I love the way that Victorian men wore their undergarments, there's a slouchiness that a woman can really look at and see a relevance to now.
Painting meets fashion in this young designer’s Central Saint Martins graduate collection.
Jordan Dalah doesn’t strike you as the average Central Saint Martins student. He doesn’t live in East or South London and he doesn’t go clubbing (he’s admitted he’s been to Vogue Fabrics but I’m not sure I believe him). Jordan’s soft Aussie accent compliments the grin that is plastered across his face ninety percent of the time (the rest of the time he’s drinking coffee).
So why is he considered one of the best in the year? Jordan works really really hard and he loves it. The day after his graduate show at Central Saint Martins in May, he was the only person in the fashion studios; cutting away at the leather for a new coat he’s been meditating on. He already had ten looks for the show (the required was six) but he’s not stopping there.
Jordan’s work ethic comes from his incessant fear of failure. Since school he was afraid of failing (yet never did) and its this fear that pushes him everyday to succeed to his highest ability. I recently visited Jordan’s at in North London, I wasn’t surprised to see that not only does he not have a TV, other than his fabrics, sewing machine, patterns, a rail for his collection and a few house plants, he doesn’t have anything at all. I asked him where he keeps his books and he tells me he doesn’t have time for books, thats what the library is for.
Something that’s pushed at St Martins is self promotion. Jordan’s got a great Instagram, from what I can tell he’s been all around Europe with his boyfriend Michael and he loves The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. However its not quite ‘on brand’. I ask him about what he thinks of his Instagram presence and he tells me “I mean… I do need to work on it.” He adds “I set up an account that is going to be like a business account, but I haven’t done anything with it”. Later on, as our friendship has blossomed, Jordan has put me in charge of his ‘business’ Instagram and directs me that “for now it needs to be a real and honest depiction of where I’m at in my career at the moment; a graduating fashion student”. He’s not trying to fool anyone, the young designer is one of the most authentic people I’ve crossed paths with.
Jordan was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. After completing his Higher School Certificate, he went on to study Architecture at The University of New South Wales. It didn’t take long for him to realise that he wanted to study fashion though. A year and a half at UNSW and Jordan moved to London to do his foundation in fashion design in 2013. He is 24, but he knows what he’s got himself into.
Jordan’s collection is an amalgamation of Tudor England undergarments, the Biedermeier period, and the designers love for renaissance inspired painting. In particular, Jordan explores the ritual of painting; stretching, priming and building colour. When constructing his looks, he’s carefully considered the process of layering a canvas. With his linen and jersey leggings, Jordan comments on the bareness of the canvas and with the layering of his larger, more lavish garments he is, in theory, applying the paint.
Jordan emphasises the importance of the fabrication and how it must represent the daintiness of the dolls from the Biedermeier period. With this reference in mind, he works to make each look as if it is a different doll from the period. “I liked an image and I liked the attention to detail and its no more exciting than that and unfortunately I don’t know if that’s really bad, but its authentic.”
The young designer believes strongly in the power of a well-made piece of clothing. “I’d rather scrap that whole fake process of being like ‘these trousers embody my family struggle and WWII and la la la la la’. I’d rather say that I liked this image and this is what I’m referencing. I had this fabric so I started experimenting with it… I liked the lightness of the men’s undergarments (from the Tudor Period), not the heavy garments the women would wear. The main thing with my collection is going to be luxurious in the sense that I want it to be big and lavish but I also want it to be appropriate to a woman’s needs now, which is not what Victorian clothing is. I love the way that Victorian men wore their undergarments, theres a slouchiness to that that a woman now can really look at and see a relevance to now.” His is a collection that boasts a vast array of impressive materials. The designer thinks that fabric is an important component of a well-made garment. Utilising silk tulle, soft jersey, leather, linen and more, the craftsmanship required to manipulate these different materials is extreme.
