Over the three seasons that we have worked together on his show music, Christopher Shannon has dropped uniquely intimate and intriguing interpretations of music into brief studio visits, manic pre-show phone calls and abrupt emails. Frustratingly erratic, yet remarkably eloquent, the menswear designer’s insights ranged from his admiration for fiercely independent and intelligent heroines, Sinead O’Connor and Leslie Winer, to the draw of an aural “scratchiness.” Interviewing the Central Saint Martins graduate for LAW, shortly after showing his Autumn/Winter 2013 collection in London, appeared an appropriate opportunity to ask him to elucidate this burgeoning dialogue.
As a child of the Eighties, Christopher received “Madonna and Prince and all those visuals” around pop music via the onset of MTV and tentatively feeling his way from Smash Hits magazine to The Face. More than mere visual accompaniments, he understood music videos, styling, album artwork and sleeve notes as interdependent aspects of an overarching narrative. For Christopher, Neneh Cherry embodied this charged approach; every aspect of her output appeared “cohesive and really slick.” Thereafter he, “couldn’t really get into manufactured pop; something about it just didn’t appeal...” There is, however, something about it that appeals now.
Once the final show mix is completed and we near the end of a lengthy chain of emails, through which the show music is discussed, Christopher states his choice for the finale music, often with a wry apology. In the lead-up to his recent show, Obsessive, Compulsive, Re-order, Christopher approached the enigmatic, former-model Winer, with the hope of working on music for the show. Winer provided a raw, work in progress from her collaborative project with Diamond Version, to which she had recorded vocals especially for the show. “It’s a dirty track, so no matter what you do it’s always going to sound very fucking dirty...as it should,” she warned via email. True to form, over a relentless throb she drawls and barks, “I’ve seen you in some stupid fuckin’ outfits in my time ... Congratulations on being a big fuckin’ deal.” The trance-pop of Rihanna’s Right Now wasn’t exactly the obvious accompaniment as finale music.
It would appear however, that Rihanna and Cheryl Cole are not excessively indulgent show music inclusions, but entirely unavoidable necessities to which Christopher has surrendered. “I’m still keen on indulgence,” he admits, “but I’m an adult now, so I can judge what I take from something. I’m not being blindly sold Tulisa!” Christopher recalls being told backstage that he had used “music voodoo,” but clarifies that the finale music is “definitely not” intended as a sugary after show antidote. “They are tracks that have a certain feel, the way good House music does, they hand you that moment of celebration really effectively.” Consequently, he believes that if the audience enjoys the show, the right uplifting song can be a highly practical tool to, “crystallize the experience.”
Christopher’s affinity with Winer and O’Connor permeates his attitude as a designer. The late Eighties/early Nineties imagery and style that the two artists share may have dated, but an intrinsic freshness and authenticity to production has enabled their work to last. Working within an industry that fetishises accelerated turnover, Christopher acknowledges this inevitable slippage, between an aesthetic and the production values, in his own work. “Fashion should date; otherwise it’s not really fashion, is it? It should date, but have a quality that appeals when you go back to it.”
This quality, to which Christopher has ceaselessly returned, is embedded within his tracksuits. Forming the foundation of his visual identity, they are the juncture of “more in essence than totally direct” reference points. A recurring symbol throughout his collections, he deconstructs and reconstructs their silhouette, drenching them in oversized Paisley patterns, or wrapping them in thickly-sliced stripes. Christopher’s tracksuits manifest his approach to design as an “ongoing process;” eschewing a prevalent “eye on the prize mentality” in favour of an approach that “has no stop point.” Untied from the constraint to resolve itself, this generative process rewards revisiting and reworking.
Whilst recognising that “many things that date aren’t worth revisiting again,” Christopher acquires critical distance through accepting that, “it’s hard to always judge things in the moment; time needs to pass before you know how you feel.” Comparably, when confronted with the separate fragments of Winer or O’Connor’s work devoid of context, their records appear as rootless, isolated incidents. When threaded together, a process of rereading exposes that they rely upon and reference each other as components of a multifaceted body of work.
Shortly after the first show we had worked together, Christopher mentioned a “scratchiness” that tied together his distinct interests. An understanding of scratchiness as harsh didn’t appear appropriate when applied to his design practice or perception of music. Fittingly, Christopher’s use of the word describes the innate materiality and simplicity of production of his first white label records of “Housey-dance Madchester things,” given to him by his mum’s friends. “I suppose the designer who is most like a white label is someone like Margiela or Helmut Lang, when the finish is crude in a way that adds to the garment rather than detracts.”
For Christopher, both the Madchester and Margeila approaches maintain a working energy, authenticity and hard to capture sincerity embodied by “the chap at the bus stop with three anoraks falling off his shoulders.” Across music and design, these “in-between moments,” underpin the fruitful way of working to which he is drawn. “Leslie works like that,” Christopher concludes, “tweaking certain moments and seeing how they feel. I remember something she said about there being nowhere to get to, just working through ideas, rather than chasing a goal.”