Art School to explore ‘queer sensuality’ at London fashion week

British designers Tom Barratt and Eden Loweth deconstruct gender dress codes and stereotypes

On Sunday night, at their biggest-ever show, the British designers behind Art School will be asking men’s London fashion week: “What does it mean to dress for your gender?”

Since they began in 2016, Tom Barratt and Eden Loweth have drawn inspiration from their non-binary identities. It has also given them a purpose.

“It’s easy for a brand to say, ‘We’re queer’, but unless you’re considering the day-to-day life of these people, it doesn’t really matter,” says Loweth. “Art School is about creating an inclusivity.” With an increasing number of teenagers and twentysomethings not wanting to be defined by gender, these issues have a real-world impact.

The pair’s designs have an experimental, political feel. The autumn-winter 2019 collection featured a series of nightlife-inspired looks that were equal parts Alexander McQueen, Leigh Bowery and Party Monster, including ripped velvet dresses, lizard-skin bustiers and furry sliders.

Loweth says: “We don’t work with stores that don’t have non-gendered changing rooms, and everything we make can be bought in menswear and womenswear.” He adds that the clothes will feature notes on each of the pieces to flag up which is best for a trans or non-binary body.

Eden Loweth discusses gender fluidity in fashion at London fashion week in September.
Eden Loweth discusses gender fluidity in fashion at London fashion week in September. Photograph: Stuart Wilson/BFC/Getty

He believes Art School’s customer base is broad too. “They could be 25 and mid-transition or 65 and disillusioned with the way to shop,” Loweth says, adding that the clothes take into account changing body shapes. “There’s a bias cut, so it fits round the body well. You can change the button placements from single to double buttons, if you’re losing or putting on weight.”

This size bias attracted one of their more famous clients: Kim Kardashian. “When we did our first collection at Fashion East, she bought half our collection, in cash, which paid for half of our next collection,” says Loweth.

Rita Ora wears their clothes, as does Rihanna, who took a selfie wearing an Art School dropout T-shirt (“it sold out within a day of it appearing on Instagram”).

Another key celebrity pairing happened with Christina Aguilera. “We made the outfit for when she sang Beautiful on the X tour, which was such an important song for the queer community. It was monumental and bizarre to absorb,” Loweth says.

The collection premiering on Sunday is a collaboration with Maggi Hambling, a British artist best known for A Conversation With Oscar Wilde, an outdoor sculpture in central London, and Scallop, a huge seashell on the beach in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, dedicated to the composer Benjamin Britten.

The show will focus on “queer sensuality, queer touch” and draw on Hambling’s whole archive. Entitled Fearless Love, it will have added resonance for the duo. “Myself and Tom have gone from being personal partners to just working together, so that’s been interesting, moving apart as partners but coming together to work on this collection.”


Priya Elan

The GuardianTramp

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