katie eary’s magicBack
Jennifer Lee O'Brien
It is drizzling rain in Shoreditch, which is unexceptional. I’m waiting outside for fashion designer Katie Eary who is, in fact, exceptional and also hasn’t asked me to wait for her in the rain. But this is Shoreditch and so there are two coffee shops on the same street called Nude. A coffee shop called Nude is where we agreed to meet.
Correction: there is one coffee shop called Nude Espresso and one coffee roastery (that serves coffee, with seating) called Nude Coffee Roasters. They are located across from each other on Hanbury Street; number 26 and number 25.
So here I am, standing in the drizzling rain confronting two coffee shops called Nude, waiting to interview designer Katie Eary. This makes me feel super Shoreditch, in the way people talk about Shoreditch, and also very damp. And then on the Nude Espresso side of the street, the odd number side, I see bright pink-peach. Which means that Katie Eary has arrived.
The brightness of Katie Eary emanates from her hair, her clothes and her laugh, which rolls upwards like the ascension of a roller coaster. Higher and higher. Unnervingly high, to the rickety peak.
The brightness of Katie Eary is so, so bright. A neon, supernatural, bioluminous brightness like an alien fish deep, deep in the sea, or disco lights reflecting smoke and sweat in a student basement. Bright like a dying star; so bright, because it is dying in darkness.
Katie Eary likes dark things and sad things. She likes reading about dark and sad things, like drugs, disease or “anything that’s sad and horrible.” She likes Irvine Welsh books, because in Irvine Welsh books there’s always a character to hate and a character to love. “And the character you hate is winning at life and the one you love is losing everything to this absolute dickhead,” she explains. She has based entire collections on Irvine Welsh books: A/W10 was Marabou Stork Nightmares; A/W14, Filth; S/S17, The Blade Artist.
Katie can’t explain why she’s attracted to darkness, sadness, the mundane, the horrible, drugs and disease. “Maybe I’m just a sad person,” she says. She likes to find the beauty in the darkness, which might be why her art, her designs, her shows and her hair are all so, so bright.
From afar, or very close up on Instagram, The Katie Eary story looks like a fairy tale dip dyed in reality. Let me tell you now; it is the opposite.
Once Upon A Photograph of G-Shaped Pubes
There’s something so magical about Making It. The story of Cinderella in 2017 is still a story about beating the odds; of no longer feeling like a total imposter. A Happily Ever After of smashed glass ceilings.
This story begins in a council estate in a town called Stevenage, “the overspill of London. Just a town, you know?”
It is the story of a young Katie Eary, who wasn’t disobedient but just “disinterested in anything that wasn’t creative.” Who was “always drawing.” Who grew up with three brothers, all raised by a hard-working single mother.
It is a story that ends with the Katie Eary of today; a fashion designer living in London who has worked with Kanye West, Ikea, Pretty Green, BOY London, Spliffy. Katie, who is funny and smart and uses sparkle pink heart emojis in emails and looks good in just about anything, but especially bright colours. Katie, who has joked in interviews about offending Harry Styles, and “accidentally kicked” actress Vicky McClure in Balenciaga shoes. Katie, who is sitting across from me at a table in the window at Nude Espresso on the odd number side of Hanbury Street, telling me about the G-shaped pubes that changed her life. “Fucking amazing,” she says, about the G-shaped pubes. “That is art.”
The G-shaped pubes are model Carmen Kass’s pubes, and the G is a Gucci G. The image, called Pubic Enemy, was shot by Mario Testino for Gucci’s 2003 Spring Campaign and banned soon after its release. When Katie talks about the Gucci G-shaped pubes, she is so excited.
“The whole image making, art direction — everything,” she says. “It’s a different kind of art, but it is art.” It is the kind of art, she says, that you either love or hate; the kind that makes you feel things. The kind of art she first experienced at the age of fifteen, at Saatchi’s exhibition of the Young British Artists. It’s the kind of art she’s wanted to make, ever since.
“To this day I don’t think I’ve gone to anything and felt like that,” she says. “You know that everyone that went to that exhibition would either love it so much or hate it so much.
