Saluting the 'Shirt Boys'

fashion March 29, 2018 01:00

By KUPLUTHAI PUNGKANON
THE NATION

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Hot London brand Palmer//Harding brings its latest collections to Bangkok



THE CITY’S signature fashion showcase, Bangkok International Fashion Week, brought the curtain down on its eleventh edition last weekend, once again underlining the talent of Thailand’s designers. This year, more than 29 brands, both local and international, showed off their collections for spring and summer 2018 at the event which, as always, reserved part of the catwalk for up-and-coming young designers.

This year too, BIFW welcomed the duo behind British brand Palmer//Harding, Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding aka “The Shirt Boys”. Fresh from London Fashion Week, the pair showed Thai fashionistas how they have pushed renowned British tailoring to another level.

In business since 2012, Palmer and Harding, who were recognised by the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund last year, have become known for their excellent pattern-cutting techniques, advanced design methods, and re-imagined garment designs that underscore exuberant creative energy. 

As their nickname suggests, the duo specialises in creating classic shirts with a twist for both men and women, while also combining the ready-to-wear concept with innovations and modernity.

“When we started seven years ago, we wanted to make sure we could bring a unique point of view to the market. The clothing that interested us the most was shirting, as it crosses a lot of barriers, can be worn by either gender and is both dressy and functional. It’s the parameter we can really explore,” says Harding. 

“The ‘Shirt Boys’ is the message we kept on selling when we started and it didn’t take long for people to catch on and categorise us,” he adds.

“And it was nice to do something that is very versatile and has a purpose, because the shirt is as applicable to daytime wear as for the night. We loved the idea of making something that was special for, say, 11 o’clock on Tuesday, rather than just for evening wear,” Palmer enthuses.

“England has really a great history of shirting and tailoring and we learned about both during our training at Central St Martins. It has been exciting to take something that is so steeped in tradition and explore new areas, develop ideas of what shirting and tailoring can become and go beyond the expectation of what a simple shirt can be.”

Harding takes up the story, pointing out that there are already a lot of designers around the globe offering evening dresses, party gear and streetwear. “We want to bring creativity to what working women wear the whole day,” he explains. 

“Some of the elements shown in the collection here are reconstructed but for us it’s more about the reimagination of the shirt – what the shirt can be and how far you can push it, so it is not just a shirt.”

Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding

That notion was strongly conveyed during the Palmer//Harding show on BIFW’s opening night. The runway and music were nothing fancy but provided the perfect background for the movement of their playfulness with the classic shirt, reinvented with asymmetric hems and proportions, in various styles and with plenty of layering

“When we design, elements come from three-dimensional aspects. We do a lot of sculpturing on the stand and drape the shape we think is beautiful then examine the whole to see how we can put the details or the colour on it. So the design process does not actually start from the shirt but from a beautiful shape. The shirting aspect comes later,” Palmer says. 

“We use both traditional and non-traditional techniques. Collars, cuffs, sleeves and the quality of stitching are important to us but finding a unique cutting pattern is also very interesting,” Harding adds. 

While the duo usually shows three collections annually, two collections in the main calendar as well as a pre-collection in June, for Bangkok they combined both their spring-summer and autumn-winter 2018 collections, catching the eye with blazer stripes, pink oxfords and blue banker stripes, many of them trimmed with ribbons. Separates included an oversized water-resistant coat in black and khaki, casual asymmetric skirts with extravagant details, and pleated trousers for everyday wear. 

The colours of this season’s collection were inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s “Combine” series created between 1953 and ’64. Dark red, white, lavender blue, copper, light grey, navy, black, and yellow ochre, in seersucker and textured jacquard, emphasised simplicity but were not too casual, just like a woman who is not afraid to express herself.

“For autumn and winter, we looked at the idea of movement inspired by contemporary dance. There are a lot of subtle notions of fabrics being manipulated as if caught in the body and the movement of arms, but not necessarily exaggerated by the dance movements. The designs are more inspired by daily lives,” Palmer explains. 

“Cotton is the best fabric to do shirting, so for Bangkok’s weather, whether it’s very hot or just pleasantly slow, the clothes have a cooling effect. We are very humble people. We are very proud of what we achieve and our team. Our business has grown a lot and sales are increasing. We want to build a strong foundation,” says Harding. 

“We now have 75 stores in all major capitals around the world. It is very exciting to know that you are reaching customers in every corner of the globe. But it is also quite exciting for us to understand who our women are,” Palmer adds.

“Our woman requires certain elements of comfort. She is a working woman. She is confident and controls her life. She is in charge and knows what she is doing and where she is going,” Harding says.