It’s not everyday a design student’s portfolio is constructed from planks of MDF, nor is their business card is cut out of blond wood with their name actually branded onto it. And probably not if that student has just graduated from a menswear BA degree either. But at Central Saint Martins, which has released such mavericks as John Galliano and Christopher Kane onto the world, the concept of what is usual and ‘everyday’ holds little definition.
Indeed, the work of designer Craig Green is an imaginatively personal and alternative response to menswear. His silhouette, squared and angular, is dramatically capped by towering headwear. Most come with hanging wooden ‘chopsticks’ that obscure the wearer’s face, others resemble dollhouses, or birthday cakes. The clothes, created in block colours, are linear ensembles of vinyl, rubber, plaited foam and wooden embellishments. The effect is more Meccano than McQueen: playful but pragmatic, boyish but robust.
Furthermore, there is a synergy between these characteristics and the designer himself. In person, Green is a cheerful, gentle blend of self-deprecation and optimism. He notes the absurdity of being dressed head to toe in Primark, whilst we prepare for this ‘serious’ interview and the accompanying photo shoot of his degree collection. It is this gentle humour, and lack of pretension, that runs throughout his sketchbooks and our interview alike.
Unlike most fashion students, clothing wasn’t initially in his mind when starting higher education. He had pursued fine art, but switched to a fashion pathway to accompany some friends – he’d never touched a sewing machine and he hadn’t even heard of Alexander McQueen. Pleased he was the first in the family to be going to university, his relatives were then stunned it was fashion he’d chosen to study.
Indeed Craig questioned his own motivations, especially after creating some ‘terrible’ clothes for women, but he found direction when he focused on menswear. Stocky and bearded himself, Green’s energy is removed from the feminine overtones that are currently pervading menswear. He laughs whilst relating how his ‘sausage fingers’ couldn’t handle working with delicate dresses.
And so he went the opposite direction. From a family of tradesmen, it’s interesting how non-fashion fabrics and skills have found their way into his work. Watching our model pose for the camera in one of his surreal outfits, Green talks me through the work that went into the garments:
“The leather shorts are my favourite piece. The beads? You know those wooden car seats you get in taxis – we spray painted the beads from one of those and then they are connected to plastic straws. The boots are just rubber Wellington boots my Uncle upholstered with wool.” There is something refreshingly workaday, and genuine, about the unfussy attitude to fabric choices, which somehow grounds the final visual effect. Nonetheless that total look is uncompromisingly dramatic, especially when accessorised with an oversized duffle bag, pegged with wooden slats, and looking like a cross between a ghetto blaster and a turbine engine. Balloons sprouting out of the tubes of the wooden helmet round off the proportions of the look.
Looking through his workbooks, Craig shows how his basic hand drawn designs in 2-D ended up influencing the final 3-D construction. Taking inspiration from the Bauhaus (Germany’s legendary design school) and it’s simple graphics and bold costume designs, he simply began to ignore the lines of the human body. Soon his abstract designs had a rigidity to them that could only be realized by more sculptural means, moving his work on from clothing design and into a place between costume and art. His pieces defy categorization in layman’s terms: can a circular coil of plaited red foam that cocoons the entire upper body be labelled knitwear or just ‘insulation’?
Elsewhere in his research the spongy look of sports mascots, pets in novelty superhero clothing and primitive 1960’s robots inform his use of oversized geometric shapes, bold colour and mechanical symbolism that is more naïve, than technical. Folk art provided a strong influence, and that suits Green’s role as some kind of non-fashion fashion creator.
Craig also points out his attraction to older, beefier men, and how that old fashioned masculinity, though recently more visible in mainstream fashion (take the recent resurgence of the beard), is still niche. In some way the generous and strong physical proportions in his designs communicate to the similar body shape he finds desirable.
Whilst researching Green gained confidence in his aesthetic when he came across Walter Van Beirendonck, the influential and avant garde Belgian designer who began his career in the Antwerp Six collective with Dries Van Noten. Van Beirendonck’s work – an exploration of masculinity that references gay subculture, and enables unconventional fabrics to communicate a bold, positive sartorial message, is the perfect godfather to Green’s development as a designer. Subsequently he won a six month internship with Walter in Antwerp, where he painstakingly researched in his library and picked through his 20 year archive.
Green is in awe of the Belgian’s expansive career, especially in tune with how Van Beirendonck has rarely watered down his vision. Green is keen to pursue this sensibility of creativity before commerciality, he couldn’t imagine working on mainstream menswear, and would one day love to design under his own name. For now he juggles freelance work, recently styling the windows of London boutique Kokon To Zai with a backdrop of hanging potatoes (“They’ve just started sprouting this week!”), and interning for a London hat designer. Later this year he will start on St.Martin’s renowned MA course, surely an environment perfectly suited to Green’s mix of unorthodox workmanship and eccentric fashion vision.
Words: Alex Mein