It’s no secret that Samuel Ross is connected to and understands where the sidewalk meets the runway. Like his mentor/contemporary Virgil Abloh, Ross uses his work to examine streetwear and how it fits into the modern high-fashion scene; what’s unique for Ross (when compared to his contemporaries) is how he unpacks ‘factory floor workwear’ and the rhythm of life on British council estates within his collections. Streetwear influences are present, but not in the same way that another (American) designer might approach it. If anything, it’s this new perspective that’s helped Ross earn accolades while
competing for the LVMH Prize this year. Streetwear touches notwithstanding, there’s always been an avant-garde edge to A-Cold-Wall (something that’s starting to emerge in London’s menswear scene thanks to designers like Craig Green or J.W. Anderson). For his Spring/Summer 2019 collection, it seems like Ross was taking a page out of Green’s book, offering up a show that was equal parts men’s week runway and performance art installation.
Let’s get the performance bit out of the way first: certain looks (namely
8, 16 and 24) were accompanied by architectural frames, lifted and supported by grayed-out ‘zombies’ (for lack of a better term) shrouded by detachable hoods. While one could mistake the supporting cast for grim working-class folk covered in clay and soot, it’s likely the meaning was much grander. The concept reached its apex when the grayed-out ensemble wheeled out a giant cube, broke it open and revealed a naked man covered in red liquid (not blood, but a “primary red liquid used to represent rebirth,” as Ross explained in his show notes). While the performance is an attempt to show that Ross is ready and able to break free from the largely dismissive ‘streetwear-adjacent brand’ conversation to step into a high fashion pantheon, it’s also fitting that the grand finale of the performance (and all the debris that resulted from it) landed squarely in front of Ross’ former boss—Virgil Abloh. Clearly Ross’ introduction into the LVMH Prize conversation has left him more confident in his work and his message; like the man emerging from that monolithic cube, he’s ready to break free from all that’s held him back.
But what of the clothes? Like the performance, most were largely conceptual—mesh tops and
shirts made of clear PVC plastic are clearly more about recontextualizing production materials into something unconventional. These pieces hit at A-Cold-Wall’s ever-present workwear roots. Sometimes this really works, but here it drew questions around whether Ross simply foraged for new fabric in and around the studio floor. Pieces like these are admirable, but certainly not wearable.
Perhaps a more successful side of those working-class inspirations were in the
cargos, harnesses and zipped-off tearaway pants. The effect was purely functional; if one is going to work on the bus or the train, you need to have space for all your daily belongings and necessary items. It was exaggerated, to be sure, but at time when ‘clout packs’ and body bags are part of the fashion conversation (if not with Supreme, then certainly with Alyx and Prada Sport), it was a bold, contemporary touch that added to the collection without being distracting. Beyond the cargo pants, for what appears to be Ross’ takes on techwear, Looks 18 (the outerwear) and 19 (the shirting) deliver street-ready garments in a concept-heavy collection that would be hard for most to pull off at work—whether that’s in a factory or an office.
But it wasn’t just blue collar workwear being dissected either—Looks
3, 27 and 29 felt distinctly ‘white collar,’ but without a tongue-in-cheek riff more commonly associated with the work of Demna Gvasalia.
Look 29 in particular also spotlights one of the shining aspects of this collection, the bags. Clearly a
rework of the humble briefcase, the accessories were a place where Ross’ signature loves of architecture and the culture surrounding city-living were able to connect and deliver in concert. It’s interesting that—for a collection that’s clearly about shedding the weight of the past—Ross’ collection featured plenty of details that emphasized bringing the things you need along with you.