Charlotte McDonald’s new collaboration with photographer Wukda is not your standard fashion fare. McDonald generates a narrative and injects key cultural touchstones like Mark Leckey’s seminal “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore”, a unique, mixed-media work of pastiche suffused with nostalgia that explodes British youth culture and style from the 70s up to the 90s. McDonald’s unique brand of streetwear is whip-smart and deeply singular.
One manifestation of this is her painstaking dedication to the technical side of fashion, by championing niche and labour intensive techniques such as “radio-frequency welding”. Charlotte’s interest stems from a perceived incongruity between scientific and technological advancement and the inability for fashion to keep up, suggesting, “with increasing technological awareness, I realised that within Fashion and textiles, these were areas I was not seeing such a radical shift.”
She explains that “The welded pieces were very time consuming, but worth it. As it is so specialist I had to travel across the country to a studio to complete a small section of the garments piece by piece at a time. There are companies such as Stone Island who focus on really pushing innovation in this way, however, I would like to see more luxury fashion houses move in this direction – I think that’s something that the industry is lacking… Innovative materials, combined with traditional craft is how Fashion can actually progress into the future. For example, when the lines between classic tailoring and exciting outerwear is blurred this is what I feel is the most contemporary.”
McDonald’s craftsmanship dedication and precision may arise, to some extent, from her ties to the military, which her younger brother and other family members are a part of. The core stylistic themes of military garb are, of course, notions of “uniform”, “rigour” and “discipline” but, it is when McDonald breaks from these notions that the results are truly exciting: “Uniform was something I naturally considered, not in a traditional sense but as an invisible line of codes. The ‘order’ can only exist with the ‘disorder’, and vice versa in my work.”
Invariably, an exploration of militaristic uniform turns on an engagement with traditional ideals of masculinity, and, in McDonald’s view, these ideals are more affective and sentimental than they are real: “As a modern society, we have become conditioned to differentiate between how women and men should feel. There has been increased awareness recently of this and we are finally starting to recognise that we need to provide young men with the same support as young women. We shouldn’t be raising hyper-masculine traits to be idolised by young men – we should be raising both girls and boys to be strong and equal, yet also celebrating that it is ok to be vulnerable and to share emotion.”
As part of her process, McDonald built up an archive of recordings, documentation and interviews with young men. Her motivation was simple, in order to dig deeper, engage with and dismantle these norms of masculinity, McDonald first had to understand them: “The way I design is a reaction, a subtle comment perhaps on something that has affected my experience directly. From the beginning, I have been intrigued by this significant period between boy and man. When my younger brother joined the military, I was perplexed by my feelings towards this. What I learnt from the footage was that actually, most young men do find it difficult to express with their peers how they are really feeling.”
Having collected this data, McDonald was confronted with the challenge of how best to integrate it into her garment design. McDonald openly acknowledges her debt to the photographer Michal Chelbin and “The Tribe” by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, and suggests, “It is clear there is a comment here on social groups and this allowed me to analyse my own footage more clearly, both visually and through sound. From this process, I realised the power of personal and primary research. I began this study at the very start of my Masters which formed the basis and core of all my future work.”
This meticulous study of masculinity translates itself into the core concept of this collaboration which relays a subtle narrative relating to jealousy and curiosity as a tribe of boys decide who should lead the group. For McDonald and Wukda, William Golding’s seminal novel, “Lord of the Flies” is a clear reference point and, “as a piece of writing it signified the reality of our primitive nature. It is an account of young boys who, due to circumstance, their behaviours and understanding become distorted. It addresses naivety and youthfulness. The shoot between myself and Wukda similarly focuses on hierarchy as both groups begin to lose their sense of self.” The work is literally drawn upon and extracts are recited like an incantation.
But the clothes tell the tale and, in the movement “from the industrial and dangerous landscapes to the open forest, we see the progression from the energy of the raw denim and nylon layers translated into more minimal tailoring and exposing pieces. This softness and vulnerability combined with the echoes of power are the contrasts we aimed to propose, both through the garments and the dialogue itself. ‘I lost myself in a maze of thoughts’ references the transition through youth.”
‘I lost myself in a maze of thoughts’ is right, capturing something essential about how young men unhelpfully internalise emotions. Yet, the complexity of modern forms of masculinity cannot be understated and is, itself, like a maze. The care taken to explore these themes on both McDonald and Wukda’s parts shows that fashion can be a medium that provokes more than commodity desire.
Watch the visual here: