light.
What advice would you give to those that would like to get into fashion ?design?
Haha!! Where do we start on this….It’s really not for everyone, you have got to be really, really tough – it’s not a profession for little farm girls. Ask yourself WHERE exactly you want to be in the industry – a designer of your own label or designing for a house, and WHY you want to do it. For some like myself, I know that I will never be happy working under someone else and I wanted my own career, but for others they enjoy a design team. There is no right or wrong solution, and you should never expect to emulate another designer’s path. Internships are vital, do as many as you can to see the real face of our industry.
- London Fashion Week S/S 2011 Catwalk Review: Hannah Marshall
- Eugene Lin: London Fashion Week A/W 2013 Catwalk Review
- Eugene Lin: London Fashion Week S/S 2014 Catwalk Review
- London Fashion Week S/S 2011 Womenswear Preview: On|Off
- Fiona Paxton: London Fashion Week S/S 2013 Preview Interview