As much as in everyday life, Key finds romance in everything from Japanese porn to the work of Ryan McGinley, building the emotion into collections that possess the same dreamy euphoria as the photographer’s images of downtown cool-kids on rooftops against multicolour skies or sprinting towards sunsets across open fields, with sparklers streaming in their hands. In keeping with this aesthetic, Key’s SS17 lookbook shows models escaped to the country, in long grass under blue skies, swaddled in the pastel-toned fabrics that Key manufactures in his Hackney studio. McGinley’s subjects are most often naked. If they weren’t, there’s a chance they’d be wearing Ka Wa Key.
Key’s work stands out thematically, but also in its approach to gender and the world’s shifting interpretations of masculinity. “To be honest, I think in 2017 gender is an outdated concept,” he explains. “You don’t need to dress as a strong man to attract someone. You don’t need to categorise fashion for the purpose of selling it to a man or a woman.” For AW17, especially, Key’s combinations of classic, all-male garments – trucker jackets, baggy trousers, cable knits and city-boy shirting – were reinvented with sheer fabrics, lace-like embroidery and pastel colourways. The collection represented a wearable, visionary balance between the demonstrative hyper-masculinity of workwear and the “different kind of beauty” that Key is looking for.