The Rise of ‘LOLwear’: A Very British Fashion Phenomenon

We speak with four Central Saint Martins fashion alumni who are unashamed champions of the emerging bad taste movement they refer to as ‘LOLwear’

In 2014, the word ‘normcore’ crept its way into the mainstream fashion lexicon. It defined a newly established trend which celebrated the kind of clothes that would have usually been worn by middle-aged, Californian golfing enthusiasts: boxfresh, unbranded trainers, khaki baseball caps and unflattering high-waisted jeans featured heavily.  Indeed, it was a phrase that defined a trend for emulating the wardrobe of Larry David: stone washed chinos and bog-standard suit jackets denoting that you simply didn’t want to stand out in a crowd anymore. It was seen as the zenith of ‘anti-glamour’, operating between the subjective realms of good and bad taste. And, above all, it was completely tongue-in-cheek.

Today, there is a new portmanteau emerging from the depths of Central Saint Martins School of Art’s fashion department, that flips a middle finger at fashion’s worthiness: LOLwear. A common value shared between collective of designers – much like a slapstick Antwerp Six – the origins of LOLwear perhaps lie with Rottingdean Bazaar, the name coined by Saint Martins MA Fashion graduates James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks for their label that founded in 2015.

For those unfamiliar with Buck and Brooks’ work, at the most recent Rottingdean Bazaar show, part of Fashion East’s MAN initiative, the pair sent models in actual fancy dress costumes down the runway. “Ever since we started we wanted to try to twist what the purpose of a catwalk show is, and this was something we didn’t think had been done before,” Brooks told Dazed. “We also didn’t want to have to loan the collection out next season, you know, we don’t have a PR or anything. So if stylists want to borrow looks, they’ll have to get in touch with the stores we hired them from. We found that quite funny.”

Here, we speak with four other Central Saint Martins alumni – Daniel John Sansom, Lily Bling, Edwin Mohney and Harry Freegard, who have all created work that shelters under the umbrella of LOLwear – about what bad taste means to them and how they see it shaping the future of British fashion.

Daniel John Sansom & Lily Bling 

Designer Daniel John Sansom and stylist Lily Bling (aka ‘Nose Job’) are frequent collaborators, having worked closely together on their undergraduate collections at Central Saint Martins and Instagram posts that parody the Facetune phenomenon to the extreme. Bling is currently crowdfunding for a bum lift, whilst Sansom has recently modelled for Vivienne Westwood having already undergone several surgical procedures to resemble the stunning Princess Birgitta of Sweden (with whom he also shares his birthday).

Lily Bling: I think the British are obsessed with bad taste because of our distinct sense of humour. We like to take this piss out of things and we like to take the piss out of each other.

Daniel John Sansom: What we’re talking about here, in the context of fashion design, is LOLwear. The concept was coined during my ‘Tory Punk’ graduate collection last year. I think the title of your article should be: ‘LOLwear: A Very British Phenomenon!’

LB: I also think this all stems from the fact that British culture is at two ends of a spectrum: from a stiff, British upper lip to the likes of Jodie Marsh and Katie Price.

DJS: Well that’s it, isn’t it? We’ve got a very ‘old-school’ reputation, aristocracy, tea drinking –

LB: But now also have reality television, The Only Way is Essex, Geordie Shore and bodycon dresses.

DJS: For me, bad taste is very different to what a lot of people would consider being bad taste, which is something crass and something vulgar. But I would say that bad taste is someone or something that’s got literally no idea about taste of any kind. So I think at least if you’re flash and you’re brash and you’re crass – like these women on reality TV – you’ve got some sort of idea.

LB: I don’t believe that all fashion has to be humorous, but I like the idea that fashion can evoke emotion. It can deal with interesting social and political issues, but incorporating an element of humour, I think the British do really well. Rottingdean Bazaar’s work, for example.

DS: I think fashion at large is far too serious. Far too serious, far too boring, far too commercial. Why the hell are we living in such dull times? It bores me!

Edwin Mohney

Edwin Mohney is not from the United Kingdom, he hails from Buffalo, New York. However his MA collection spoke of endless British summers spent wading in inflatable paddling pools – with dresses made out of just that – and rubber chicken fascinators that wouldn’t look out of place at Ascot. The fashion designer is currently deciding whether to move back to the States, where it surely is only a matter of time before his Donald Trump Pumps will be spotted on the FLOTUS, Melania.

“For my graduate collection, I did a lot of research into what constitutes bad taste. Because, whether I intended it to be or not, my Central Saint Martins tutors kept telling me: ‘Edwin, you have such terrible, tacky taste!’ So I just went with it. I found that bad taste comes from a place of sentimentality. Fashion is all about artifice and being cool, so throw in any kind of emotion and it’s perceived as ‘bad’. So I try to exploit that.

“I went to another school in New York before I went to Central Saint Martins and I tried so many of the same ideas that I presented in my MA that I was told to brush off because no one would wear it or it was never going to sell. I think Saint Martins gives you the space to define your own value system. Because the truth is, that the landscape of what jobs are available and what you can make of your own career is constantly changing. So the tutors there push you to explore whatever you feel is most important to you.

“I make a joke that I’m a ‘farshion designer’: so it’s like farce, art and fashion. It's obviously quite cringe, but that was on my website for a long time. Although, I wouldn’t define my work by its humour alone. It is tongue-in-cheek, but I think there’s so much room to grow in the future.”

Harry Freegard

Harry Freegard has a message he wishes to convey to the world, and that message is: LOL. Or so he told Another Man earlier this year, during an interview that outlined the motives behind a BA graduate collection that imagined Freegard’s fabulous funerary celebrations. Freegard has also walked for Rottingdean Bazaar wearing a cardboard cut-out of Naomi Campbell and taken over Dazed’s Instagram at London Fashion Week last season (which saw him transform himself into the ‘ominious Celine gold curtain’). He also regularly enjoys trying on Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahnik Hangisi 105s.

“I wish that bad taste and humour would infiltrate the commercial side of fashion. LOLwear is emerging in the young London fashion scene, but if those responsible for it would be credited and paid, it should be on the high street. Well, not even the high street, just some of the bigger houses. Some designers – not mentioning names – just need to lighten up and have just have a LOL, right?

“There’s a lot of rebelling against the history of Central Saint Martins when you’re studying there. Everyone grows up wanting to be Alexander McQueen, and they go to Central Saint Martins and they realise that’s not possible. So you kind of fall into making something a bit shit. I think the school is a big player in the recent emergence of young designers producing collections that would be considered bad taste, because we’re not really taught anything classically and there’s no pressure to do that. So it’s so liberating to see how many boundaries you can push.

“All of this is so British. I mean Edwin [Mohney] is actually American but he’s been here for a long, long time. So he gets us. I absolutely adore what Rottingdean are doing every season. Sometimes Hillier Bartley does funny things too, like when they printed a tin foil and pineapple and cheese hedgehog on a t-shirt which is just so niche and British. To be honest, I just hope that things keep moving in this direction...”