Looking to London: Meadham Kirchhoff Strikes a Balance
Published February 15, 2011
“I got sick of the real world and wanted nothing to do with it,” confessed Ed Meadham, one half of the London-based design duo Meadham Kirchhoff, during a phone interview last week. His declaration explained, in part, the label’s recent aesthetic shift, from dark deconstructed tough-girl clothes to the twisted spectrum of decayed pink lace, veiled crowns, Technicolor sequins and pastel-painted bomber jackets we’ve seen lately. “We wanted to push the boundaries and present something more delicate, elaborate and strange,” he added. Ed Meadham, a 31 year-old Englishman, and Ben Kirchhoff (32 and French) met while studying at London’s famed factory of fashion talent, Central Saint Martins College. “We were drawn in by a certain obsessiveness in each other’s work,” said Kirchhoff. Shortly after graduation, they launched a menswear line; but the designers, who both live and work in their East End London studio, found the parameters of menswear too restricting and, in 2006, the maddening world of Meadham Kirchhoff was born.
Inspired by disheveled punk princess Courtney Love (Meadham is an admitted Hole fan), the designers’ last collection was a screaming feminine wonderland of glitter embellishments, candy-colored graffiti, and bubblegum tube socks. The risky, yet wonderfully wild, looks left buyers questioning wearability and editors longing for an encore. But, judging by the house’s recent receipt of the British Fashion Council’s Fashion Forward Sponsorship, it’s safe to say that the designers’ eccentric new direction is the right one. “We had no confidence in what we were doing, nor in our abilities to do it,” admitted Meadham of the line’s early days. It seems his concerns were just growing pains: as the designers moved forward, this uncertainty transformed into impeccably-constructed beaded, embroidered, and ruffled garments that border on couture. “We’re passionate about precision, about getting things right,” explained Kirchhoff, who aspires to run the label akin to an old-world atelier like Coco Chanel or Madeleine Vionnet. Naturally, the compulsive craftsmanship and hand-worked details that appear on each whimsical garment make for a startling price tag (dresses range from $925 to a casual $7,200). But when one considers the daunting amount of man-hours that go into a Meadham Kirchhoff frock, the cost is (nearly) justified. Last week, the house’s manufacturer called Kirchhoff complaining about a frock that took over 21 hours to complete. “I just said, ‘I’m sorry. That’s the job and that’s what has to be done.'” If you’re looking for a house signature, you won’t find one. “We try never to repeat ourselves. If there’s one thing that defines us, it’s that we don’t have any specific points of reference,” said Kirchhoff. One would think that the designers’ contrasting personal tastes—Kirchhoff likes subdued navys, blacks, and ’70s Modernism, while Meadham prefers florals and pinks and can occasionally be found wearing “antique rags and chandelier crystals”—would be signature enough, if not a recipe for an explosive design dynamic. But the designers assert that they rarely disagree. “We’re not a singular amoeba. We have different points of view on pretty much everything. But we speak the same language… and we make one another aware of things that we hadn’t seen before.” The result is otherworldly odd-meets-elegant garments for self-assured women who aren’t afraid to let their freak flags fly. “I think fashion should be for everyone and everything, on so many levels,” said Kirchhoff. But celebrities and socialites shouldn’t expect any free handouts. “That’s why we always say no when celebrities want to borrow our clothes. It sends out the wrong message: that women have to fit into sample size or be a specific way. And, they’re celebrities. They have more money than I do. They can go out and buy the clothes.” When asked about their upcoming collection, which will strut down the runway on February 22, the designers remained relatively tight-lipped. “It’s weird, this one,” was their only comment. But they said it with confidence—because, at the end of the day, weird is what they do best.