Vin and Omi with Debbi Harry

VIN + OMI in Conversation with Runway Gallery

Vin + Omi with Debbie Harry at the finale of the Stop Fucking the Planet show by @VIN+OMI

Sustainable Designers Putting Prince Charles’ Garden Weeds on the LFW Catwalk –

What do Prince Charles’ garden nettles, Kate Moss and the 1980s Camden punk scene have in common? Not a lot, you might think, until you learn about the fashion designer powerhouse known as VIN + OMI. The roots of this unlikely combination date back to the underground club scene of the nineteen-eighties, which is a major influence behind VIN + OMI’s style. This punk loving duo have since gone on to create pieces for Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton while dressing the likes of Kate Moss, Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama in the process. Over the past 16 years, VIN + OMI have developed 12 exclusive textiles, including their new fabric, formed from nettles picked from the garden of Prince Charle’s Highgrove estate.

Though the fashion industry is becoming increasingly more conscientious with sustainability, VIN + OMI have been ahead of the crowd for years: “We started experimenting with converting collected ocean waste plastic in the early 2000’s” they shared, noting how they “work with a range of processes and manufactures to produce the rPET fabrics in different grades”. It is not surprising that their favourite of these textiles is their famous nettle fabric, taken from the Prince of Wales’s garden: “It’s made from waste nettles and is part of a project to examine how we look at waste plants from large UK estates”, disclosed VIN + OMI, who continued: “It’s our third season collaborating with Prince Charles and Highgrove, it works because we can experiment with a large range of plant materials and the team there are wonderful”. The pieces created from this collaboration graced the catwalk in The Savoy on the last day of London Fashion Week in September 2019.

Group shot of all the models at the Savoy Hotel by Perou (@mrperou)

Since the finale of the festival, the importance of sustainability, across all industries, has only heightened, including here at Runway Gallery, whose artists are contractually obliged to cease using single-use plastic in all packaging. However, in regard to fashion, VIN + OMI recognise that there is still room for improvement: “The word sustainable is misused time and time again by the fashion industry. The best change would be to cut fast fashion and fast fashion companies and encourage people to buy slow fashion”. When asked what advice they would give to a consumer who wants to dress more ethically, VIN + OMI’s response was simple: “Chose more carefully – read the label and treat clothing as food – know what’s going in and on your body”.

While some materials for VIN + OMI’s pieces are sourced in the royal gardens of Highgrove, much of their collections are developed in their studio in the English countryside. Discussing this rural location, VIN + OMI expanded: “We moved to the country to be near land that we could use to experiment with plant crops and to have more room to develop our textiles. It’s great being near nature as we often see plants that could potentially be grown for textiles. We spend a lot of time researching”.VIN + OMI then drew attention to their internationally sourced crops, discussing their planation in Malaysia, which they founded in a small village who depend on the proceeds of the rubber harvesting. Sustainability similarly remains at the heart of the plantation project, as they shared: “We are lucky enough to have a great manager over there, we try not to go over unless it’s essential to cut down the carbon footprint”.

The growing emphasis on ethical fashion choices is leading to the development of fresh and experimental fabrics, which VIN + OMI predict will be the future of fashion trends. “New textiles are developing every year”, they emphasise: “The rise of cactus leather as a replacement of leather is a good one”. Sustainability, whether it is achieved through nettles or cacti, is a permanent staple of VIN + OMI’s brand, though this is the only parallel between the duo’s diverse collections.

“There’s no formula with us” they stated when asked where they start on a new collection. It depends on the textiles we are producing, the theme we want to convey, the current political climate etc. Each of those could be the starting point, then creatively it unravels, in terms of colours, textures and silhouettes”.

VIN + OMI continued: “The collection evolves right until show date, and we cast the show models right at the end to fit the show. We’ve been lucky enough to have some great people walk for us, including Debbie Harry (who we have worked with for many years), Jodie Kidd, Olympic Boxer Nicola Adams, International Boxing Champion Richard Riakporhe, Eco Warrier Jo Wood, Team GB and, last season, we had Mr Universe Josh Maley and Honey Ross”.

Vin & Omi Resist Catwalk
Sign artwork of the last show by Lleyton James (@artnerdlj)

Dior and Louis Vuitton are among VIN + OMI’s impressive clientele; however, the duo shared how despite having “worked and consulted for many labels, I (Vin) don’t wear other designers clothing unless it’s vintage or eco. Omi is a fan of vintage Comme des Garçons as they never age”. These influences are seen in VIN + OMI’s personal style, who shared whether their fashion choices mirror their label: “To a certain extent. I (Vin) wear many things that I have had since I was a teenager, and recycled finds, or VIN + OMI. While Omi wears upcycled clothing and VIN + OMI”.

Alongside their work with international fashion designers, VIN + OMI are global ambassadors for Daler-Rowney, which opens the discussion of the relationship between the art and fashion industries.

“We have worked with Daler-Rowney for many years now as their global ambassadors we explore new ways of working and bring in new artists to the collaboration”. They continued: “We work in many ways with them and experiment along the way. Regularly taking their waste plastic and turning it into textiles for the catwalk shows. We incorporate their products into different elements of the backdrop, clothing and accessories. We have had live painters at the event and often use new artists to capture the shows and paint the backdrops. We try to introduce new artists each season to illustrate the shows. Our work with Daler-Rowney is ongoing and is based on their openness to new creativity and experimentation, which is why it works well.”

We have collected art for many years and have worked with a lot of artists on many projects from curation to public art projects, for us it is a natural progression to incorporate artists into our fashion work”.
VIN + OMI revealed that they were unable to pick a favourite of these illustrations, sharing: “It’s hard to choose the best one. Rosa and Carlotta Crepax produced some good work from two of our earlier shows, but we have had many great artists work with us. We’ve always seen great work from one of your artists Sue Dray, who has been to many of our shows. New illustrator Lleyton James did some great signs and stage pieces for our last show, and we’ve had great backdrops from Kit Skellington and Conor Collins.

After touching on the work of Sue Dray, VIN + OMI revealed that they would, however, find it hard to pick just one Runway Gallery artist to work with: “Again, that’s a tricky one”, they shared, “the beautiful colours and shapes of SYRETT, the darkness of Gary McQueen, the precision of Evi Antonio, and the mystery of French Cowboy, all of these have an instant appeal. Of course, we know Sue Dray and Pandamonia who come to our shows and love everything they do!”

So, what is VIN + OMI’s next challenge? Unsurprisingly, their work has adapted with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that does not mean the duo have any more time to relax. “We have a very broad portfolio of projects from interiors, consultation, fashion, textile development, collaboration etc.; all have eco and sustainability at the core” they continued: “We are currently juggling many projects and certainly not sitting still. We produced over 8000 masks for the NHS and also sold one-off masks to raise £16k for charities during the lockdown. We like to keep flexible and interested in our work. Our next collection, hopefully showing this year 2020, has started production now”.

When asked to sum up their label in no more than four words, VIN + OMI’s response was memorable: “Eco, Sustainable, Dynamic and Pioneering”. When you hear of VIN + OMI, may these four words follow, before remembering that in more ways than one, this duo is causing, and will continue to cause a sting in both the fashion and art worlds.
Keep up to date with VIN & OMI by visiting their website, or following their Instagram: @vinandomi.

Megan Slack – Magazine by Runway Gallery