Life & Culture

Gareth Wrighton, the Knitwear Designer Blurring Fantasy and Reality

Gareth Wrighton has an unorthodox design approach, building semi-autobiographical collections of fully formed fictional characters

“The work I do is like the visual equivalent of chatting shit,” explains knitwear designer Gareth Wrighton. “I look at it with a groan and an eye-roll, then layer on more of the same.” His unorthodox design approach, building semi-autobiographical collections of fully formed fictional characters, owes more to watching YouTube how-to videos and gaming than his fashion communication degree from Central Saint Martins. “I might not have learnt the right way to do things, but I’m still saying what I want to say through garments.”

Straddling the worlds of fantasy and reality, the Watford-based 26-year-old’s work deals with avatars and usually lives online as well as in physical form. He presented his final collection as a shoppable zombie apocalypse video game complete with undead e-comm models. The double entendres, bad puns and wordplay that reflect his sense of humour creep into everything Wrighton does. “It’s sort of journalistic. It’s no different to me making a magazine really, except that the pages become looks walking down a runway.”

Here, he tells Another Man about the influence of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, and a series of unfortunate events topped by an awkward moment in a Mugler robot suit.

“I remember growing up I’d always watch my brother on his PlayStation. I was always bad at video games, but the character design left a mark on me. I’m obsessed with how the narrative is told through gaming avatars. My dream job is to design costumes for video games, because you’re not restricted by physics. You could do anything you want, which is so fab. 

“When I make a collection, every look is like a character, and has a role. I always name them and give them a backstory. Like I’m always drawn to Chelsea Manning’s story. Everyone is so complacent today, and everyone has these opinions that you’re forced to put up with. But she’s the one whistleblower who didn’t. And that doesn’t happen much, especially in Britain. We simply don’t have a figure capable of causing such a scandal.

“The collection I showed in New York was very character-led, based on three rival crime families, each dressed differently; one was old money, one was new money and one wasn’t in it for the money. It was all about communicating that through textiles, so new money wore synthetics, old money wore rich silks, and not in it for the money used anarchic punk references. When I create a character everything is considered, everything has a reference, and everything links back to something.

“One time in year six at school we were looking at Dadaism, and making these collages out of newspapers, and I found a picture of Beyoncé that I became obsessed with. She was wearing this Dolce & Gabbana dress from their ‘Sex’ collection. I cut it out, took it home and made a painting of it. At the time I didn’t know why I was doing it, but it makes sense now. I still do the same thing, making stupid objects, but then when you put them on a pedestal, they suddenly mean something.

“We also went to the Tate Modern in year six and had to pick our favourite piece of 20th-century art. I chose Andy Warhol’s diptych of Marilyn Monroe – half colour, half black and white – and I think it’s still one of my favourite paintings. It’s perfect. There was a whole room of Warhols then, and they still hang them occasionally, but they feel so much smaller now, probably because I’ve grown up. I remember them filling the walls.

“Some of the jobs I’ve found myself on are just as ridiculous. Just not that deep. I went through a phase during which every shoot I was involved in the model would be on her period. And towards the end I started thinking it must be me, because it was literally every job I was on, and it started to have an impact on the work. One unfortunate model even got her period wearing a Mugler robot suit. It was like I had this weird hormonal super power.

“That’s all true, but my friends and I are always chatting made-up shit that we actually think happened in our heads, even though it didn’t. It’s like we’re forming new memories. Like when you’re a kid and you tell a white lie and it becomes the truth because you make yourself remember it happening. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story!”

GROOMING Mark Hampton at Julian Watson Agency using L’Oréal Professionnel & MAC Cosmetic HAIR COLOURIST Harriet Muldoon at Larry King Salon SET DESIGN Paulina Piipponen PHOTOGRAPHIC ASSISTANT Stewart Capper STYLING ASSISTANT Fergus O’Reilly HAIR AND MAKE UP ASSISTANT Mizuki Kida

A version of this article appeared in the A/W19 issue of Another Man.