Sade English is a designer with a twist, hailing from mis-repped Peckham, in London. Deep, dark and daring to ditch the fashion calendar, the half Peruvian, quarter Chinese, quarter Jamaican talent is a rebel, through and through – just ask her former LCF tutor about her attendance, or see her unique, unisex designs as evidence.
With her passion for abstract art, architecture and armour ever-present, you’d be relieved to know how honest and unguarded the Vogue.it-featured 21 year old is. Here, Sade talks tears, unisexuality and being screamed at in the street, plus why ‘Clone Society’ can “do one.”
How did your brand name – Sade English – come about?
In respect of my late grandmother Daphne English, I took her surname in 2005. I had the idea to name my brand Daphne, but I later decided on Sade English – a combination of both her and I. Having an element of my grandmother within my brand was essential as she was a powerful role model for me growing up.
Though born in London, you’re an interesting mix of Peruvian, Chinese and Jamaican. In what ways has your roots influenced your work?
Whilst creating my current collection, I looked into Chinese and Japanese clothing, however my Peruvian and Chinese roots I have not yet explored in depth. I’d say my culture, more than my roots, have influenced my work ethics and determination, rather than my work itself. My mum’s side is Jamaican and Chinese, and she and my grandmother raised me. I was baby-sat by my nan a lot and I was surrounded by the Jamaican culture, which is reliant on strong women succeeding and being independent. Failure isn’t an option and that was imbedded in me from a very young age. My nan raised 12 kids single-handedly after my mother’s dad passed away, when she was 7, and both their strong personalities and courageous work ethics influenced me as a young woman. I’ve been told I’m feminist, and that probably evolved through seeing my mum and nan playing two roles as parents.
You’re based in London – how does that help or hinder your work?
I live in southeast London, Peckham with my mother and step dad. The media portrays Peckham to be ‘the ghetto’… it really isn’t. I’ve lived between Dulwich and-Peckham all my life and it’s not what they say it is. Everything else is hectic around me at the moment and coming home to mum helps me escape. Maybe I’m still a big kid in that aspect, but she keeps me humble. That said, I will be moving out in the new year and living in my studio (hopefully), but in the same area (hopefully) too!
What was the ‘fashion scene’ in Peckham like growing up and does it show in your work today?
Growing up in Peckham was mad. The rich kids dressed as if they didn’t have mummy and daddy’s allowance – “I’m so cool, I’m a hipster” – and the rude girls were in ‘Just Do It’ bags (yes, I was one of those, but I grew out of it, thank god). People believe as a kid it’s about fitting in and people today still think like this. If you look different you aren’t ‘normal’. I began to hate the idea that looking a certain way made you accepted. Growing up, I saw a lot and still, I am growing. Working amongst Westend clubs and coming from Southeast London, you’re able to see that no matter which area we live in, most people try to just fit in. All girls I see nowadays look the same; Jeffery Campbell shoes, studs, inverted crosses, a fake Rapunzel weave… Yet people stare at me as if they’ve seen a ghost! I always get confused by that. Having black lipstick and an afro isn’t something to be screamed at about – I should look at them strangely, for looking the exactly same as their neighbour. I’ve even had some random girl scream when she saw me walking down Southbank one night, and other random people just staring at me! It’s just weird. But, to some extent, I guess I understand why. I just don’t acknowledge it at all anymore.
Have these types of experiences encouraged the items you create?
It’s very sad, but we live in what I call a ‘Clone Society’. Being surrounded by that growing up has influenced what I want my work to stand for; Anti-Clone. When everything looks the same, it’s bloody boring. I just say “I’m me” – I’m not trying to be anything or anyone else. Growing up in the ‘lack of a fashion-sense and controlled’ society has informed my entire ethos and the garments I make. I tried to fit in, and hated it. Now, fuck it – take me as I am or do one.
What’s your earliest fashion-related memory?
My mum showing me my christening dress from when I was a baby. She made it herself – she always used to make her own clothes. I found her sewing machine, got over excited and ended up breaking it. She never fails to remind me. Also, there’s the time my mum took me to the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is one of my earliest memories. Looking around the fashion section, I was in awe and got know it like the back of my hand. The security guards even knew my name, as I used to go every week after school, when everyone else was going home to watch TV. There isn’t a TV in my house – hasn’t been for over 14 years – so I found my own sources of entertainment.
