- TextHynam Kendall
Tomorrow, the cult label is launching its first-ever unisex collection – here its Creative Director, Sofia Prantera, tells Another Man why
Before my interview with Sofia Prantera, the Creative Director of cult streetwear-influenced label Aries, her team share with me some literature regarding Prantera’s expansion from womenswear: “Aries launches Menswear for Spring 2018” heralds the impending press release. But the full story is far more interesting and nuanced than this, and, as the next hour in her company assures, Prantera is a refreshing and unabashedly modern voice in the conversation encompassing the gendering of clothes and proliferation of pronouns.
“Our womenswear could be, and has always been worn by men,” says Prantera straight off the bat, “not every style, perhaps, but, for example, my husband has often said, ‘Can you bring me home a pair of those jeans?!’” she waits a moment and returns in a burst of laughter, “…and to be honest it’s not only the jeans!”
It’s true, I know many men who have worn and do wear the Aries (note asterisks) * womenswear * collection, and it can often be found styled on men in fashion editorials. “The plan was always to work on a unisex line, but when we went to sell it the first time, not quite ten years ago [Aries was a concept started by Prantera in 2009], the buyers weren’t really ready for this approach. Now, rather than introducing menswear to the label, it’s more about realising what we originally envisioned. Womenswear, menswear, I understand the need for these categories, but I have never really thought in terms of them.” A beat, “I mean, for example, I’m sure we both know a lot of men who wear Céline!”
Prantera explains her plan isn’t to use the move to market the gender of her clothes, or to “add a gender to what we do”, but that this menswear ‘launch’ in conjunction with Mr Porter (exclusive styles and colourways will be available on the platform from tomorrow) is actually about “telling all men that what we do is available to them!”
Before beginning her career at renowned London skate store Slam City Skates designing (menswear) for their in-house label Holmes, which later progressed into Silas, Prantera was always predominantly interested in masculine attire. In her Italian-based youth, Prantera, without agenda or intention, found herself wearing mostly menswear, often dressing to a Stone Island aesthetic. “There were very few brands that were sub-culturally important that were inherently identifiable as womenswear,” she says, “and I thought to myself, why should women’s clothes have to be about being sexy or being objectified in some way, which very much happened and became even more prevalent in the noughties when it was all about having the cropped version of whatever. So I wore boys clothes without it being a statement. And when it came to designing for women, I also wanted to bring this same “power” that I saw and felt in the clothes of these subcultures.” She pointedly adds: “But I was never a tomboy. I don’t like that word at all, it’s so infused.”
The Aries aesthetic is famed for skate and streetwear allusions and subversion [“But streetwear in the original context, when independent magazines were on the street shooting real people, before it was hijacked and dirtied and made synonymous with casual and sportswear”]. For the new unisex collection launched this month, Prantera found herself creating amidst a cacophony of old Detroit style techno, British and Italian choral music like Thomas Tallis and Gesualdo and also found herself transfixed by a spate of political and financial conspiracies, such as the Russia/Trump/Mercer story. But the moodboards, perhaps unsurprisingly, were very much teeming with her usual touchstones: old Patagonia catalogues, vintage counter-culture Italian style magazines like Frigidaire, skate mags which Prantera has kept since her days working at Slam City: Big Brother, Thrasher, Grand Royal.
“Rather than creating ‘fashion’,” Prantera pronounces ‘fashion’ with flair for effect, “I work on a staple like a t-shirt or a sweatshirt. [For me] it’s not about innovating, but about making that garment as good as the best vintage garment that you have in your wardrobe. It’s asking why your favourite sweatshirt is your favourite sweatshirt. Why you wear that one all the time despite having so many others? Is it the stitching, the way the armholes are cut? A lot of sweatshirts now don’t get the cut right, the ribs are not pulled in enough, the arms too long, and the shoulder cut isn’t flat enough. That comes from designers not formulating their own pattern, and just using factory patterns. I do all the grading myself, do the pattern myself. It needs that kind of attention. I’m very forensic.”
The new pieces Prantera is excited to release out into the ether include a sheepskin jacket reminiscent of a classic 90s-style fleece (a luxury take on the fleece sportswear shape she has been designing since her days at Holmes in the mid 90s.) There is also the Lilly Jean, a totally unisex selvedge denim jean that fits like “the perfect generic jean you’d find in a secondhand shop”, and a deconstructed t-shirt torn and re-stitched together, inspired by 90s designers like Margiela, Helmut Lang, Xuli Bet. Of this Prantera says, “the 90s deconstructed Tee has been done badly by ‘street’ labels for decades, we are bringing back the original references to make it honest. I love what Vetements have done with their versions of the deconstructed tee also. We are both bringing a level of credibility to the 90s streetwear references, meeting somewhere in the middle from completely opposite sides of the argument. My roots are in skatewear and I appropriate fashion, while [Demna Gvasalia’s] roots are in fashion and he appropriates streetwear.”
Prantera rounds off in surmise, that the future of Aries is simply to further its original manifesto from all those years ago: “In an ideal world this could all be genderless. I think the newer generation will be the change, and see how antiquated this all is: gendering clothes.”