Last week saw a slew of forward-thinking minds gather at London’s Protein Studios to celebrate the launch of a collaborative zine from respected photographer Tyler Mitchell and Laundry Service, the exciting womenswear brand founded by Georgina Johnson. A photo essay of sorts, the publication features dreamy, pastel-hued portraits of models wearing deconstructed looks lifted from Laundry Service’s 2016 collection, ‘Yellow Undertones’. An exclusive short film created by Mitchell was projected onto the sparse walls of the studios, while BBZ, MARTHA and westindians provided the soundtrack to the highly-anticipated launch.
Johnson herself decorated the space with sheaths of blue gauze, blown-up prints and scattered flowers, creating an ethereal yet industrial backdrop. It was the perfect culmination of a collaboration which she says was entirely organic: “We literally clicked instantly, I saw the action in his work,” she says, describing Mitchell as Laundry Service Kin. “The thing about me is that, if I feel like I can see you in your work – if I can see that it’s an extension of you, and not something forced or contrived, then I’m down. A lot of people see these Insta-Tumblr formulas and work within them, but Tyler was exactly the person I imagined. We both understood how important the narrative we wanted to share was, and it meant something to both of us to do it our way.”
The narrative she refers to is one which is critically under-represented in the fashion industry. Described in a press release as a “sensual, visual exploration into concepts of self-love, identity and home”, the idea was to challenge the often fetishised or exoticised portrayals of black personhood, disrupt the predominantly white status quo and allow BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) creatives to craft their own representation.
“Laundry Service was created out of necessity,” explains Johnson. “Honestly, I think it’s bad that we’re suddenly waving the diversity flag, but hardly any heads of brands themselves are BAME. I think about it sometimes, and it’s weird to know that I’m one of very few BAME creatives emerging in a niche market.” She admits that there have been challenges along the way, although her admirable determination meant that these problems were never insurmountable. “I was once told by a tutor, ages ago, that I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do,” says Johnson. “Of course I completely disagreed! I feel that, through my work, I definitely can. I have the freedom to explore my ideas and work with people I love and admire.”
For this project in particular, finding the right models was a crucial yet lengthy process. “We were scouting and casting for a while – [Tyler] has worked with girls on a few projects, so we talked about using them, and we also saw some dope girls on the street in New York. We explored loads of avenues.” Social media communication and chance meetings resulted in casting models equipped with charisma and a sense of magnetism which shines throughout the serene shots. “Tyler actually met Che at a party,” recalls Johnson. “She was so sweet and open, it was perfect working with her. He scouted Ami through Instagram. I remember he sent me her profile, and I was like, ‘It’s actually important to have this girl.’ She’s beautiful.”
The designer also states that it was important to make sure the women were fully involved in the project and engaged with its themes. “We had conversations with the girls, notified them of the theme and how it would really involve them,” she states, emphasising the importance of collaboration between everyone involved. “We needed to know if they were comfortable talking about the subject, and how open they felt they could be. I wanted this to be not only about the garments, but about the people it involved. It was important not to just ‘use’ models – I wanted them to feel part of it.”
Although the sum of its disparate parts, the project is largely driven by the singular, beautifully unravelled pieces that Johnson creates for Laundry Service. An amalgamation of different textures, silhouettes and deconstructed elements, the ‘Yellow Undertones’ collection stands out for its willingness to experiment. Johnson describes her aesthetic as “contemporary couture”, a term she first discovered when she ran away from uni and went on to pursue her own vision in Amsterdam.
“I worked for this really interesting brand, MaryMe-JimmyPaul, and learnt so much there,” remembers Johnson. “For me, contemporary couture is the combination of attention to shape – the building of it, the ambiguity of it and stretching it beyond traditional conventions – and texture and form. Brands that operate within this are undoing established ways of seeing couture, which makes it contemporary. Of course, there are traditional workings at the core of what’s being done, but that’s the same with everything. You look back a little to move forward.”
In terms of moving forward with her own vision, Johnson plans to launch ‘The Laundry’, an art curation and collaboration program for women and BAME people, this summer. “I’ve been working on its first project with photographers Cary Fagan and Cecilie Rasmussen, as well as DJ and producer Martha Pazienti-Caiden and sound artist Aminah Ibrahim. I’m really excited about it – I’m going to be working on the growth of both things. They are both an opportunity for me to support, share and exchange with other creatives.”
The beauty of Johnson’s distinctive vision is that it is simultaneously individual yet collaborative. This continual emphasis on community is precisely what sets her apart from her contemporaries and offers the potential for Laundry Service and its related projects to become an all-encompassing reality. This isn’t just about clothing, art or photography – it’s about crafting an alternate space for under-represented creatives to come together, collaborate and carve out their own representation. “I have started thinking about the next collection,” admits Johnson, “but the future is basically a brand and organisation that are one in the same. So yes – watch this space!”
All photos courtesy of Laundry Service’s new zine which will be available on www.laundrysrvice.com from Wednesday
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Words Jake Hall