Matthew Miller is a young British designer who hails from the town of Stoke on Trent, a maligned town perhaps now best known for Pop’s anti-hero Robbie Williams, and the Staffordshire oatcake, but a place steeped in revolutionary history nonetheless; local hero Josiah Wedgewood was a leading figure in the fight to abolish slavery in Britain. Like Wedgewood, Matthew Miller is a revolutionary of sorts; and arguably the most important name in design to come out of Stoke, a rebel to the cause, who uses his chosen medium of fashion to make strong political and social statements with each and every collection. Miller is also a vanguard proponent of the ‘agender’ movement, and presents his utilitarian collections as unisex where the traditional notions of menswear and womenswear are abandoned. There has been much discussion of fashion as such a weapon recently, so who better than Matthew Miller, to discuss with the state and future of fashion and youth culture?
You hail from Stoke on Trent, what influence has it played in shaping you as a designer?
It’s massively shaped me as a designer, to be honest. From the knowledge, to the craft of the potteries and its subsequent demise as I was growing up. Generations of my family worked in the ceramics trade in the kilns, in the decoration and as labourers. I witnessed first-hand the social decay of a city due
to the collapse of an industry.
Quite often when you refer to your days there, the word ‘trouble’ somehow always manages to make an appearance. Tell us a few words about that.
I was just a bit of a lad growing up and had a few brushes with the law. Quite a few of the lads on my estate have actually done time. I could have very easily gone another way had I not gone to Art school.
What about now. Do you still have the energy to get into trouble, every now and then?
I get myself into a lot of trouble, not usually with the law though these days, just with the industry.
I think rebellion translates into fashion very well. It’s a very romantic notion of unadulterated freedom. In the end this is what we all desire, it’s life’s ultimate luxury.
Your latest offering, could be described as an emotional response to the constraints imposed by society’s conventions. What intrigues you the most about bringing such heavy concepts to your work?
A lot of the time, my work is very expressional. I can’t help but to put a little bit of what’s going on at the time into the collection. In some respects that is how the collections are so relevant to the moment they’re in, and it’s also a USP of sorts. No other designer can seem to do this. It’s a very fine balance to walk. To not go too heavy but to fundamentally have depth, a cultural capital and also be incredibly beautiful.
Can fashion ultimately be an effective tool of rebellion and social stand, then?
Of course it can and it is. Fashion is far more rebellious and political than we think at first glance. Even if you take a stand and say “I’m not engaging in fashion”, you are actually rebelliously creating a separate subculture, take the recent ‘Norm Core’ trend, for example. On the other hand if you think the fashion you are wearing isn’t political, then you should read a little into your Nikes’ or Adidas’ political stances and how they lobby governments and international bodies to facilitate business needs. I think we all have to take responsibility for our lifestyle choices and not be ignorant to what implications those choices have.
It certainly is and with the digital tools we have, i.e Google analytics, we can actually see who engages with the work. The guessing no longer applies, and it’s a younger demographic that engages with my work for sure.
We know that you are very interested in the diversity of people. What does it take for someone to
draw your attention?
I think it’s the political landscape of that period of time. When I cast young cadets from ethnic diverse backgrounds, I did it because young people were being vilified and attacked in the wider media. I think as a creative person, the only tools I have to fight bigotry is that itself. Create something that challenges the media, and that’s what I did with Jonathan Barone.
As an established yet independent fashion designer, do you worry more about the lack of budget or time, these days?
I think they ultimately go hand in hand. I’m very time poor and due to it being a growing business, funds are also tight as growth is costly. The very sad nature of my position in London is that I need to acquire talent to get my business to the next level, and living in London, talent is quite clearly abundant but I can’t access it because of budget constraints. That’s frustrating.
For sure, it does feel like I’m constantly fighting, the lack of budget to actually fulfill total creative ambition, and a hell of a lot of work in setting up a system that cannot only deliver a show, but also a collection that can be financed, manufactured and distributed. Design does not just stop at the clothing, we ultimately have to design a whole business infrastructure and, most importantly, implement it.
You have recently began exploring the ‘agender’ concept. Do you see this as fashion’s eventual ‘ultimate
Not really, it’s definitely an interesting concept but I don’t think it’s fashion’s ultimate goal. It’s one small issue floating in a sea of problems that the fashion industry has to deal with. If we want to talk about issues, we can talk about sustainability, the social cleansing of Art schools, corporation abuse of the working class. Gender and equality are big issues but so are the latter. Let’s use fashion to address these.
Do you find that London is still where it’s at in terms of nurturing creativity in fashion?
I think the city and the people that run the fashion industry have some really tough decisions to make in the next few years. At the moment we’re seeing a social cleansing of the Arts and Design scene and it’s a fucking travesty! If you look at any great period of history, great things come from ethnic and social diversity. People with different backgrounds and different ideals coming together to form big and bold ideas. London and its residents need to find a solution to sustain diversity.
What’s next for Matthew Miller?
Just what I enjoy; design projects. Oh, and maybe an art project is on the horizon. We’ll see.
As featured in Chasseur issue #11 – YOURS WAS THE BODY (AW15)
Matthew Miller AW15 key pieces were photographed exclusively for Chasseur
Photography | Chairit Prapai
Styling | Cintia Laina
Hair | Tomoko Oda
Make Up | Ziima Yosuke Nakajima
Model | Benji @ ELITE
Headpieces + glasses | Studio Niclé