Currently reading : Body Snatcher””Gemma Slack by Ben Perdue
It’s the morning after a night before that involved six hours of wine tasting at the bar down the road where she works and Gemma Slack is feeling it. “As if I know what a vanilla bouquet is,” groans the 23-yr-old womenswear designer, staring into her black coffee as we sit down to talk at The Old Shoreditch Station. But if Slack is hung over you could never guess. Her raven crop, slashed black eyeliner, alabaster skin and wide smile framed in vivid red lipstick tell a different story.
Raised in Pitsmoor, an area she describes as “like the Brixton of Sheffield,” Gemma Slack moved south to do a foundation year in fine art at the Chelsea College of Art and Design. Her sculptural fixation with the human form emerged early on and when a tutor introduced the idea of swapping to fashion for her degree course, she applied to the London College of Fashion to study womenswear. “I was told you don’t just have to make pretty dresses and jeans,” she says. “So I went there and couldn’t sew, couldn’t pattern cut or anything. How the hell I got on the course I don’t know. My portfolio of work was stapled together at the back instead of stitched. Fashion had always been on my radar so it was a natural progression for me. I just never though of it as a job I could do.”
The body is a constant theme in her work, inspiring both silhouette and materials. From the armour-like spine and ribcage protection in the most recent collection to the flowing human hair shoulder pieces in her debut show. An obsession with tough physiological structures like muscle and bone that compliments her love of leathers and hardware – if not her vegetarianism. But then she manages to live above a butcher’s shop in Dalston. “I had one person stand in front of me wearing a full fur coat tell me that using human hair was repulsive,” say Slack. “I would never use fur, or even synthetic fur. Leather is different, I fell in love with leather years ago and no other material can be manipulated in the same way. But hair is a waste product. We cut it and throw it away. Another person said it made them feel sick. It amazes people have such a strong reaction. I never set out to achieve that but I like it. I just wanted to harness the way hair moves as a material.”
For her autumn/winter 2009/10 show Slack looked to the overlap of science and religion for inspiration. Building her racy aesthetic on the concept of protection as something symbolic rather functional. Encasing the models in zipped leather micro dresses with articulated back plates, body-con all-in-ones with taped smoke print panels, padded sci-fi leather gilets and BDSM-inspired face masks. Clinging modern fabrics offset with rough-hewn leather showpieces and heavy metal hardware. Monochrome shades and natural flesh tones dominated the colour palette. “Hardcore fetishists would look at it and think it was too floaty,” says Slack. “But it’s more about empowerment and maybe my own fetishes to do with leather. Sex is a natural part of everything. It’s about being sexy for you. That’s the most attractive thing anyway.”
Despite the hangover Slack is looking forward to working at the bar again later. She enjoys learning new techniques at home, getting on with her new collection and hanging out in Dalston’s hair shops coveting the wigs. Her only concession to thoughts of fame is hoping to see Siouxsie Soux or Marilyn Manson wear her clothes. In the meantime she’ll make do with celebrity endorsement in the form of Roisin Murphy. Spotted wearing the infamous hair-shouldered jacket at London Fashion Week. “That picture was really good,” laughs Slack. ‘And it’s probably the only opportunity I’ll ever have to get into Heat magazine.”