The countdown to Saul Nash’s SS24 had started – T minus 5 days – when we were invited to his studio for a preview and rundown of his collection. The studio is set up over two floors, the bottom being the dedicated space for his small team of seamstresses and pattern cutters, with images of all his past collections plastered across the white walls, while the top is where the SS24 collection was hung, alongside the mood board covered in inspiration images from his childhood to a map of Guyana.
We got to talking with Saul Nash, who started his eponymous brand in 2018, about his upcoming collection. Five years down the line and this collection comes as a special one for the North East London-raised designer, who turned to his parents’ background of Guayana and Mauritius, to explore his own culture he grew up geographically far from.
Hey Saul, how’s it going? Where are we today?
Hey CULTED! I’m good. Today we’re here at my studio and I’m here to walk you through my collection.
Go right ahead man. Let’s start with your inspirations.
The new season is titled “Intersections” which looks at intersections between my parents’ culture. If you don’t know my mom’s Guayanese and Bayesian and my dad’s Mauritian. When I went to Mauritius a few years ago, I found a lot of parallels within the cultures. That’s something I really tried to explore this season. I explore it through water sports and aquatic sports. So in this collection, you see a lot of nautical references. What’s interesting is we always had this challenge of shifting the perspective of sportswear, but in a way that’s still authentic to the craft of sportswear. You see there’s a shift in these colours this season, and they referenced nautical colours. Then you also have in some areas, this sport reference, this varsity or letterman reference.
There’s also a very literal take on the nautical theme here.
The aquatic theme also appears in other areas of the collection.You have swim shorts, and that pair up with shirts which have mesh ventilation in them. What’s really exciting is how I can push my brand to use new fabrics, or try out new materials within my collections.
Tell me about the cultural references in this collection.
For example, this knitted jacquard here, it has the Indian Ocean appearing in it. From afar, you see that, but then it also looks like a camouflage. What’s really exciting about this is that it’s a fully seamless knit. I really liked this idea of balancing aesthetic and function – how can I push the aesthetics of it without voiding the function of it? That’s what was really exciting this season is to be able to tell this story, but in a way that’s still true to what I need my garments to do. I’m not sure if I should show this yet, because it’s not actually in the garment, but this is a print where it’s a Hindu goddess Ganga. When you come up close, you don’t really see her from afar, she does appear. She appears and she disappears throughout the collection. This is actually an ode to the intersection in Guyana and in Mauritius, you have a strong Hindu culture. My grandfather was actually Hindu. There was also that node, not only intersections in you know, the people and the cultural lifestyle, but also intersections of where people have travelled, and migrated to these countries.
With this nautical theme, you really had fun with the use of fabrics for this collection.
The fabrics this season I’m also really excited by because you have really lightweight fabrics. That also references back to our manifesto that garments should feel like air when you put them on. But then you also have heavier pieces like this wetsuit. So there’s always these references towards watersport, but then crossing over to like, if you would lay them out and you’d wear them in the city, what would that look like? Another one I like it’s a pineapple. I like the idea of taking something quite mundane or kind of stereotypical of these places, but then blowing it up and scaling it up and looking at the way [it] can wrap the body. It’s telling a story but at the same time moving with the garment, or the cut of it.
Congratulations on your 2022 Woolmark Prize win! How does that continue to influence your design approach, especially this collection?
Thank you. When I introduced wool, that opened up the conversation around natural fibres in performance where, or in technical garments. Not only through wool as a material, it also gave me access to new technologies. When I won the Woolmark Prize, it was the first time I’ve implemented knitwear into the collection. Since then, this will be the third collection. So it just evolved or progressed from there. There’s also ways when it comes to the summer, people don’t know this, but wool is also thermal regulating. So it’s exciting like this shirt here, it’s a blend of wool and cordura. When you look at it, it looks like a technical fabric, which it is because it’s got the blend of cordura. I think that’s what’s really exciting as well is how you can implement the functions of wool into these garments. These jackets are also wool [which feature] flying fish. Actually, in Barbados, they eat flying fish. And also, we have caps which are wool, because the great thing about wool is you can mould it and you can shape it.
As you mentioned, movement is obviously a huge part of your brand, if not the most important, with yourself having a dance background. How do you make sure to add fluidity and movements to what is essentially an inanimate object? Do you consider what the garment will look like on a person walking/running/moving?
I would say when I’m moving, I’m thinking about myself as well. I don’t like to wear restrictive garments. I like the garments to live with me or how I’m moving. That was something really integrated into the beginning of the brand. When it began, it was really focused around dance and movement, but over seasons it transcends into movement in everyday context. That does encompass running and it encompasses anything to do with liberating the body, enabling it to move. That’s something really important for me. I don’t really like restrictive garments or prohibiting [the body].
Another big part of your brand is this idea of masculinity and redefining what that means to you. So I want to ask you what does masculinity mean to you?
It’s complicated. There’s a huge spectrum of masculinity. When I talk about masculinity in my own collection, it’s referencing my own experience as a man, you know, growing up around certain codes that you would find in London, or these expectations of what it means to be a man. But what’s always been exciting is challenging the idea of men in sportswear. I think there’s a lot of negative connotations around it, but there’s also an opportunity to celebrate it, and also to explore how far someone will go in terms of dressing. For me, masculinity is a spectrum. I think my clothes actually, even though I tell the story through menswear, it’s universal. It’s for anybody who enjoys to wear these kinds of clothes.
This one’s a bit of a deep one. You’ve described your work as being like “psychology” and “acting as a mirror”. So what have you learned about yourself through making this collection?
That’s interesting. I’m always learning a lot about myself, but this collection, in particular, sometimes ideas come from really weird places. I’d done a DNA test, and I’d seen the breakdown of everywhere I come from. I’d heard a lot about where my granddad came from. I wanted to delve deeper into it, because I really enjoy this idea of understanding more about who I am. I grew up in a space which is quite displaced from those cultures. So if I can use a collection to really explore and understand more about them for research, for me that’s really exciting. Besides travelling to it, I think using your work as a vessel to kind of understand more about yourself, it’s really exciting.
Sportswear is also a giant aspect of what the Saul Nash brand is. Let’s say 10 years ago, sportswear was not being seen on the runways of fashion, but now it’s basically in every collection, with you incorporating it through dance, and now this season very much swimwear. How would you explain this shift from sportswear being very much just the sports world to now integrated in fashion?
That’s an interesting question. When I first began, there were obviously a lot of collaborations in the sports realm. I often describe my work as sportswear, but I actually trained in menswear. So I think whilst a lot of it is based around sports and that aesthetic, there’s also references to tailoring. I think it reflects where we’re shifting. Some people like to wear more casual garments. I think fashion is starting to evolve in a way which encompasses people that like to wear all kinds of things because you’re not always gonna be going to an event where you need a tuxedo or shirt. Sometimes you want to dress more casual, and I’ve always dressed casual, so I’m actually glad that I’m able to offer that.
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