Fashion's big noise

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Simon Thorogood describes himself as a non-practising musician, an activity he has been enjoying and working hard at for several years. Non-practising musicians can do any manner of jobs these days from teaching, to bar tending, or even accountancy. But Thorogood is a bit different. He isn't a musician, he's more interested in seeing music on his clothes. He is a modern couturier, whose ideas - together with digital artists Spore and electronic musical duo Barbed - attracted the cream of London's fashion and arts society when it launched last week in an old East End brewery.

Alexander McQueen was there with his creative director Katy England and Hussein Chalayan popped in with his gang. So did Sonja Nuttall, Tristan Webber, Joe Casely Hayford, Doris Saatchi and many other curious people. Even OK! magazine turned up to photograph it. What they saw was what you can see here: seven mannequins suspended from the ceiling wearing futuristic couture clothes fashioned entirely from duchesse satin. These were surrounded by 40 vintage Apple Macintosh SE30 and Classic II computers each programmed by Spore to generate random art to complement the clothes. What you can't see is the music, lots of funny beats and bleeps. They called it White Noise.

When Thorogood, now 31, was doing his Fashion MA at St Martins, he was regarded as a bit of a scientist. "I did have my own workroom," he admits, "but I didn't consciously wear an anorak." His driving interest was always fashion, but he gravitated towards other design processes, strategies and policies for inspiration. "I was consciously not seeking any reference whatsoever from within fashion." He cites John Cage and Brian Eno, whose investigative processes used visual scores to generate music, as his heroes, and thinks of his collection as akin to showing a concept car because: "It can be watered down afterwards." Other inspiration comes from Stealth aircraft, aerial photography, and Le Corbusier architecture. He called his MA graduation collection "Obliquity 27' 31" " in homage to Cage's late-Fifties observation on silence which featured audience noises such as coughing, sneezing and shuffling instead of music.

With a starting point so completely removed from the traditional realms of fashion, and a project that was four years in the making, Thorogood and his partner Suzanne Lee found themselves in a tricky position. A catwalk show during London Fashion Week (which begins next Saturday) was out of the question. There were, after all, only seven evening wear outfits, which could not be described as "result wear", although they certainly would make a lasting impression. And anyway, this was more than a simple display of clothing. "The idea was to create a special environment to view fashion in a new way and to push the boundaries forward," says Lee. So they hired a space and created it themselves.

Indeed Lee, 28, who has known Thorogood since their St Martin's days, seems to have pulled all the strands of the White Noise project together. After completing her BA in fashion, Lee did an MA in digital art at Middlesex University and, as well as consulting on the clothes, is also a member of Spore. "We wanted to show people that this could be done with clothing," she says, as Thorogood interjects: "We also wanted to break down the barriers between designer and onlooker." They succeeded in this mission because each element worked together to create something more - and the clothes did at least seem at home in their environment. In any other setting they might have appeared like an ambitious student project.

When the seven outfits were being made, a pattern-cutter remarked "This makes John Galliano look like C&A," and instantly summed up the intricacy of the garments. They are amazingly technical constructions in muted steely shades of duchesse satin with bright inserts, and subtle print applications inspired by Brian Eno's visual music. The use of the satin is in itself oblique. "I wanted to use something ancient to achieve something modern, and I've done it by doing everything to this fabric you're not supposed to do," says Thorogood.

The launch of the collection went down well. "We had one woman interested in buying a jacket, but we haven't done proper costings yet," says Lee. "We had a good idea but one designer told us to times it by 10 because it was wearable art," says Thorogood, "but I don't see it that way. It's couture." And because it is couture, garments can be made to exacting requirements. Hopefully, Thorogood won't be waiting four years for his next collection, but at pounds 10,000 to stage this one, he may be forced to unless he gains sponsorship. But he is happy for now to have presented what has - so far - been his life's work.

Simon Thorogood and Suzanne Lee (0171-771 8605)

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