Designer Craig Green is changing how men dress today

Don’t tell Craig Green what he can’t do. When the menswear designer started a Central Saint Martins art foundation course a decade ago, he thought he’d end up being a painter or sculptor. But on the first day, someone advised the students that whatever they were considering, it was probably best not to do fashion. “They said: ‘Don’t bother trying because it’s really competitive and too many apply to do it.’” Green smiles, remembering. “I thought: ‘Don’t tell me what to do.’”

Now Green is being lauded as the most exciting menswear designer in fashion. Since launching his own label in 2012, he’s won British Menswear Designer of the Year twice. His clothes are sold in the best stores in the world and have been worn by the likes of Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna (his men’s clothes have a cool, dedicated female following). You might have seen the costumes he made for Ridley Scott’s 2017 film Alien: Covenant. You can find his garments and specially commissioned works at the current Heavenly Bodies fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. This week, Green is the guest designer opening Pitti Uomo in Florence, one of the most important showcases for men’s fashion in the world.

For all his meteoric success, Green is not some flashy showman. Solid, with a genial, youthful face, he is described by the people who know him with endearments: “Oh, you’ll love him. He’s so sweet.” Born and bred in Hendon, north London, like his parents and grandparents before him, Green still lives just round the corner from his mum. In the decadent bookshop-cum-café where we meet in central London, all glossy wood and devil-red cocktail menus, he sits with a coffee and a roll of Trebor mints. His straight-talking manner belies a unique and imaginative way of seeing the world.

When your debut collection causes the Daily Mail to mock you, captioning the wooden structures that frame models’ faces with the immortal line “What a plank!” you’re surely on to a good thing. And what Green has done for menswear is just what the industry needed. His work is a mix of wild artistry, conceptualisation and commercial business sense. The organisers of Pitti, where his guest spot comes in the wake of fellow acclaimed designers such as Raf Simons, JW Anderson and Off-White’s Virgil Abloh, have praised his ability to “innovate menswear ‘codes’ without losing track of the contemporary market” – meaning that while Green’s shows provide drama, innovation and craft, his jackets and shirts shift units like nobody’s business.

Ask him about the concepts behind his show collections and he will lead you through a maze of fantastical word association that boggles and enchants the mind. “It’s complicated,” Green admits, apologetically. The spring/summer 2018 collection was a comment on the bleak notion of paradise as aspirational lifestyle and the illusory search for the perfect body. The autumn/winter collection, about to hit the shops, started with the idea of the perfection of military wear, but looped into a questioning of the nature of time, a fusion of medievalism and futurism with Wicker Man-style wooden structures, graphic coats that look like bishops from another planet, T-shirts eaten by shirts, crocheted cropped vests and things “made in the wrong fabric”.

But Green doesn’t really care whether you get that or not. Sometimes he thinks it’s better not to say, and just let everyone project their own feelings on to his pieces. What he is keen on establishing is that his label focuses on the idea of uniform. “Everything is based around ideas of workwear,” he says. “Not the uniform of stature, but uniform for function. My family are all carpenters, plumbers, upholsterers. My mum was a nurse. They all wore uniforms you could actually work in.”

Rather than being oppressive, Green sees uniform as democratic. “At school when you had no-uniform day, that was the point when everyone separated. You started judging each other on how cool or expensive your clothes were. You started seeing the different levels of rich and poor kids. But when you had uniforms, everyone was equal.”

Having said that, Green himself was a 15-year-old metalhead into Korn and Slipknot and doing everything he could to not look like he was in uniform. “I was always getting sent home for not wearing the right trousers. Or to take a piercing out,” he laughs. “I had half a shaved head that I’d do with a Bic razor and then draw on a pattern every day with a black marker. And then I went really normal, before Saint Martins. I got it all out of my system before art school, which is weird.”

Green began his course with little art history knowledge but an impulse to create. “It was just what I was good at,” he shrugs. “I was always surrounded by make-y people. My mum was always doing craft things and there were lots of building materials from my dad – immersion boilers and stuff everywhere. At the weekends I’d help my uncle do up a house or I’d strip sofas for my godfather, who had an upholstery workshop.”

He was the first person in his family to go to university. The news that he was going to study fashion prompted a certain amount of eye-rolling. “I think they were all a bit: ‘The first one to ever go

to university and he’s doing colouring in…’”

During his BA he felt out of place. “It was very much the era of Alexander McQueen and Diane von Furstenberg, and everyone was doing florals and feminine. I wasn’t fitting into that aesthetic.” It wasn’t until he did placements with two avant-garde designers, the Belgian Walter Van Beirendonck and the Dane Henrik Vibskov, that he began to see how he could forge a way. “They are outsider designers and they taught me that fashion could be about anything. It could be about DIY or workwear or uniform or craft. It doesn’t have to be glamorous womenswear. And it could come from anywhere. Even where I was from.”

He went on to do an MA under the late, legendary Professor Louise Wilson, who gave him a full scholarship (“I think she knew I was poor,” he says.) After leaving, he was asked to do an installation for Fashion East’s MAN platform, for which he made his first full collection. He thought it might get him a job somewhere. Instead, he found himself with his own label – “Maybe that’s what I was thinking all along but I didn’t know it.”

The label is now stocked at Dover Street Market, Barneys in New York and SSENSE. Selfridges and Matches Fashion sell it in both their men’s and women’s departments.

Last year, Green won £150,000 for the BFC/GQ Designer Menswear award, enabling him to launch a twice-yearly Core collection. Now about 70% of his sales come from there. “With the show anything is an option, it’s fantasy or concept-led. But Core is the things from past collections that we’d wear every day. When we’re developing we’re always asking: would your boyfriend wear that? Would you wear that every day or do you just quite like it? Can you sit down in it? Those very functional design discussions. It’s a bit more like product development.”

It’s a bit more like huge success, too. But he laughs off any idea of having arrived. “With fashion everything can change – nothing is permanent, you have to take each season as it comes,” he says. “Six months later and everyone’s bored.” Hardly.

Step back and watch him fly higher.


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