It's very hard to define fashion. Some people praise it as art, others deride it as mere frivolity. Maybe it can be both, or something in between. Few designers, however, manage to straddle those polar extremes to create works which are at once shocking, thought-provoking and incredibly commercial. Vin and Omi are two such artists.
It's hard to find a lot of information about the pair online, but from a short meeting with Omi in the May Fair hotel after their show, I know this much. Vin and Omi were some of the earliest recipients of the NESTA (National Endowment for Science and Technology Award) fashion award, along with Alistair Carr (of Balenciaga, Pringle and McQ fame). Reading the lists of early funding prize winners (including other prestigious competitions such as NEWGEN), it's noticeable how few of the brands have gone on to become household names around the world. And the same is true of Vin and Omi – but that is not to say that they haven't been successful.
They have, in fact, been incredibly successful in many fields. They focused on fabric development and now are based in the Cotswolds where various farmyard outhouses allow them to experiment with myriad and messy new techniques. Their work with latex is particularly strong, and has led to collaborations with brands from Felder Felder through to Louis Vuitton. They have studios in the US from which they art-direct the careers of celebrities such as Christina Aguilera (they were responsible for her skin-tight, blonde-bombshell looks of the mid Noughties), produce video collections for Lady Gaga and work on public art installations. They have designed one-off pieces for many a star, including a specially commissioned dress for Michelle Obama later deconstructed by security due to Vin and Omi's penchant for hiding secret messages in their garments. Their success in all these fields is due to a) their talent, but also b) their willingness to let others shine. Vin and Omi do not micromanage their success stories — they let all their collaborators work independently, safe in the knowledge that talented people will show up with the goods.
This season Vin and Omi decided to return to London, where their 'fashion' careers began, to put on a show of two parts. The womenswear collection consisted of specially distressed printed silks and latex pieces, designed as couture items and not intended as ready-to-wear. The line of t-shirts and hoodies sported by the hunks of the show, however, are ready for commercial release. At first glance, these pieces seem to derive quite superficially from the recent Célfie hype. In fact the joke is much more personal. Just weeks before the show, Vin was undergoing brain surgery. The t-shirts feature scans taken at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford of Vin's brain bleed, quickly snapped by Omi on his iPhone. I'm not sure if I can think of a greater fusion of art and fashion commercialism.
I met Vin and Omi through Twitter, as did Jen. And at the show I recognised quite a few of the Twiteratti (Caroline looking particularly fierce front row). It's amazing how the internet brings us weirdos all together, and it is quite incredible the breadth of contacts and friendships I've forged down the fibre-optic cable. I'd just like to take this chance to thank V+O again for inviting me to see your first show in years, and I look forward to favouriting your tweets for years to come.