Adam Frost: From the dance floor to ‘working class couture’
Following his AW23 show at London Fashion Week, the designer breaks down his inspirations from Isabella Blow to the council estate he called home.
The phrase ‘working class couture’ would probably make most people’s ears pluck up. It’s a murky description that conjures up thoughts of wealthy fashion students taking their camera, model friend and a rail of clothes to their nearest council estate and writing a press release all about ‘contrasts’ and ‘societal divides’. But when newcomer designer Adam Frost says these words, it means something very different.
Taking something mundane and turning it into something beautiful (such as being inspired by the colours of STD medicine packaging) and tapping into his self-deprecating humour is part of how this definition of Frost’s clothes is dreamt up. Entitled ‘Everything I need is Within Me’, the designer’s AW23 collection at last month’s London Fashion Week was an ode to self-worship, recovery, fashion icons, and the power of the dance floor – the very concoction that creates this couture.
“It’s midnight at the discotheque; adorned in screen-printed silk, a corset and a sculptural fur coat,” the show’s press release began. “I make my way through the door. Grace Jones is now banned, she threw up on her silk taffeta cape last week. I put my glasses on, sober in mind. Roísìn Murphy and Björk blaring through the airways. Next thing I know, I’m snogging a fit lad in the bathroom, chatting crap with a margarita cocktail in hand – spicy, of course.”
As a DJ as well as a designer, Frost’s ability to construct worlds which mine the glittery underbelly of fashion is wrapped up in the reminder of its purpose: confidence. Frost’s collection saw corsetry take pride of place, alongside print-screened silk Dupion, bold cartoon-like silhouettes, and a healthy smothering of sequins. It arrived as a cool breeze through fashion week’s rather stuffy conventions.
Off the back of their AW23 showcase during London Fashion Week, Frost tells HUNGER how his ‘working class couture’ was born out of his childhood on a council estate, and how getting turned down from Central Saint Martins taught him one of his most valuable lessons.
HUNGER: Hey Adam! We’re going to talk about your collection, of course. But first, let’s get to know you a bit. Tell us more about your early years. What were they like and what about your upbringing inspires you now?
Adam Frost: I was raised on a council estate in South East London, Plumstead. Then when I moved to Hastings, Sussex, and I found myself around vintage clothing all the time, it all was very natural. When I was 14, I put on a look and my mum said to me, “That’s very Vivienne Westwood”. So, off I went to the library to find a Vivienne Westwood book. I found one with her on the cover and she was wearing a carrier bag on her head, and from there I started realising this is what I want to do with my life: visual arts, fashion, couture. I discovered Roísìn Murphy singing for Gucci on FashionTV and started to see my visual language come to life.
It’s refreshing to see a working class queer person make their mark in an industry and society that isn’t necessarily designed for them to exist within. I wonder if this is in the back of your mind when you’re creating?
Always. I say “Hi. I’m Adam Frost, a queer working class artist”, just to humble and remind myself of how hard I’ve worked. I feel I’ve had to work three times as hard as my peers. I had to do a GoFundMe for the latest collection. I have £20 right now and no savings. I work alongside what I do, I claim Job Seekers to keep myself afloat, and it’s still not enough. It’s tough. Money worries are always in the back of my mind, but this is about the art and that is what keeps me going.
How important are these personal narratives when approaching your work?
Very. It’s all real! It’s like I must go through all of this and if it wasn’t like this, maybe my art wouldn’t be as interesting, and I think the biggest mistakes make the best art. We must fail again and again to see our best potential. And never, ever take no for an answer.
So where did you learn your skills in design?
I originally applied for Central Saint Martins but I didn’t get in, which I thought was the end of my career. Then I applied and got into Middlesex University London to study Fashion Design. My graduate collection was inspired by the exploitation of the artist – Andy Warhol getting shot, Roisin Murphy’s track exploitation, Amy Winehouse, and the feeling of being exploited by art schools at an early age.
