Regular readers may have noticed that although I was unabashed in expressing how keen I was for the RCA MA show, I never actually reported anything on the grads and their work. The reason? Due to a conflict in engagements, I never got the chance to attend the show.
Thankfully, the grad whose work I was particularly itching to pore over was kind enough to permit me visit her space in the RCA menswear studio over the weekend to discuss vintage Versace, Armani, Bowie, American Psycho, and why it all matters.
Hanna ter Meulen is of that v. rare breed of designer – passionate about her work yet not dogmatic, confident in her ability but not in the least egotistical, astute but in no way aloof. And it’s getting her and her work noticed. Having just emerged from the rigorous MA course, Meulen now turns her attention to the brief for the Internationl Talent Support competition, for which she’s qualified as a finalist. With renowned romantic design duo Viktor & Rolf at the helm of the judging panel, ter Meulen is hard at work for the competition looks (to be presented in Trieste in mid-July) when I meet her.
All tousled chestnut locks and swathed in blackest of black, I’m not surprised when she tells me she previously worked as Studio Manager for Ann-Sofie Back. From Holland, but based in London a few years now, ter Meulen completed a BA in her native country before embarking on the MA course. When faced with the challenge of fashioning a concept for her final student collection, she turned to the easy suiting approach pioneered by Armani in the 80s for inspiration regarding silhouette and then set about adding in to the mix every complex fabric manipulation known to man.
One thing I’ve learned from my viewing of the collection is that Hanna ter Meulen does not do things by halves. A self-professed sewing nut, she doesn’t hesitate in justifying those sleepless nights just prior to the deadline. Construction is something she prizes herself on, and rightly so, from a jacket crafted from just one piece of cloth (and no orthodox jacket at that – we’re talking a plaited detail in the back, here) to another fashioned through a process of patchworking suede, ter Meulen is not prepared to outsource and have her vision diluted. I squirm when using fashion phrases like ‘one to watch’ but these circumstances call for nothing less.
^ Final sketches of the collection make textural play and draped silhouettes evident.
^ Swatches of fabrics used – a list which runs the gamut from silk wool and cashmere to tweed and Egyptian cotton shirting.
^ A silk organza shirt in midnight blue that pretty much begged to be touched.
^ Having happened upon this jacket constructed of just one piece of cloth I was fairly convinced ter Meulen’s mastery of construction knew no bounds.
What motivated you to study menswear?
When I started my BA in Holland, I started as a womenswear designer, with the idea that I was going to make pretty dresses for myself. However the dresses weren’t very pretty and I struggled a lot. Then, a tutor said to me why don’t you do a menswear collection for this next project because all your research is always male-based. That was just the click I needed as I always loved men and menswear: the little details, the tradition, and the craft. Needless to say, I never looked back.
^ Lattice work features heavily throughout the collection, creating a raw yet texturally interesting look.
^ ter Meulen translates the look of an old necklace she sourced for her modern menswear collection.
What inspired your MA collection?
My MA collection was visually inspired by the film American Psycho and, next to that, my own cutting and textile techniques. I loved the clothes and the colours in the movie which transformed into research into late eighties and early nineties Armani & Versace. The drapey silhouette and slouchy pleated trousers became the basis for my minimal shapes. The textile applications were also used to create the whole garments and shaping. I find it really interesting to see if you can use old techniques like lattice work, smocking and patchwork to make modern menswear. I really wanted to make clothes you wanted wear and not clothes that are just for display.
^ Entirely smocked, this jacket creates a bulbous silhouette and is eye-catching in its detail. I didn’t dare ask how long it took…
^ An apparent homage to Chanel, this tweed jacket balances the roughness of the patchwork construction with the delicate beauty of the brooch.
Describe the Hanna ter Meulen man.
The ‘Hanna ter Meulen’ man is a confident, slightly flamboyant man who is not afraid to try new and unconventional garments. He appreciates craft and techniques and also is a big fan of luxury materials like cashmere and silk. He’s a man who wears his clothes with confidence and style, he’s an actor, writer, painter or maybe a poet, a person you walk past on the street and you look back to see the beautiful clothes he’s wearing with style.
When asked what she’s got in mind for the future, there’s no questions she sees fashion at the forefront but whether she’ll go out on her own or opt for in-house design instead is not concrete. Still, with an impressive roster of colleagues (including stylist Will Westall), fervour, and undisputed skill, I won’t squirm when I say she’s bound for glory.