No one is more surprised by the acclaim than Symonds and Pearmain themselves, not least as their collaboration stemmed from a shared desire to experiment with playful and improvisational ways of producing and showing fashion, free from the creative and financial constraints of the commercial system. “There’s no great strategic plan,” Symonds says. “We’re taking it season by season. ” And no, neither he nor Pearmain has any interest in clichéd debates about whether their work should be defined as fashion or art.
When the stylist Max Pearmain spotted a black T-shirt emblazoned with 1950s typography and an unmentionable part of the male anatomy on the cover of a 2013 issue of Love magazine, he was so intrigued that he tracked down its maker, the fashion designer Anthony Symonds. “Kate Moss was on the cover, and the story is that she spotted the T-shirt in the studio and insisted on wearing it,” Pearmain recalls. “Anthony and I met, and I was really in awe of what he was doing.
He and Pearmain had studied at Slade at the same time but weren’t aware of each other, as they were taking different courses. “Studying sculpture gave me an incredible foundation in critical thinking and theory,” Pearmain notes. “But I always knew that I wanted to get into fashion, so I interned at i-D, and it went from there. ” He is now a sought-after stylist whose clients include Burberry, Chloé, and Paul Smith.
So far, Symonds and Pearmain have funded their experiment by selecting a few pieces from the collection to be sold by MatchesFashion each season and taking orders from private clients. “Our financial situation is fine, but it has been hairy at times,” Pearmain admits. “We’re trying to be pragmatic and to follow our noses. It’s a merry tango.
The result is Symonds Pearmain, which has produced six women’s wear collections since 2017, presented in both fashion and art contexts: at London Fashion Week, in galleries, and, a few weeks ago, at the Frieze London art fair.
After joining forces, Pearmain and Symonds were determined to work on their own terms by celebrating the aspects of the fashion and art systems they enjoyed, and avoiding the rest.
There’s a particular way in which my clothes hang: quite precise, but modest, elegant, and modern. ” Pearmain, for his part, enjoys animating Symonds’s work, as well as the endless conversations they have about influences. “I’m always collaborative—I think that’s the nature of the stylist,” he says. “And Anthony’s garments really come alive in a show.
After quitting Slade, Symonds wanted to design fashion again, but not in the conventional way. “I hadn’t made a garment for 15 years, and when Cabinet invited me to show with them, I was like, Why would I show clothes in an art gallery?
Symonds loves fashion shows too, and shares Pearmain’s nostalgia for the visual spectacles staged on minuscule budgets in the impecunious early years of London labels such as Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen.
The up-and-coming label Symonds Pearmain blurs the line between art and fashion. https://t.co/kRu8glmeHS— W Magazine (@wmag) November 19, 2019