Hannah Tindle speaks to Conner Ives about the next step of his masterplan.
t was coming to the UK that really made me start to dissect American culture in detail,’ says Conner Ives, sitting in his Tottenham studio. ‘I was always inspired by the style of the girls I went to high school with, and memories from my childhood. The title of my graduate collection was The American Dream; a take on tropes of Americana that went beyond stars and stripes and Daisy Dukes,’ he explains.
These are themes that have carried over to the work the 26-year-old makes today. Creating clothes through the use of ‘stock characters’ and ‘archetypes’, his latest show took the form of an ensemble cast of characters, inspired by Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 film Magnolia. Muses included the likes of Nan Kempner, Lisa Bonet, DeeeLite’s Lady Miss Kier and Melissa Ben-Ishay of Baked by Melissa fame. Wall Street tailoring, silky Lilith Fair-inspired dresses, and deconstructed vintage T-shirts and hoodies, branded with logos for American football teams and cheerleading squads, all featured. There was even a bridal look that referenced the wedding dress at the end of 1998’s The Parent Trap. ‘Making the autumn/winter 23 collection felt quite melodramatic at times,’ he notes of his second ever runway show presented at London Fashion Week in February. ‘Honestly, when you’re in the middle of it all, it can be quite a heightened experience. Then afterwards, when the show’s over, you look back with hindsight and think: “Why was that tearing me apart so much?”’It makes sense that Ives enjoys a touch of melodrama. Born and raised in upstate New York’s tiny town of Bedford, in 2014 he decided he needed a drastic change of scenery, and set his sights on London’s Central Saint Martins, enrolling on the BA course in womenswear. His talent and singular vision didn’t go unnoticed for long. In 2021, a year after graduating, he was runner-up in the LVMH prize and tapped by Andrew Bolton, curator of the Anna Wintour Costume Center at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, who selected several of his pieces for the show, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion. Ives also dressed Adwoa Aboah for the Met Gala and went on to work with Rihanna. After almost 10 years in the capital, does he consider himself a Londoner? ‘As “American” as it may seem, my work has also been heavily influenced by London — by my friends and my peers who live here. Arriving in the city when I was 18, it was the first time in my life that I had been surrounded by people who were as like-minded and almost as “insane” as me; people who could stay up until four or five in the morning talking about clothes,’ he says. ‘I am American; but I definitely consider London my home.’
And it is from the capital that he will continue with his very clear mission. ‘As a young designer, I do feel pressure to keep producing work to keep up with seasonal demands,’ he says of his creations, many of which are produced by cleverly repurposing deadstock garments and recycled materials. ‘At the moment, I only make one collection a year, which is what I set out to do when I founded the brand to reduce waste and consumption. Although in September, we’ll be creating a lookbook, which will be a presentation of sorts. But really, for me, it’s about making clothes that people will want to wear time and time again.’