1.11.2016. The birth of a new star in fashion’s ever evolving galaxy was quietly happening in a gallery space near Old Street. A series of 15 individual looks were displayed on a wholesome mix of models, each with its own story to tell. It’s the result of the combination of two talents: Alexandra Hadjikyriacou and Jaimee McKenna. The line-up of models stood in formation as the designers’ friends, supporters and well-wishers arrived and moved around them, examining up close the clothes with their rich mixes of technical expertise, unusual fabrications, primitive looking lino prints done by hand (a repeat of four patterns made by the designers and their two interns), frayed edges, irregular knitting, crocheted skirts, raffia bags, and fine silk strips held together delicately by tiny faggoting stitches.
Jaimee McKenna and Alexandra Hadjikyriacou in their own designs for Kepler Season 1: photography by Robbie Lawrence
Kepler is the brand, named after planet Kepler 186 f which was discovered by NASA in 2014. It has roughly the same radius as earth and is about 560 light years away. The discovery of the planet captured the designers’ vivid imaginations and they have been intent on combining their own textile explorations ever since. Perhaps inspired by the otherness of a newly discovered planet, they have chosen to set their own orbit by showing their first collection - called simply Season 1 because it corresponds directly to neither spring/summer nor autumn/winter - away from fashion week and to their own audience, which included a few press and industry people but was made up mainly of friends and other designers including Molly Goddard, Liam Hodges, Craig Green and Katie Jones, (her own current knitting obsession accompanying her in a capacious IKEA blue bag). This small new venture already has quite an eco-system and a momentum of its own.
Less than a month after the presentation, Hadjikyriacou, who previously designed her own collection of complexly patterned knitwear under the name House of Had, and McKenna were busy moving into their new studio on Ridley Road in east London, finalising the manufacturing of the collection.
‘Some of it is in England, some in London,’ McKenna said. ‘There’s a knit factory in Scotland and another in Cyprus which knits the football scarves which Alex was already working with.’ Some of the pieces they will make themselves, like the E-wrap bags and A-line skirt which are made with rafia yarn which isn’t compatible with an industrial knitting machine. ‘You have to do it by hand,’ she says. Usually, this yarn is used for making furniture. They liked it because it is durable and easy to clean (you just wipe it). They want their clothes to stand the test of time. ‘We like the fact that our hand has touched it. We are quite sad like that, but when you come from a textile background, sometimes when you are making something with your own hands you can take it to the next level.’ They have planned making time into their schedules and will have finished production in time to start on the next collection (Series 2 is expected to hit Earth in April), though they admit the black crochet skirt worn with a knitted top might be difficult to produce, not least because it was made by McKenna’s boyfriend’s mum. But it’s important to them that the craft and textile techniques they use elevate the collection into something more luxurious and precious.
The collection is so rich in its use of innovative textiles and techniques. The swirly blue, white and black knitted stripes on a skirt and bag came from a swatch of knitting Hadjikyriacou did on her knit BA at Central Saint Martin’s seven years ago. The designers were on the BA together having met at the college on the foundation course. They both went on to the MA as well. ‘We both have strong points,’ says McKenna. ‘I’m more about refining things, the tiny details, and Alex is more of an explosion. Our work compliments each other. ‘There are so many techniques in this collection, we have paved the ground for the next ones.
Not surprisingly, they had positive feedback from the presentation and interest from a Japanese agent appreciative of the authenticity and purity of their vision. ‘The industry is in transition,’ said McKenna. ‘We are trying to approach it differently. Yes, we are keeping the astrology vibe...we’ve started looking at images of planets. With knitting, when you do patterns it’s all mathematical. We always joke it’s quite a geeky thing to do.’ No doubt the stylish inhabitants of their parallel universe Kepler 186 f are looking forward to a whole new wardrobe.
Find out more about Kepler via their Instagram page.
Text by Tamsin Blanchard