A recurring theme that seemed to arise in many of our conversations was that of the ‘creative personality’. Something that’s celebrated at Central Saint Martins is character. Like in life, the loudest ones often get noticed. The ones with the severed plastic babies heads hanging from their bag, or the guy that wears something that could have come out of a figure skating competition a lá Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory. Jordan believes that “people think that having a big personality will get you somewhere. I think its irrelevant”, I tell him that I agree and that I will always prefer someone who produces impressive things than someone who has to draw the attention to themselves.
Jordan appeared to be very calm throughout the entire production of his final collection. He met all his deadlines weeks in advance and even his 2nd year helper said he was ‘very organised’. Which seemed strange to me, because his sister had told me previously that he was an ‘anxious wreck’ throughout his Higher School Certificate (Australian A-Levels). I had never seen this side of Jordan. Sure, he drinks a lot of coffee and never stops talking but anxious isn’t something I would describe him as… until showtime.
“(My Instagram) needs to be a real and honest depiction of where I’m at in my career at the moment; a graduating fashion student”
On the 18th of May, the Central Saint Martins graduate show took place in the Platform Theatre of the college’s Kings Cross campus. The process of a St Martins fashion show is interesting. If you use ‘college models’ (models which the university selects from an agency) you rotate about 15 girls. I managed to sneak a front row seat early on the morning of the show, before I got a text message from Jordan telling me he had a backstage wristband for me. He was wondering if I could help him out dressing models, and as always, the request was delivered with such calm and cool charm that I couldn’t possibly say no. I would see more of the action from backstage anyway. Jordan led me backstage (the St Martins SU bar) where he showed me what I would need to be doing to dress one of his looks. Unlike many of the other garments I was seeing thrown around the place, Jordan’s clothes actually fit a human being and are fastened via buttons, zips and buckles. He had nine people between himself and the person who was using the same six models as him, which meant he had about 20 minutes to get his girls into their looks. The majority of the time, a tiny lady was screaming models’ names at the top of her voice, but when it came time for Jordan to line up, he was ready ten minutes before he even needed to be there, lint rolling every speck of dust that had attached itself during the dressing frenzy.
Jordan describes his collection as “wimpy legs juxtaposed with billowing, gathered and over owing jackets…” With his extensive use of sumptuous fabric, Jordan has created a unique silhouette that the designer intended from the initial stages of his research. Extended limbs and elongated torsos define the collection that is a modern interpretation of the limp and lifeless form of a Biedermeier doll or the slouchiness of Tudor England undergarments.
The Central Saint Martins press show is a big deal (so we’re told). It is published online via vogue.co.uk and, as the name suggests, the press attend. Since the get-go Jordan has told me that he’s not going to get into it based on the premise that ‘he’s not what they’re looking for.’ He tells me “I don’t want to set myself up for getting into the press show or anything, because it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get in and it’s not because the work is bad, it’s because they’ll be looking for something much more shocking and I’m not going to do that.” Jordan is very good at belittling himself as a designer, most of the times only to be proved wrong. After a string of very long, detailed and sporadic text messages he’s failed to reply to, I get a text on the Monday after the internal show reading “I got in Clem”. I’m not surprised. He’s already made two more looks in time for next weeks show.
Over the summer, Jordan will be heading back to Sydney. It is here that he wants to “buy a basic sewing machine, a stand, and source all my leathers and fabrics.” He plans to develop his collection in toile form over there, where he doesn’t have access to heavy machinery, and bring it back to London where he can use better facilities and look into showrooms, potentially in Paris.
While he refuses to think of himself as anything other than a graduating fashion student (at the moment), Jordan has big aspirations for the future, but he’s not kidding himself or anyone else. “I don’t even need to keep up with a pace that I’m not set on”. He tells me, adding “as a young designer to even have one collection a year is amazing”, he plans to make one collection a year but to make it big. Forty looks or so, for economical reasons. On his work placement year, Jordan worked at J.W Anderson and Hussein Chalayan. While he says that he learned a lot working in an atelier, in particular doing pattern cutting for Chalayan, he’s not planning on working for another designer again. He will continue to work on his own brand as much as he has throughout his graduate year. I have no doubt about that.
Photography by Clem Macleod
Interview by Clem Macleod