Katie Eary Brings Young British Art to Fashion

British designer Katie Eary is, in her words, “making waves” in modern-day menswear. She’s not exaggerating. Only two years into her eponymous label—her first collection of mens- and womenswear was SS2010—Eary already counts Kanye West as a fan and a friend. Before starting her own label, Eary worked at Levi’s and attended the Royal College of Art. Here we talk with the art-student turned designer about the relationship between art and fashion, Macaulay Culkin, the British Young Art movement, and her interdisciplinary plans for the future.

AMINA NOLAN: How did you get into fashion?

KATIE EARY: Actually, I feel like fashion chose me rather than the other way round. I wasn’t the most academic student at school to say the least; totally wasn’t that into anything other than art. But [when] the whole YBA (Young British Artists) movement happened I thought, “Well that’s been done, what else can I really contribute?”

NOLAN: So, back to the drawing board…

EARY: [laughs] Well, yeah! By this point I had already messed up my A level’s and, other than art, I wasn’t really interested in anything other than what I wanted to wear. I thought I’d go into fashion ‘cause I seemed to be enjoying it. Somehow ended up at the University of Leicester—that was shit—but I’d made friends, so I decided to stay [at University] and [studied] menswear. I know people must hate the idea of someone just winging it, but that’s what I did.

NOLAN: Fashion won out over art?

EARY: The funny thing is a lot of what I do—some people say it’s more art than fashion, so eventually I ended up doing what I wanted. Similarly [to] how Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin made waves in art, I feel like I am making waves in menswear. A lot of people are like, “What’s that? Who the hell is going to wear that?” Or people absolutely love it. Simple as that.

NOLAN: Tell me about this collection?

EARY: This collection, in some ways, is a bit of a blast from the past—it’s very ‘90s LA skate. I have this image in my head of someone hungover putting on some small denim jeans, grabbing one of my silk shirts and riding off into the sunset. It’s very youth inspired—a lot of color, a lot vibrancy, and, as you can see, a lot of gold!

NOLAN: Whom would you most like to see wearing your clothing?

EARY: Macaulay Culkin.

NOLAN: Are you joking? Sorry, I just didn’t think you were going to say that…

EARY: Nope. Come on, he’s forever young … and gorgeous! That image of him dribbling on the cover of The Face, it’s just perfect! It’s attitude, youth, and sex; everything this brand is about.

NOLAN: So, what is your biggest inspiration?

EARY: I constantly strive to create; I just want people to feel it. I think if it provokes a reaction—good or bad—[that’s] what I want to achieve. It’s better than feeling nothing. If someone feels nothing then, to me, you have failed. Another inspiration is the younger generation; I always look at my brothers, they are like my three muses—three completely different characters, their ages range from 18-25, and they wear whatever they want. None of them dress for anyone other than themselves and I love that. Just making it fun—putting a kilt with a tie under a t-shirt and rocking it.

NOLAN:  I hear that you know Kanye West?

EARY: Yeah, he’s definitely my “homeboy.” [But] jokes aside, we are such close friends; we have known each other now for three years.

NOLAN: And how did that relationship start?

EARY: After my second proper show at London fashion week, [Kanye] emailed me because he liked my skeleton collection. At first I obviously thought it was one of my friends messing around, ‘cause why on earth would some one like that contact me? I had no idea he was into fashion, I only knew him through his music and [my collection] was pretty underground stuff, I was completely new. After a few e-mails it turned out to be real; he came around to my house for a cup of tea and it all started from there.

NOLAN: Do you still collaborate?

EARY: Basically I consult for him, so it’s very on and off, but if he needs help he would totally call me. Likewise, I’ll most likely e-mail him all of this collection before anyone else sees it to get his reactions and thoughts, which is always a great help. I know he will love it!

NOLAN: What are your plans for the future?

EARY: It’s all very exciting—one of the best things about my friendship with Kanye is that he’s really shown me that you can do it all. I want to expand into installation work, taking fashion into different forms and dimensions. For newer designers, as you probably know, money is always a problem so ideally I’d love a shop in Tokyo, more sales, and living out my creativity.