A Cautionary “Tell-Tale” Meadham Kirchhoff

  • JOYCE spoke with Benjamin Kirchhoff one half of the London based design duo, on two topics: dedication in craftsmanship and the spring summer 2013 collection, named “a cautionary tale”.
    JOYCE visited the Meadham Kirchhoff design studio in East London where Ben greeted us and led us up the steps to his studio. It was like an artistic Aladdin’s cave, decorated with an eclectic mix of miscellaneous objects. The walls were covered with a collage of photos, sketches and drawings. This with the complimentary furniture created a homely atmosphere with a touch of other-worldliness, to form what is a very personalized space. We could see the traits of the label’s latest collection “A Cautionary Tale” around the studio: the medieval oil painting references, intricate lace work samples, vibrant colour palettes, beading, embroidery and bows.

    “Femininity and craftsmanship are very important to us.” Ben said. “We’d like to give women the freedom to dress, and aim to offer beautifully crafted pieces of garments for them to enjoy.”

    “I don’t understand who consumes in this “fast fashion” way. It’s not fashion, it’s just trend, People buy organic vegetables happily but they would buy cheap clothes… I don’t get it.”

    Ben is from the south of France and met his English business partner Edward Meadham when they were studying fashion in Central St. Martins. They established Meadham Kirchhoff 10 years ago. Since then, they have gradually earned positive reviews and amassed a group of loyal customers. A regular fixture at London Fashion Week, this spring summer collection has been particularly well received.

    “We never have a literal theme or inspiration for our design, therefore we never issue press releases for our collections, because we don’t want to tell people what to think or how to dress. For spring summer, it started with Edward’s desire for beauty, the idea of pleasure and escapism. We always emphasize on the freedom of dressing, which you don’t see very often nowadays.” Ben described the latest collection.

    The freedom of dressing is hinted in the catwalk. An embroidered t-shirt was half tucked in a jacquard full skirt, which was layered over denim trousers. A puffy sleeved jacket was worn over a corset bodice and matched with a petticoat and chiffon dresses. Every piece was intricately made but casually thrown in to create a luxurious yet carefree look.

    “All of our printed fabrics are hand-printed exclusively for us. We don’t touch digital printing because we think it’s cheating. It’s like photocopying something onto fabric. When I see digitally printed clothing sold at an expensive price I get so angry. Even some suppliers say to us ‘Why do you want screen print? Digital printing is so much cheaper and customers don’t know any better.’ Maybe they don’t know any better but they still shouldn’t be cheated! If you do digital printing, then sell if for cheaper.” Ben vented.

    One can feel Ben’s and Edward’s strong ethics come through in terms of how the garments are made. Apart from screen-printing, all knitwear is knitted in a small mill outside London called Vanners; bead work is hand made in India and all lace work is hand-stitched onto the fabric in the studio. Every single step in the making process is labour intensive (and a labour of love). Although the collections are ready-to-wear, every garment has some hand-made elements. It can take up to 200 hours to make an elaborate piece which has beading, lacework and chiffon. Ben explains his passion for craftsmanship.

    “We don’t make that much money but we enjoy doing it. We have customers who respond to it and like it. Because big brands with the same price points do not necessarily have better quality.”

    Super brands might not have the same quality, but on the other end of the spectrum— high-street fashion— definitely cannot offer what Meadham Kirchhoff’s dreamy couture-like fashion gives. We met right after the Bangladesh clothing factory scandal and Ben was vocal about the situation.
    “I don’t understand who consumes in this “fast fashion” way. It’s not fashion, it’s just trend, People buy organic vegetables happily but they would buy cheap clothes… I don’t get it.”

    Ben strongly believes in quality, and due to the fast fashion cycle, sometimes they need to compromise on the product delivery time-frame.

    “I am sorry that our deliveries tend to be delayed every season but at the same time I can’t apologize for it because I’d rather hand in a product that is beautifully made rather than rushed through it.” Ben said.

    Is there no pressure?

    “I think there’s fear in fashion. Magazines are afraid of advertisers. Shops are afraid of not having enough budget to buy so they would go for big brands to ensure a good sell through. JOYCE is pretty brave when it comes to our pieces. For that I’m grateful. It also shows that there is a market for it.”

    JOYCE is also grateful to have a young label that has something unique to offer in our stable. After all, fashion should be fun, luxurious, with great stories behind them and enable us to dream and enjoy.

    Meadham Kirchhoff spring summer 2013 collection is now available.

    Interview by Lucienne Leung-DaviesPhotos with model by Filep MotwaryPhotos of stills by Etienne Leung