Fashion universities seem to stir up quite a… reputation, let’s say. What was your experience like?
After Middlesex, I went back to Hastings, lost my way a little, and then thought ‘I need to get back to London ASAP!’ I applied to the Royal College of Art for the MA Fashion Womenswear course. I don’t feel like I was really understood at RCA. I felt like people thought I was a joke, and people would say that I was. I got suspended for not having the fees, so I took out a massive loan, started working all weekend, never had a day off and so I became very unwell. However, I think the RCA helped me the most, because I learnt that failure is fabulous.
Well, after all of that to deliver a collection like your recent AW23 presentation is extraordinary. How are you feeling about it?
I feel like I put so much energy and effort into it and you have all these things happening at once, and then it’s all over. It’s like, now what? Lady Gaga once said in an interview “Everyone’s there, and then they’re not”, and it felt very like that. It was heavily focused on collaboration this season and if it wasn’t for people like Hayley Cowling, KRM’s Kelly Robinson and Thomas O’Donnell egging me on, I don’t know how I would have kept pushing. It’s my best collection to date and I’m so proud of it.
We agree! It was titled ‘Everything I Need Is Within Me’. What was the messaging behind that for you?
You have a break up, you fuck about, you’re trying to find yourself again, and then you realise that you are enough. This was what I wrote for my demo track with Luca LeBleu and it started the whole concept. I start with poetry, this leads to a song, then to paintings, then dresses, then draping, then a visual. My working class couture is like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, spending all her money on Givenchy Haute Couture, but it’s her own dress, it’s ripped, and she looks fabulous, but she’s lonely, drinking margaritas, but looks rich, and lives a rich lifestyle, but is always enough [and breathe, Adam!].
We love that… There’s something so perfect about those imperfect inspirations. Looking at both your debut SS21 collection and your AW23 collection, your designs have almost ‘grown up’ in a sense. Is that a natural progression of maturity, or is it something you really wanted to show?
I was a different person during my last show, I was so unhappy. I hadn’t walked in three months due to an injury whilst running and listening to Gaga’s ‘Chromatica’ album. I just felt like I was at a dead end, and started to lose faith in things and just felt genuinely stuck. Through these feelings came an interesting collection. But this season, after having some time away, I look at my designs with fresh eyes. I’ve grown up with the brand over the last couple of years and I know what I like and what I don’t like, I trust my process now.
How does being a DJ as well as a designer feed into your creative process?
When I DJ, I think of my own tracks, listen to new music, discover what I don’t know. Sometimes I sing in my sets, and even have visuals behind me when I DJ. I do it all. I get so many new ideas when I DJ. I will hear a song, a beat, picture Kate Moss spinning around, then get a vision of a silhouette, and this all feeds into creating a look.
Is Kate one of your inspirations? Who else are your muses?
Well, I don’t think we should be idolising anyone, we all shit and vomit at the end of the day. Isabella Blow is my main muse and always will be; the hats, the fashions, the shoes, the attitude, the red lips, the cigarettes, the champagne. I have a song on Spotify called ‘Seagulls, Cigarettes and Champagne’ which is probably quite reminiscent. I love Björk, Grace Jones, Vivienne Westwood, Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin, Zandra Rhodes, Marilyn Monroe, Rei Kawakubo. I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with these powerful women, I guess my mum’s very strong like that.
So Adam, one final question. What’s next?
I’m opening my concept store in Brick Lane, East London’s The Truman Brewery at the ‘Loading Bay’ this month. The new entrance is opposite Rough Trade East, and my store will be one of thirty new stores within Truman. I’ll keep working on my visual art, painting, music projects and then get ready to do another collection for September with my team who have been so incredibly supportive. I couldn’t do any of this without them.
And we can’t wait to see it!
Adam Frost is opening his first concept store at Truman Brewery, March 2023. Find out more at www.adamfrostofficial.com