At what age did you start to define your own personal style and what did it consist of?
I hate the word ‘style’ – I see what I wear like paint on my face, an extra layer of skin. I can’t say what my own personal style is as I just see myself as myself. That’s not me being arrogant or stating “I’m so cool” like a lot of people do nowadays, I just literally can’t define what my ‘style’ is. I began to truly feel myself at the age of 17, and that’s when I began to dress however I felt, fully. At the time I was obsessed with a pair of fetish platform transparent heels and rummaged through my mum’s wardrobe. My mum eventually sawed those heels into two (and sent me a picture to prove it) so I’d never wear them again! Nowadays, I dress however I feel but I do know my wardrobe consists mainly of black. I’ve been wearing black lipstick for years, so it’s very bizarre to me how often I see it on others now. Two years ago, it didn’t get the same appreciation… I’ve had people say I need God, that I am a man, do I preach to evil… just because I wear black clothes and black makeup on my face! It makes me laugh. It’s not the way a woman ‘should’ dress, apparently…
How would you describe your current look, in 5 words?
Honest, carefree, anti-clone, unisexual and evolving.
What spurred you into fashion and how old were you when you knew it was the industry for you?
I studied textiles at secondary school; I hated the exams and writing sections with a passion – I just enjoyed making and drawing. I remember saying that textiles was the only subject I was good at in school, aged 15, but I was about 17 when I knew it was the industry for me. I saw a John Galliano dress on a school art trip to New York, and I was extremely touched; I got a bit emotional and I even got a little teary. I’ve never shared this story, but it’s symbolic to me. The dress signified change, beauty – yet beauty in a different way society saw and still sees it. Its technique wasn’t in the classic feminine shape but an explosion of unique creativity and a new take on what a woman’s form of dress could be. I wanted to be a part of changing the way society sees both men and women then, and I still do today.
What did you expect life as a designer to be like and in what ways has it lived up to your expectations so far?
I expected it to be stressful, tiring, but fun. I’m constantly making, or busy sorting something out; I’m a very hands-on person and a control freak, so if I want something done, I do it myself. I’m still learning and God knows my social life is disappearing, but being a designer simplifies life too – you see the people who are truly your loved ones, rather than wasting time with acquaintances. It is all I expected and more.
You studied at London College of Fashion (LCF) – what lead you there and what were you doing before you enrolled?
I did dress making classes at Prangsta Costumiers, got my A-levels in Textiles, Art and Photography and came across the Fashion Designer Pattern Cutter course at LCF, and thought it was made for me. I’d always had trouble with my designs because I always worked with couture elements and experimented with shapes that I could easily imagine, yet had no idea how to make them. Pattern cutting enables you to make things in detail, exactly what you want, exploring with technique, etc. LCF, I was told, was the best place to be taught this skill.
Did studying at LCF live up to its revered reputation and what you thought it would be?
Yes, it did, however I found it extremely controlling because you had to follow the system. I take slight issue with being controlled creativity-wise and so learning to follow the portfolio system was something I struggled with. I found it hard to accept I had to do a number of this, a number of that… I of course had to do it, otherwise I wouldn’t pass, but I work backwards; design an entire collection in my head, and then draw it out. The development process is essential for LCF and working their way was a strain. But it had to be done. As a first year, I was always told to make my designs simpler in order to learn gradually, but I was extremely impatient. I didn’t make things simple; I just taught myself techniques and was successfully able to make whatever I drew. I think I didn’t realise how much more you had to rely on yourself, and yourself alone at uni.
A lot of people kind of romanticise the university… did you feel lucky to have been there?
I feel lucky to have gotten in – I know many people that cried for days after being turned away, and the platform I received from Rob Phillips selecting me for the LCF press days was amazing. I appreciate LCF for that. I was very stubborn and shouldn’t have rebelled as much, plus my attendance was a little crap (ask my tutor!) but they always helped and guided me when I needed it. I wouldn’t say I’m lucky (I don’t believe in luck) but I do appreciate having been a student at LCF, definitely.
You’ve only just graduated, but what are your fondest memories of your time studying?
My fondest memories of being at LCF are having close friends view my work on the graduate exhibition, and having a laugh with my friend Charlie during lessons, at complete and utter nonsense.
You were also blogging for Luuux.com a lot – do you still blog, other than for your brand?