Katie is not a sex-crazed nutter. When she brings a boyfriend to her house for the first time, he will look at her books “or whatever” and think she’s a sex-crazed nutter, which she’s not. She just loves provocation or “anything sexy”, like a Gucci G shaped into Carmen Kass’s pubic hair. She’s drawn to it. She’s fascinated by it. Just like she’s drawn to sadness, drugs, disease and the kind of art that makes you feel things, like love and hate.
When Katie was 19, she loved British lingerie brand Agent Provocateur. She loved it so much that she decided to study contour, which she explains means “close to the body. Like, swimwear, underwear.” Because for Katie aged 19, a job at Agent Provocateur felt like Making It. And because the University of Leicester was the only University that specialised in contour, she decided to go there. But it was so boring, and not sexy at all.
“So boring!” she says. “But I was lazy and I had already made friends. So I went to the fashion department and asked if I could do fashion instead.”
“And the tutor was like, ‘yes, but you have to do menswear, because nobody wants to do it.’” Which was really appealing for someone like Katie, who didn’t want to be an add on and wanted to make waves of her own.
“I bought a load of magazines, just to get into it,” she says. “You know what you’re like when you’re a student — you surround yourself with books, like look at me! I’m doing something!”
One of these magazines was AnOther. She tells me about this particular issue of AnOther, where she turned a page to see this “amazing shoot”, with this “amazing set design” in Iceland, or “somewhere like that.” The shoot featured male models wearing full camping get-up and the whole thing was so beautiful. And then Katie begins to talk about Hedi Slimane, who wasn’t the set designer for this shoot. “Oh my god, Hedi Slimane!” she exclaims. “Everything about him. His casting, his clothes; everything he did at Dior.”
By 2006, Katie was “just all about that.”
Katie always knew she’d do a Master’s in London. Her mother had gone back to college when Katie was thirteen, and had done a Master’s and then a PhD, and so even though she doesn’t know if it was “the right reason to do a Master’s” she always had “this thing in her head” — her mom’s voice— saying that she should do a Master’s.
She went to the Royal College of Art in London for an interview, and she just fell in love with all of it.
“It was freer,” she says. “And there was no bullshit. The tutors had an amazing bullshit filter.” She says that tutorials felt like therapy. That she wanted to make all this “crazy, raw, mental stuff” and that the tutors would support it, as long as she could explain why.
“I remember one time a tutor asking me, ‘why do you care so much what people think?’ And I couldn’t answer the question,” she says. “At that point I decided that I’m just going to do whatever the fuck I want.
“I think,” she adds, “that’s where I became who I am now.”
That Glass Slipper Hype
It was a September morning at Stevenage Station and Katie had not slept.
She had been out with friends celebrating because the hats from her graduate collection were in the window of Selfridges and also, it was her 25th birthday. It was at Stevenage Station where Katie first saw the lambskin leather trousers in a Union Jack print she’d made, in Vogue. Worn by Kate Moss with a Gaultier beaded deco top’, shot by photographer Mario Testino. This was the start of Katie’s amazing life as a young fashion designer.
I ask her what that life was like.
“Okay,” says Katie, “so there is no life, you are no longer you. Your body is a ghost. You’ve forgotten what sleep feels like. During the day you’re carting all your items back and forth between magazine houses, trying to get a new collection together, trying to make a hat for Lady Gaga, constantly working for free. You’re fucking skint and you have to keep doing it, because the only thing that’s important in the early stages of your career is press press press press press.” She bangs her hand on the table each time she says ‘press’.
“And the whole world will be looking at your amazing life as a young fashion designer.”
Every two weeks, Katie would go to the Jobcentre on Mare Street and have to explain that she was carting all her items back and forth between magazine houses, trying to get a new collection together, making a hat for Lady Gaga. Working to better herself so she could do what she really wanted to do, what she had trained to do. And then they would offer her a position at M&S in the clothing department.
When she tells me this, she rolls her eyes. “The system is not geared up for art-specific careers,” she says. “There’s no such thing as a special case.”
The whole world was looking at her amazing life as a young fashion designer, living in London with a new collection every season under her own label called Katie Eary. In 2010, Katie won Fashion East’s MAN and in 2011, she was awarded sponsorship from the British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN. She attended parties and events and she worked all the time with all kinds of fabulous people like Kanye West, who saw her second show at London Fashion Week and wanted her to work on DONDA.
“It was so hard,” says Katie, about these years. “Because you don’t get that much money to put on shows, so most of it you’re trying to get yourself to make it happen. It was a bit of a nightmare.”
