ART CLASS: Wylde meets Art School


 Portrait by Lillie Eiger

 Portrait by Lillie Eiger

Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East schedule for MAN during London Fashion Week is giving fashion life right now! Tom Barratt and Eden Loweth’s presentations as Art School are a jubilant celebration of the non-binary body, with an untypical – in model terms – cast of those who identify at different points along the gender spectrum.

Art School has showcased its designers’ reality for three seasons now. Tom and Eden’s joyful, expressive shows represent a real effort to change and challenge the norms, not just regarding gender categorisation, but also those who are not usually represented; from atypical body shapes, in the context of fashion, to models of varied ages (ahem!). Shout out to middle-aged mothers walking the runway!

I caught up with Tom post-Art School’s LFWM triumph and pre the Paris showrooms, to find out how it feels to be fashion’s ones-to-watch…

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Wylde: It feels like you are part of a very joyous movement in fashion at the moment, along with others who are determined to throw out archaic gender prescriptives. Is there a support system within the fashion world for you and your message?

Tom Barratt: We definitely would align ourselves with the joyous and gender-non-conforming movement! The support system of MAN and Fashion East has given incredible exposure to a legion of queer designers, from House of Jazz to Meadham Kirchhoff, and onwards. To be a part of that legacy is a great privilege.  

Judging by my children and their friends, there seems to be an encouraging attitude in young people towards gender fluidity, self-expression and individuality. What was your experience, growing up?

It’s fantastic and inspiring that a lot of kids now are open, in regards to gender. They are the clever ones! We both grew up in quite closed-minded worlds, myself in the football-y world of Stockport, and Eden in the Norfolk countryside. However, our home environments and families were both incredibly supportive of our “otherness”. It’s when we came to London that we were able to really explore our gender expression and self-identity, however. London has that effect! Hopefully, this generation of kids won’t have to move to the big city to experiment and feel free. 

Your LFW presentations have often had the feeling of an art happening. This season saw your first catwalk show proper. Which kind of presentation do you prefer?

We are still a young brand, having only shown three times in total, and each time we have taken a different approach to the nature of the presentation. We have loved each show in different ways but this time we really felt so proud of the statement, as the emphasis was truly on the cast of amazing individuals, their presence and the clothes. This doesn’t mean we won’t continue to explore performance within the shows.Tom loves a choreographed number… who doesn’t?!

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Does being business-minded conflict with free self- expression? To survive as a brand the two have to be in harmony, I guess. But do you find that hard?

We are both dreamers and love to imagine fantastical fashion moments and love the beauty of being creative. But we are also both quite business-minded at the same time. You definitely need both, as Anna Wintour says in The First Monday in May: “You can’t have fashion without art and commerce,” or something like that! We’ve come to love unpicking and understanding how to present something so seemingly obscure as a gender-queer performance and it turns into a capsule collection with Matches, for example. We’re finding our own way of being “commercial” that works for us. 

How important to you is the sense of the Art School “family”, and representing that family defiantly to the world?

This is incredibly important. We are lucky to be working with an inspiring group of individuals and, although the shows are only here and there, and the group of people changes, ebbs and flows and re-forms… we are always going to be Art School together and essentially it is the people that are Art School. Each time we get to present this family to the world, it feels powerful and defiant. 

Is the word drag passé?

Not at all! It has its wonderful place in the queer world of performance, art and entertainment. We are engaging now more than ever with taking classic and modern elements of drag and playing with these in our work. Drag sits alongside queerness, transness and gayness in the gender-fuck spectrum of otherness that is the Art School world. It’s all a big playground for us to experiment with presenting people’s truths and illusions. 

Is it easier or harder to collaborate on a fashion label as a couple?

We’ve just now entered into a new fluidity and strength of working together as a united voice. We’ve always worked well together and our personal relationship and fashion relationship have always been so intrinsically linked. We haven’t known anything other, really! We rarely argue about decisions now, as we feel similarly about our expression. However, it’s always good to push each other and question each other for the sake of growth and disruption.

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Has fashion become too celebrity-obsessed?

The two have become quite hand-in-hand. This isn’t a bad thing, however; you always need that star power to convey fashion ideas into the mainstream. Whereas before celebrities andperformers were designed by fashion, now they are turning their hand to design fashion themselves!

Which celebrities are you obsessed with?

We have no idols! But we adore Cardi B.

Who would you gag to have wear your clothes?

Luckily for us the people we would gag to wear the clothes get to wear them in the shows! Such as yourself, Pippa, Princess Julia, Julia Hobbs, Harriet Scott. Munroe Bergdorf also wore a full look front-row at our recent show and she is an incredible role model and spokesperson on trans-ness and race. We are well and truly gagged!

What were the influences for your AW18 show?

We wanted to ramp up the sex factor in a way that was relevant to the queer body. We looked at style icons such as Gwen Stefani, Donatella Versace and Pete Burns, and even compared these to the prevalence of the Kylie Jenner woman and the modern fashion body… the injected lip! We wanted to explore how these supposedly different mainstream and queer references are actually very alike in today’s image culture. Combining this with our exploration of soft tailoring and working with a cast of individuals to give personality and character to each look, we are always so influenced by the people who model. Shout out to Kevin Le Grand, who remains a powerhouse force in expressing a particularly inspiring vision of queer style but was not present in the show. She is sensational! 

The models in your AW18 show walked to a remix of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall and then Stevie Nicks for the finale. Can you explain your music choices? 

It was an extended club mix of Eric Prydz’s remix of Another Brick in the Wall, and the finale was Stevie Nicks’ Stand Back. We kept changing the main song as the show was approaching and eventually decided that Another Brick in the Wall was a fitting statement for the Art School show. The Eric Prydz mix gave it that fierce stompy-ness! Stand Back is a song we’ve been listening to over the past few months. Stevie is, of course, a great rock star and the song has an uplifting quality that we felt was apt!

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Which queer theory essay would you advise everybody to read?

Maybe not queer theory as such, but Notes On “Camp” by Susan Sontag. 


Who is your ultimate non-binary role model?

Kate Bornstein is brilliant for reminding us that gender is a playground.


What is the most important lesson you’ve ever learned?

To stand by what you believe in.


House party or club?

House party.


Personal favourite item of clothing?

Amidst the many charity-shop finds: a baby-blue sequin top so torn apart from dancing it’s barely hanging together.


What fashion garment do you covet, recent or historical?

Who wouldn’t want to own the machine-spray-painted McQueen dress? An iconic moment for the babydoll silhouette!


Can you remember when you first became aware of – or obsessed with – fashion?

Non-uniform days at school… the joy of expressing individuality!


What do you hate?

Violence in most forms.


Art gallery or gig?

Depends what kind of gig. Pretentious electro? Show me the Monet!


Is there a piece of art you would love to own, if money were no object?

Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1979) would be lovely in a spare room! However, it’s quite big, so one of her spray-painted car hoods would be quite fabulous.


What is your greatest extravagance?

Scented candles.


Do you collect anything?

Silk scarves… Two is a collection, right?


Has creativity saved you?

Well, we’d be lost – certainly bored – without it!