[September 15 2017]
Conner Ives is what you call a gifted boy. He just entered the second year at Central Saint Martins and has already made his debut among the big ones at the Met Ball 2017, dressing none other than Adwoa Aboah.
I remember the first time I saw Conner’s creations on Instagram by chance, the candid and creamy sensuality of the fabrics, and a remarkable ability to manage textures and structures instantly captured me. It gave me a thrill.
Conner‘s work is neither aggressive nor pretentious; it’s the natural expression of a notably sensitive temperament and the result of his attraction to graceful and fragile beauty.
Conner is just being himself. He smoothly combines myths, memories, and American archetypes, and generates an atmosphere pervaded by nature, heritage and a sort of fresh youngness, which is concurrently very personal and immersive.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Do you remember the moment you realized you wanted to become a fashion designer?
CONNER IVES — Realizing that it was even a profession was eye opening for me. I’ve always been creative, when I was younger the title ‘fashion designer’ sounded no different to what I was allowed to do when I was 7: trying trades out and making things. Realizing that it was an actual job was a huge learning curve for me. Before then I just considered it what I used to do.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — What has been the key element in growing your aesthetic?
CONNER IVES — I think time has played a wonderful role the past few years. If it’s something I’m genuinely obsessed with, it will come back into my work. Sometimes, I also feel that I’m not done with a thread, and that there is more to be said. I’m at this really lucky point in my life where I can produce these things and almost test drive them, seeing how I like them as they age.
So yes, I think time – and the reality of never being satisfied – has made everything develop quite naturally.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Would you say that your aesthetic is nostalgic?
CONNER IVES — Yes! Very much so. All of the concepts that I develop are usually based on themes and obsessions that I’ve had since I was 10. So many concepts will be based on memories; which is nice because a memory is almost better than a tangible reference because it’s a bit hazier and romantic. I try to celebrate objects in my work and I think there is a lot of nostalgia attached to certain objects, at least for some.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Tell me about your childhood in Bedford, your homeland, and how this influenced your creativity.
CONNER IVES — I grew up in a pretty rural farming town in the suburbs of New York City, and I always preferred the country to the latter. Even to this day, it’s a highlight of my year to be able to go home. It is located in the Hudson Valley a lot of the beauty of it comes from how pretty the light can be. At dusk in the summer there’s this “witching hour” where the sun makes everything go gold and filters through the leaves.
In my life, I haven’t found anything prettier than that. I’m really inspired by my childhood there, and the things exclusive to that part of the world. It was all very American and ideal.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — In your latest collection “Precious Lord take my hand”, the American influence is very strong. Right now, the US is going through some rather delicate and controversial times.
CONNER IVES — When I began drafting a lot of these clothes I was really shaken in my American identity. I had spent the past summer exploring parts of Maine and New Mexico that I fell in love with the sheer beauty and scale of it all over again after leaving to study in London. So I wanted the clothes to reflect that respect of American identity. I focused on themes and references that I saw as the beautiful parts of America, despite its dark past and uncertain future.
I love American folk art for that reason: it brings an idealized and altered view of America that is still imperfect, in its naive style. I recreated some of my favourite paintings and heat transferred them onto fleece for dresses made to look like Patagonia ski pullovers, which for me was another idealistic reference to a part of American culture when I was growing up. This is why I titled the collection ‘Precious lord take my hand‘: it is a hymn written by Thomas Dorsey after his wife and child were killed in childbirth. It became a surrender of sorts for me, the same way it was for him. I pulled a lot of reference from memories of what women would wear to church on Sundays. That’s where a lot of the sequin pieces come from.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — What strikes me in your work is the way you present your creations and work using videos. You create an atmosphere in which clothes are just ones of several elements that come together to offer a more intense experience.
CONNER IVES — I like to video tape my fittings because it’s a good way for me to see the pieces move, since photos can be so static. I record it all on our family’s camcorder that my parents made all the home videos of my sister and me on. It sounds like such a cliché but captures the clothes really well.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — You propel people into a universe. Do you think that the curating of the artwork is as important as the artwork itself?
CONNER IVES — I think it’s all relative. My favorite designers and creatives are people that create worlds beautifully. It’s something I always aim to do, even if it’s in a smaller scale.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Does the inspiration come as a sort of epiphany or as the result of a long reflection?
CONNER IVES — I guess it all begins with obsessions. I get really easily obsessed, and once I see something I can’t get it out of my head until I do it, which was the case with almost every project I’ve done. It’s what I was explaining before about synchronicity, and I’ll find if I collect things I genuinely am obsessed with, the clothing will almost design itself. It’s not a very satisfying answer, but has always been how I work. I guess more than anything I can totally envision it in my head before consciously knowing what it will look like. If that makes any sense [laugh]. I’ll draw and drape, but I see all of those processes that refine the final product, but never where I begin.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Where do you find the fabrics?
CONNER IVES — My design process is similar to the restore of it, and is highly indicative of the raw materials I have on hand at the time. Like I’ve said, there are themes that I come back to, and the same goes for materials. T-shirts obviously, silk scarves and those 80’s sequin tops are all categories of materials I collect. I also spend most of my free time combing through flea markets and estate sales to see what attracts me. Sometimes I’ll hold onto pieces I’ve found for years before I eventually figuring out what I’m going to do with it.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Tell me about the dress Adwoa Aboah wore at the Met Gala 2017. I remember seeing the original version on Instagram and felling in love with your work straight away.