I was paid to write fashion pieces for Luuux – at first it was for fun but then it became a paid job, which was fun while it lasted! I also assisted a buyer, choosing pieces for Luuux’s online shop, so I gained a lot of fashion industry knowledge at a very young age. It was fun and work combined. I only blog on the sade-english.blogspot.co.uk now.
You wrote on your blogger profile that ‘I take the role of styling, doing hair and make-up and creating my vision single handed’. Is that still true, and if so, why is it important to you to have such a high level of control over your brand output?
Yes it is still true – when creating my vision it’s important for me to be directly involved rather than employ people to do jobs that I know I’m capable of doing myself. My creations are very personal to me and if it isn’t executed the way I visualise, it becomes very frustrating.
How long have you been designing and so far, how many collections have you designed?
I was always drawing dresses and clothes since I was 10. I have designed seven complete collections in total including my latest one, Daphne – out in Jan 2013 – for which I’ve already put two outfits out in public, as the pieces were part of my graduate show… a snippet before I reveal the entire collection next year, which was the plan all along.
Shots of the outfits you’ve revealed from your Daphne collection made Vogue.it – how did that feel and what has happened since?
What’s happened since is a lot of press, editorial shoots, interest from possible clients and above all, recognition for doing what I love to do. It made me feel very proud and glad to see the team that I worked with on the day, including photographer Oliver Morris, get the recognition deserved.
Is there a muse behind Daphne?
There isn’t a muse; I design clothes that I would wear myself – if I wouldn’t wear it, I wouldn’t make it.
What were your inspirations?
Armour, the stereotypes of male and female sex, classic feminine shapes and doing the opposite of them, as well as Islamic architecture.
In what way if any does your Daphne collection mirror your style as an individual?
It mirrors my thoughts as a young woman growing up in today’s society – especially living in London – as well as my love for experimenting with different textures. It also mirrors the admiration I have for architecture and my obsession with dark colour palettes, which is something I will continue to explore within my work, alongside my unisexual outlook on clothes.
The collection is unisex – what made you decide to make it for men and women?
I don’t want to dictate who can and who cannot wear my designs. Being unisexual is something that enables both women and men to explore clothes in a fun and artistic way. I don’t want to put my clothes or any sex in a box; we’re all human at the end of the day and making this collection just felt natural.
What pieces have had the most positive response and which are your favourites?
The oversized jacket and oversized long sleeve top are my favourites, and are also the most popular pieces. There is a dress that I have made which has only been seen by a few, and I think in 2013, will also get positive feedback.
Sade English doesn’t follow the typical fashion calendar or seasons – why is that?
I don’t intend my collections for each season as we live in a throwaway, ‘what’s cool, what’s trendy’ society, especially in the Western world. Specifically stating it’s A/W or S/S, to me, is just stating what is ‘on-trend’ for a moment – that’s not something I want to be a part of. I think clothes should be worn whenever the wearer wants to wear them. Clothes should be something to invest in, not something to throw away or specially buy because it’s ‘on season’.
Your look – personally and in your work – is quite dark and gothic, what draws you to such things?
I have always found beauty within things that are seen to be not ‘the norm.’ The toys we are given as young girls are Barbies, pink dollhouses… I think as I grew up, I was intrigued by things that were not typically linked to little girls. From a very early age, what was seen as un-beautiful, I just automatically took an interest in. I’ve always been quite rebellious and loved exploring things what were seen centuries ago as ‘abnormal’. It was gothic architecture that made me see the beauty in things that are seen as ‘dark’; you can see beauty in anything – it just depends on how you look at it. I came across the book The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf whist studying and I think everyone, young women especially, should read this book. It breaks things down about what is seen as accepted and how they’re actually un-real. ‘Beautiful’ isn’t actually beautiful.
What is signature to you as a designer?
Architectural elements, re-defined silhouettes and shapes, dark colour palettes and unisexual elements.
How would you describe the Sade English consumer?
A man or woman, wearing clothes not to fit into society, but to embrace individualism – someone who is not afraid to explore the un-explored.
You’ve described your brand is ‘Anti-Clone’ – if Sade English becomes successful, how will you balance these beliefs alongside the heightened demand for your clothes, and avoid creating ‘Sade English Clones’?
