Stefan Cooke– by Central Saint Martins graduates Stefan Cooke and his partner (in design and life) Jake Burt – is on a roll. From 1,700 applications, the brand is currently one of eight 2019 LVMH Prize finalists hoping to win the £300,000 grant; the results will be announced later this month. In the meantime, the H&M Design Award winners have been busy at work preparing for SS20 – their first season on-schedule since graduating from the Fashion East talent incubator, which saw them present three artful seasons to much acclaim.

"This season has been a real challenge and really fun to do: the collection is a lot more casual than it’s been before," Jake tells me. "Our previous collections have been really tight fitting, which made it difficult for some customers to wear so we've really thought about how to make the items more accessible."

A more 'casual' approach might be the name of the game for this season, but in true Stefan Cooke style, where textile subversion is at the core of the brand, casual takes its cues from theatre costumes and dressing up – and the contrast of costume construction. "On the outside they can look really genuine and a lot of time is often taken to make the exterior look really brilliant, but on the inside often a lot of corners have been cut," says Jake. "We rented out this amazing costume from an archive and photographed it from the inside, which has now become a print in the collection."

The archive costume for which the collection took print inspiration.

Featuring pieces that have taken hours of handiwork (which saw specialists join in the studio to create), alongside more instant pieces through trompe l'oeil and digital knitting, the collection is a further exploration of what they're known best for: craftsmanship. "We’ve been exploring the disparity between painstaking craft that takes a really long time to produce and craft that is instant, as both practices are a craft in their own right," explains Jake. 

And where does this deep-rooted love for craft come from? "
It’s a bit different for me and Stefan as his love for craft comes from his family – his family home is covered with homemade bits everywhere. I think we both share the fact that we don’t come from money so had to make things ourselves when we were younger," he says. "I studied fine art when I was younger and really liked it, but I wanted to make something that people could incorporate into their day-to-day. I like craft best when it isn’t a one-off piece so that people can take it and use it in their everyday lives.

Meanwhile, sustainability is also a question Jake often gets asked about. "It's a difficult one for us because there are designers out there like Bethany Williams who are truly sustainable in everything they do, so for us to describe ourselves as sustainable offhandedly doesn’t feel fair to those who really consider it in every part of the design," he explains. "However, our brand is still small-scale at the moment so that allows us to maintain more control over the brand's sustainability. I think our main focus is ensuring that the clothes are of the highest quality so that they can last for a really long time."

Image via @stefan_cooke.

A collection Stefan and Jake have created through a rigorous process of asking themselves whether they would wear the pieces themselves, I'm intrigued to see how the silhouettes and finishings will interpret this more casual segway. And going off Jake's enthusiasm ("I'm really excited to get my hands on the clothes for myself"), the suspense is certainly there for what SS20 has in store. 

Stay tuned via our Instagram to see the collection in real-time this Sunday.

Also on Because Magazine:

+ Discover Caroline Issa and Kjaer Weis' Dream Reds collaboration.

+ Nina Marenzi is the name to know in sustainable fashion innovation. Get clued up!

+ Rose-Marie Swift of RMS Beauty isn't afraid to tell it like it is...