About working with Kanye West, she says: “I just remember thinking, I’m not a hip hop person — I’m rock and roll. I thought: he’s cool, he’s got ideas. I worked with him so many times; it was a fun journey.”
But then: “People were so judgemental. I found a lot of straight guys were quite jealous. I think that’s because I’m a woman and they’d be looking at me like why you? Why not me?”
And the answer is: “Because I do crazy stuff, and Kanye likes crazy stuff. But that’s it.”
The way she says “that’s it” I know she’s trying to explain that no, they weren’t sleeping together, even though she shouldn’t have to. That probably, she explained this to a few people, even though she shouldn’t have had to. “Actually, I was subjected to a lot of that,” she says. “I was so fucked off because I thought, wow, stripping me from everything I’ve ever done and making me a pair of tits and a vagina.”
In January 2012, the British Fashion Council announced their plans for Men’s Fashion Week, which would run for three days in June. “I was like, oh my god!” says Katie. “There was me and about five other people between the years of 2009 to 2012 making so much noise for Men’s Fashion Week.
“My mum was like, ‘Katie do you want to do this for real, or is this a really expensive hobby?’ And I was so offended. But I could see her point. Because all she would ever see is the tears, no money, constantly treading water.
“I was like, right, I’m going to do it properly. I did that first show during Men’s Fashion Week. And it just went crazy.”
Between the sparkling stars of Paris Fashion Week, and the kaleidoscope spotlight on this year’s Pretty Young Things, there is the Middle Level. Katie reached the Middle Level two years ago. She had been showing collections for seven years. She could finally pay her rent and maybe some interns.
“To do a show every season you need like, thirty grand,” she says. “And the bigger your name gets, the more everyone thinks you’ve got money, so they raise the price. You never make more money, it just gets more expensive, and that’s the way it is. It was getting ridiculous.”
The answer, for Katie, was collaborations. Katie has become known for her collaborations, with brands like TopMan, River Island, IKEA and Fudge. Her Spring/Summer 2018 collection featured only collaborations, with Spliffy, Boy London and Pretty Green.
“Without collaborations I’d have been done a long time ago,” she says. “And I love doing what I do so much. I would say I’m quite different to a lot of people that do collaborations because I don’t water down anything.” Which means when you’re buying a Katie Eary designed IKEA mug, you’re getting the real deal; the Katie Eary of the catwalk. Katie Eary’s brightness at 100%. Because as Katie says, if you’re going to do collaborations because it’s accessible for people, you might as well just fucking go for it.
“I think it’s kind of disgusting when you see brands and they’re doing four seasons old stuff, like the Balmain and H&M collection,” she says. “Why could you not make something from the current season so people really feel included? I just think that’s distasteful, lazy and taking the piss.”
Katie has been having an internal battle since her last show. She wanted it to have the nostalgia of market fashion; “what me and my friends were wearing in the ‘90s when we had no money.” To recreate this, the makeup artist spray-painted the model’s hair, and it began crumbling off; and it looked exactly how it would have looked if Katie Eary had done it herself, with her friends, in the ‘90s.
“And I thought, this isn’t going to work. I don’t want to do a show and make it look exactly what it was like back then,” she says, “I’m not for it being non-inclusive; I’m not from money at all. I’m from a little council estate in Stevenage. But it has to be polished and beautiful. Fashion should be magical and a bit unattainable; something to work towards. That’s what it is for me, and that’s why I am who I am.”
Sometimes, Katie goes to the Tate. She’ll look at the Monets. She’ll stare at all the art on the walls that all the many men made hundreds of years ago, and she will feel nothing. And then she’ll think about the G-shaped pubes, and the exhibition she saw at the Saatchi of the Young British Artists.
“I don’t know what it is,” she says. “It’s not like I’m an egotistical person and I want to have a shadow, or anything like that. But I’ve never gone to an exhibition and felt the way I did when I visited the Saatchi at fifteen. There’s very few things in life where you see something and have that much emotion.”
Katie wants you to love her work or hate it. She wants you to feel something, because those big emotions are the real magic.
That’s the kind of person she is, too. You’re going to love her or hate her. “I don’t mind,” she says, laughing. “That’s what I wanted, and that’s what I got.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Fashion, Vol.2