I will always have limited edition or one-off pieces within every collection I do, that I know. The mass production side of things is a bit off putting for me; it’s very dull to see the same thing on everyone, however, I don’t expect everyone to want to wear my garments. For now my plan is to have a limited amount of pieces available – mass-producing isn’t something I have in mind as of yet as I don’t know what the future holds.
Where do you create?
I create everything at home! Studio space will be next year…
What are your must-haves for when you are getting into ‘the creative zone’?
Phone off, pin-drop silence. I just lock myself away and sew non-stop.
You’re working on your next collection – does it have a name and what would be suitable ‘buzz words’ to describe it?
Buzz word? Honest. It will be out in August 2013 and the name will be revealed closer to the time. It is quite close to completion.
When and where will it be unveiled?
25 August 2013, at a secret location.
Are there any other designers – up and coming or established – whose work you admire?
I don’t pay attention to other designers though I have been told to look into the ‘competition’, as people call it – I simply find it a bit strange. But I do appreciate other people’s work; I’ve always loved John Galliano simply for the amazing techniques of pattern cutting used. The elegant female dress isn’t something I would wear myself, but you have to appreciate the skills and method used to create his pieces. Saying Alexander McQueen seems predictable because it’s a name that everyone knows, but each collection he produced was something new and he’ll always be remembered for being one of the bests. One up and coming designer I can say I like is Loko Yu; her graduate show experimented with new shapes that had both a strong and bold finish. We both showcased at LCF’s press day show and I’d say she’s the only person whose work I have liked for a very long time.
What goals do you need to accomplish before you can say ‘you’ve made it’?
See the army of clones die down, make my mum proud and have my own shop.
Where would you like to see yourself recognised or appreciated as a designer most, and why?
London, UK because I’m a Londoner and it’s my home. Appreciation from where you come from is always the best feeling.
If you could choose any Fashion Week anywhere in the world, which would you choose to showcase your work?
I’ve chosen to showcase my work myself, at my upcoming show in 2013 – you can be the first to announce the date: 20th February 2013 (at 79 Endell Street, London WC2H 9DY), which is when I’ll be debuting the Daphne collection. I’ve specifically chosen a date after LFW as I do not want to be linked to anything ‘on’ or ‘off schedule’. The international press will be present, so choosing a day outside of LFW was essential for me in not wanting to conform to the week. I think too many fashion-obsessed wannabes attend Fashion Week nowadays and you never know who’s there that actually appreciates what’s being showcased, or simply going to pose and be photographed, to featured on a street style blog. That said, if I had to choose one LFW, I’d choose London, simply because I am proud of where I come from.
If you could do things all over again, what would you change?
Being so rebellious as a student initially, and smoking so much at uni. To be honest, I have always believed everything happens for a reason, so there isn’t much I’d change.
What would you be doing if you were not a fashion designer? I’d be dead. Joking! How cliché! To be honest, I do not know. Fashion design is what I do, without it ever feeling like a chore. I have an extreme passion and appreciation for abstract art – I have my own abstract art acrylic oil paintings hanging up at my family home and school – so I’d probably be living life, selling paintings that express the truth about society. And living with a trillion dogs, with my other half.
In your wardrobe, which is your most treasured item, and which is your most worn?
My leather biker jacket I wear the most. Most treasured are all the pieces in my Daphne collection.
5 things you cannot live without?
My mum, my local haberdashery, water, food and soap.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Be true to yourself”, by my mum.
Best life lesson so far?
When we make a mistake regarding people, work and life, remember that all things happen for a reason – learn from it, move on and live life trying to please nobody but yourself.
What’s your motto for life?
I’m not built to suit society and shit happens – get over it, or sort it.
How do you relax?
When I’m not working, I’m usually in a gallery somewhere with friends or smoking my lungs out at a shisha bar with the other half, or in a club which nowadays, is hardly ever.
What’s next for Sade English?
Moving out with my best friend Anna, having my garments sold online at sade-english.com, a new studio space… And my boyfriend and I will be getting a Westie puppy, and calling it Kasien Twat English.
For tickets to Sade English’s Daphne collection show, please contact S.english@sade-English.com
Interview by Cindy Hudson
Designer: Sade English
Photographer: Oliver Morris
Models: Baron Pierce Void Kim & Charlotte Girdwood
Hair & make-up: Karen Salandy
Shoot Assistants: Cindy Hudson, Scarlett Pinson & Arpit Chaudhary