Inside an Emerging British Designer’s Candy-Colored World

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“Come take a look at this — this is a good color because it’s a bit gross,” says the 26-year old British designer Matty Bovan as he pulls a swatch of neon green velour from underneath a sewing machine. “How can it not be a bit revolting?” he continues. “I love taking these taboo fabrics like Aertex or velour that other designers would discredit — I like taking something wrong and making it desirable.”

It’s a sunny day in late August and two weeks before his much anticipated debut at Fashion East — the incubator of young talent at London Fashion Week — and Bovan is showing me around the tiny shed in his parents’ backyard in York that doubles as his studio. In contrast to his suburban surroundings, his studio is a candy-colored, joyful ode to eccentricity — and an accurate representation of his own aesthetic. A bright pink mannequin is adorned with glittering gold fabric, backpacks are defaced with his trademark scribbles, a diamante-encrusted papier-mâché skull sits on top of plastic shelves crammed full with multicolored yarn. A mood board is plastered with inspirational images: Chloë Sevigny with bleached eyebrows from “Gummo,” vintage Stephen Sprouse campaigns and Polaroids of Bovan modelling his own collection. “Because I’m all the way up in York, I fit all the clothes on myself — it’s easier,” he says. “I design for me — the hypothetical female version of me.” In truth, he is the best advertisement for his designs: with angular, androgynous features, dip-dyed fringe and glittering eyeshadow, lurex cardigan and leggings, Bovan appears to be a hybrid of Grimes, David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust days and the “Godmother of Punk,” Nina Hagen. “I’ve always dressed like this,” he shrugs. “As a kid, my mom would take me to charity shops and buy pea-green ’70s tops and fleece trousers from Tesco and leggings and big jumpers. Now I look back and see I didn’t switch off from the style.”

It’s been a fast acceleration from being a kid in York, which is a two-hour drive from London, to one of the brightest new names on the British fashion scene. In little over a year, he has already attracted attention from the likes of Marc Jacobs, Miuccia Prada and the influential stylist Katie Grand. Bovan grew up an only child with parents who encouraged his craftiness: He would bring Barbie dolls to school at age 5, and his grandmother taught him how to knit at age 11. “Mom was always re-dyeing clothes and bedding,” he recalls. “When you don’t have much money, then you improvise. So I learned how to make my own clothes.”

Graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2015 with an M.A. in knitwear, Bovan’s graduate collection showcased his wild, unfettered imagination — a cacophony of textures, psychedelic colors and sculptural knits. It earned him the L’Oréal Professionel Creative Award, the LVMH Graduate Prize and a placement at Louis Vuitton under Nicholas Ghesquière. It also brought him to the attention of Grand, who went on to feature him in her magazine, LOVE. “We met on a shoot and I really liked him — we share a love of fluoro pink, which is always important, and sequins and shininess,” Grand says. She invited him to do some research for Marc Jacobs together with another young designer, Amie Robertson, which resulted in a collage of his illustrations being used in pieces from Jacobs’s spring/summer 2016 collection (and in Bovan being shot by David Sims for the advertising campaign). Grand went on to commission him to style a shoot for the latest issue of LOVE (alongside another rising star, Charles Jeffrey) and invited him to customize mannequins for a recent Miu Miu Resort presentation in Paris. “When he worked on the Miu Miu project, what Miuccia loved about him was that he could change everything so quickly,” Grand says. “He’s got a confidence in his approach.” Grand, who is acting as a creative consultant for Bovan’s debut show, which will be held on Saturday in London, says: “There’s a lot of expectation around him. He’s pretty high-profile for someone who’s not had a show and I will be very surprised if he doesn’t fulfill those expectations.”

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At this juncture, Bovan admits to feeling “nervous and excited — I am giving 200 percent to this collection,” he says. Whereas the M.A. collection showed off his experimental side, he promises that the Fashion East show will be a different beast. “I wanted to do a wardrobe, something more sexy and glamorous but in a twisted way. I wanted to do clothes for going out where you can be the pinnacle of what you want to be.” While his love of neon colors and “taboo fabrics” are still very much in evidence, new this season are his first experiments with PVC (with screen printing, “so it doesn’t look too Soho sex shop”) and covetable accesssories: Coach’s creative director Stuart Vevers provided some bags that Bovan has customized with his scribbles, safety pins and jewelry made by his mother, Plum. “It’s super personal,” Bovan says. “As it’s my first show, it’s my ‘greatest hits’ and what I’ve wanted to do all these years.”

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