London based menswear designer Omar Kashoura is a difficult designer to peg; his clothes feign no allegiance to any fashion trend or mandate and eschew any obvious association. Kashoura maintains an individualistic stance in a fashion community that would so easily direct a less sure designer down a well traveled and alarmingly dubious road. But if anything, Kashoura is quite sure and his classical yet modernly nuanced clothes suggest a sharp focus. No tricks up his sleeve save for a luxurious lining. Kashoura was in town last month as part of a group presentation sponsored in part by the U.K.’s Centre for Fashion Enteprise, there, buyers and the press could peruse the latest collections of the best up-and comers London has to offer, including Kashoura’s Central St. Martins classmates Mary Katrantzou and knitwear enfant terrible Mark Fast. Keen on Kashoura’s clothes, Garmento caught up with the 28-year-young designer on his last day in New York and over pancakes and eggs Alaska we discussed the U.K.’s support for young designers, his clothes (of course), and peanut butter…
So you’re here in New York in a group presentation sponsored by the Centre for Fashion Enterprise, could you tell me about exactly what the CFE is?
The CFE was established to push and help designers and to better their chances of success. When it first started it was like “here’s 20 grand, and there you go”, and they gave support and there’s a certain percentage that went back to the government, but obviously giving a designer money just like that didn’t last for long. With the program now they assist with PR, accounting, and giving business advice. They’re building an agency to secure consultancies and design collaborations and projects like that, so they’re funding themselves as well.
We have something similar here in New York sponsored by our CFDA, but it’s not as comprehensive. It’s amazing for the CFE to be able to work with so many distinct and separate talents.
There’s this huge energy, it’s not just about clothes, it’s so intermingled with their personality. Though it’s harder to see it with a male designer who does women’s, my collections are an extension of my personality, just in the way I create things or how I will format my collection. I can imagine for some people walking in there it’s quite empowering.
New York fashion has it’s own separate culture, when I met some of the designers from London I had this strong feeling of “these guys aren’t like New Yorkers”. It was a totally different attitude.
I feel this whole thing about New York and business and London with it’s arts focus, you need a balance between the two. This is why the CFE is there and involved. London designers quite often fail, it’s less focused about business and more about creativity. I worked for a company called Preen, I witnessed how they had started from scratch and every season you would see how the focus to build a business was so important. As a young designer, you’re trying to tick so many boxes. It’s difficult to generate pieces for a show and then pieces to sell, you’re just not able to do a separate line.
How do you manage your production?
It’s all done in the U.K. It’s one of the hardest things to control, to get it right. When I worked for Preen, I did sales and production, had I not done that I wouldn’t have been able to manage my own business. You’ll do the collection and get press but then have no clue as to how to actually make it for stores. I can imagine with some designers it can’t be that simple, certain pieces can’t be mass produced.
So many factories that have the know-how in those specializations are starting to disappear.
I suppose everything is dying in a way, skills are dying, crafts are dying. I think it’s a shame that we don’t really have another chance to go back to the way things were and maybe that’s why everyone is looking to the past so much more now, they’re so nervous about new things and the problems that might come with them. There’s trust in the past, like buying a traditional jacket, it’s not a fashion trend that’s just going to disappear. I take that idea to my own work, the clothes are trans-seasonal, the classic element makes it so much easier to wear. I wear a jacket that I made 5 years ago and people mistake it for something from a recent collection.
There’s a lot of potential in going into more traditional manufacturers, people who’ve been making xyz item for years, and then working from there.
I’m multi-skilled, I’m a pattern cutter, a machinist, so knowing the whole process helps me develop my product. I would love the opportunity to go and see those specialists techniques. Unless you know them you can’t really incorporate it into your work and develop it. With knitwear I’d love to do that, there’s a great mill in Wales called Corgi, they’ve been making knits forever, very old fashioned, appointed by the Queen.
With a lot of young menswear designers now, it’s either this heritage focused/hyper masculine look, or its this pseudo avant-garde/gothic direction, but your work doesn’t try to be either.
I always knew I was not this dark grungy look, or workwear either. Coming to New York it really hit home that big stores will never pick up a young designer for men’s wear, they do for women, but guys don’t shop that way. It’s either workwear or something super conceptual and I don’t fit into that. I hold a niche, it’s wearable, it’s fashion, but it’s not as common of a look.
You don’t spell fashion with a capital F?
As a designer, I very much understand that a jacket is a jacket and trousers are trousers and all I want to do is create beautiful clothes. It’s about fabric and finishing. It’s fashionable product, but it’s not a fashion mindset. I’m quite old fashioned if anything, I like my guy to look proper. My ideal man is a gentleman in a very traditional way.
That’s so English.
I’m half English and half Arabic, my father is from Jordan. I grew up in Leeds, not many people know it, I tell them it’s next to Manchester and they know David Beckham so it registers.
How did you get started with your own label?
When I was 17 or 18 I moved to London and did my degree at the London College of Fashion and went to work at Preen and then I did patterns for Unconditional. I entered in the Gen Art competition and was approached by an agent, set up a company, did a few seasons, I was super young then doing crazy things. The style is quite different from what I do now. I felt so constrained because of money. At the time I started there weren’t any menswear designers in London and there wasn’t the support there is now. So I stopped and went back to school to do my masters at St. Martins and then I finished that in 2008. I always knew I wanted to do my own business but you need a lot of money for that so I was lucky when I finished I had won the Deutcshe Bank Pyramid award, so I took the cash injection and started developing things independently. Now I’m able to do the product I want at the level I want and make a bit of money to support it.
You’ve been able to establish yourself internationally, but you’ve also gotten a good reception from the Middle East.
I have a few stockists in the Middle East, the Arab side lends itself quite well, naturally. People are interested in their own people.
Well, they also have a lot of money, is there potential for an investor?
So many more people are interested in women’s wear and are excited by it and want to invest in it. You just don’t hear it of men’s. If you look at history, it’s rare to see a young men’s wear designer become a brand because there is not as much interest. Now there’s a hell of a lot designers doing men’s wear, it would be interesting if investors came forward for them.
Will you ever venture into women’s?
It’s always a question you get asked as a men’s wear designer, “Why men’s? Are you going to do women’s?” For me it’s important to focus on one thing.
Maybe if a woman really likes your clothes she should just buy it and wear it.
I do have a few female customers. While I was here I went to check out the museum at FIT, they actually have an exhibit about the differences between men’s dress and women’s dress and you can see how at one point they were so similar but then began to go in totally separate directions.
There you have it. Any other lasting experiences from your trip here?
I’ve been trying to do as many American things as I can while I’m here. Yesterday was all about peanut butter, I went to Dean and Deluca and I got this peanut butter with blackberry donut, it was absolutely delicious. And then I found this peanut butter cafe, all they serve are peanut butter sandwiches, I had one with maple and bacon. I picked up 4 tubs of peanut butter to take back to London. Last weekend we did burgers, Monday it was bagels. I went through the tourists guide, I had my street map with me checking out the random places.