CONNER IVES — It was the first making project at CSM, the White Show. You’re asked to make a look entirely out of the provided white felt or cotton. My research went into American southern debutante balls, and the pageants they would throw. They would embroider trains that were 15-20 feet long depending on a theme. So the whole look was an adapted debutante look, with mini dress and a 3-meter duster coat forming the train, which was coated in appliquéd white swans. Adwoa had seen it and said that she wanted to wear it, so we remade it in a duchess ivory satin for her. It was the most fitting display of that project, as all the research centred round high glamour and high society events. I never expected that to happen in a million years.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Has your life changed after the Met?
CONNER IVES — I think things started to move very quickly after that. It’s a blessing and a curse because while the attention and praise is so kind, you also kind of begin to feel these pressures that design houses usually feel 1-2 years of opening. However, the big misconception is that there is a house. It really is just me, and my friends who volunteer their time when things get too much for just me. I still feel I am growning and learning as a designer and I’m just doing that a bit more visibly now. I’m still getting used to that.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — You told me that your friends are also your main source of inspiration. Can you tell me about the “dream team” behind Conner’s factory?
CONNER IVES — I couldn’t do it without my friends! Like I was saying before, I don’t have really any permanent employees so I rely a lot on my close friends for advice and consulting. We’ll do a fitting together and try everything on, seeing what we like and how things feel on, all while styling. We are in no way similar designers or have similar aesthetics, but I trust them and like to challenge them as they challenge me.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Chloe Nardin and Josephine Sidhu are true muses for you. What makes them the best ones to represent your aesthetic and style?
CONNER IVES — I hate the word muse but both Josie and Chloe are huge inspirations and extreme close friends. Both are first and foremost designers and I met them while studying fashion at CSM. I guess I really never seek out girls that I would feel fit my aesthetic, rather what I was saying before about having friends that challenge me. I’ll create looks sometimes with them in mind, channelling their style in the look. I’m extremely loyal to that relationship and often struggle to branch out to new models because I really consider them family.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — I remember the anecdote about Chloe mother’s gloves …
CONNER IVES — Yes, Chloe was in Paris for a job one weekend while I was working on the Met Gala and called me to catch up. I happened to mention to her that we were trying to source some opera gloves to be worn with the look. Chloe was shooting and explained that she didn’t think she’d have time to look and it left my head as just a fleeting thought. Finally, she called me back minutes later and explained how she similarly had just happened to mention it to her mom, who then managed find her mothers vintage French wedding gloves, and generously offered them to me. Chloe and I were made nearly sick by the chance and coincidence of it, but it’s something that happens so frequently to me, that I be begun to accept it as some crazy wrinkle in the universe.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — You have a nice studio apartment in London where you work.
CONNER IVES — Yes! I recently moved into my own studio, where I also live now. It’s small, but situated in a converted textile factory in Tottenham and I love the character of the building. Workspace to me is extremely important as I feel I’m working almost 24/7… I wanted a space that had plenty of light and I could see myself being able to think in. My bed is just in the corner and the rest is just studio space or storage for the clothes. It’s humble but also a wonderful space to be starting in.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — You’ve been living in London, attending Central Saint Martins, for a couple of years now. Do you think that UK and US have different approach to fashion?
CONNER IVES — I think my best way of explaining the difference between UK and the US is that I always got the feeling that people in the UK took themselves not as seriously as some of the people I met growing up in New York. When I graduated from high school I felt I needed to leave the US to see it from the outside in. In the states you really begin to believe that America is the only place in the world, for better or worse. It was the best thing I ever did because it shattered that bubble for me, and I could see how small the world truly was.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — What is your experience with the fashion system so far? Are you disappointed in someway?
CONNER IVES — Of course I am! I think we all are. At least the good ones. I don’t see what I would have to accomplish in fashion if I wasn’t dissatisfied. Waste is something that haunts me, and something the fashion industry is extremely guilty of. I like to think that what I’m doing addresses that and seeks to find new ways of repurposing waste. But I also have a lot of hope. I feel with what I’ve seen recently there has been a shift in younger generations wanting to address some of the industries more archaic problem areas.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Would you consider menswear?
CONNER IVES — Yes of course, I have already! I did a single collection two years ago where many of the looks were shot on both guys and girls, in an exercise to challenge my ultra feminine clothes. It was based on the idea of boyhood, and my rose tinted memories of my own. The confusion I had towards gendered clothing and my granted freedom in what I wore, even as a kid. I guess it’s again the factor of it being very similar to how I work now, not much has changed. I love the idea of lifestyle brands as well and love to think anyone who likes the work could comfortably wear it themselves. I just think there’s something so thrilling about dressing women that I am partially biased.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — You also make some jewellery pieces magnificently embroidered; the attention to detail is obvious. Tell me about your favourite piece from the collection and how you realized it.
CONNER IVES — The purple ear cuffs are my absolute favorite, and are a style I originally developed for the White Show and then ultimately for Adwoa at the Met Gala. The purple ones however were the biggest and most fanciful ones I’ve done yet. The purple stone was originally a belt that I cut in half for each ear and they’re about a foot long. The pieces around the ear are the same ones used on Adwoa. My favorite piece was a pair of diamanté star clip on earrings that were from a NYC costume jewellery designer from the 80s.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Since the Met Gala, things are moving fast for you.Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
CONNER IVES — I have no idea! I think it’s all come together quite naturally that I trust things will come organically. I am really excited for the time I am entering now, because more than ever I’m just thrilled to be doing what I’m doing and take every opportunity as a challenge to test myself. So I want to continue to do that: to test myself.
Purple TV introduces the work of American fashion designer CONNER IVES with a series of original videos: