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Michael van der Ham

Chats: Michael van der Ham (Classic Dialogues)

One of the leading lights in the new vanguard of British designers, Michael Van der Ham lets SEB LAW into his exquisitely-crafted world and penchant for dressing strong, independent women.

I sit down at Michael van der Ham’s show at lunchtime on the fourth day of London Fashion Week. I’m a little tired (following a series of 15-hours days), a little drunk (following an impromptu champagne reception earlier), wearing a long black cape and my best front row face of intense-concentration-meets-disinterested-importance. The show starts, and instantly I’m in fantasy world. ‘This is what LFW is all about’, I think to myself, ‘that mixture of artistic, inspired creativity and a commercial mindset that you just don’t see anywhere else in the world’.

Having been one of the stars of Topshop’s NEWGEN initiative for several seasons (since his CSM MA collection in 2009 in fact), Michael Van der Ham knows how to put an outfit together. He has developed a signature collage technique of mixing apparently discordant fabrics and patterns into a striking look. It drew a huge amount of attention at the time, and remains the central idea around which he tropes his collection.

I spoke to Michael when he was in the throes of prepping for this show, and he told me that he was interested in moving that on. “I wanted to create an extra dimension to the collage idea,” he explained “using my own prints that were already collaged.” And it worked. Injecting a fresh idea into the design process resulted in tightened silhouettes, sharpened colour palettes and sleeker separates. As he told the LFW Daily: “all the layering was too much for some people to wear, they think it’s too crazy. So using print is another option that people can buy into. I don’t think ‘commercial’ is a bad thing.”

That commercial awareness is essential in London’s crowded creative marketplace. “Every designer has their own little niche and speciality,” he tells me, and it’s true: van der Ham’s seems to be dressing fantastic female musicians. Having created the 15 outfits for Bjork’s Biophilia tour and provided the cover dress for Tori Amos’ album Night of Hunters, it’s no surprise that the next star in Michael’s sights is a woman known for her unconventional approach. “Lately I have been listening to a lot of Joanna Newsom,” he tells me, “and I absolutely love her, so I hope she’ll wear something of mine soon.” Not only that, on the list of Michael’s most-played tracks is Lana Del Rey, and we reckon his designs would be perfect for adding a bit of an edge to the American starlet.

Van der Ham shares his studio space with the menswear designer Christopher Shannon, who is also the stylist for his shows (“it’s a very collaborative process” he says), but the design work is a tremendously personal process for him: “for some piece it takes ages to develop it into a piece that I’m happy with.” He seems undaunted though “each season I grow and so do the collections; I might even do a pre-collection in June which is very exciting,” he explains.

Back to the show, and the hard work has paid off. Each exit displayed a mix of prints, fabrics and striking glamorous silhouettes that reveal his unique mix of an artist’s eye and a tradesman’s cut, climaxing in some truly gorgeous silver-gilt metallic separates that raised even the weariest fashion hack’s iPhone to the catwalk. The final parade, the rapturous applause, and the fashionisti rush off to the next show. I hang around and eavesdrop on the chatter, and it’s pretty clear: Michael van der Ham has triumphed again.

Field Notes

  1. The original inspiration for van der Ham’s collage technique was three dresses Andy Warhol made in the 1970s, that mixed portions from different couture dresses to create a disjointed whole.
  2. For the uninitiated, the LFW Daily is a fabulous little newspaper, printed and distributed during Fashion Week and one of my favourite publications. Keep your eyes peeled for it – there’s always a Notion contributor in the streetstyle shots.

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