University of St Andrews Fashion Show is undoubtedly one of the biggest events of the year, and debatably the one with the most buzz around it. The show’s creative director, Hunter Pruitt, this year managed to create another professional and artistic runway show, and every single person working on the event deserves huge congratulations. This year, winners of the Young Design Awards were joined by some big names in the fashion world, including Paul Smith and Ted Baker. Among them — and deservedly — was a new designer: KMRN by Kameron Cooper. Ms Cooper is a very close friend of mine, and while I could wax lyrical about her many attributes, for now I will simply say that her designs were uniquely evolved and creative. It was an absolute pleasure to sit down with her and discuss her views on the show, her collection, and the fashion community as a whole.
The Saint: At what point in your life did you realise you really loved fashion?
Kameron Cooper: This is such a cliché thing to say, but I think it was around the time people were having bar mitzvahs. It was the first point in my life where I had to dress a certain way, and in high school they were almost every single weekend. I didn’t want to wear the same outfit twice, so I had to figure out ways to make different outfits with what was already in my closet — and my mother’s! I think it became a problem to solve; I was trying to make things look good with whatever materials I had. When I felt like I couldn’t keep wearing my mom’s clothes, I took a weekend course at the Arts Centre College of Design in Pasadena. After nine weekends I’d made a dress, and it was the first time I’d been taught professionally about fashion. Before that I’d drawn all my designs, but after the classes I begged my parents for a sewing machine. I still have the same sewing machine sitting on my desk.
TS: It seems like your mom had a big influence on the way you dress yourself. Did she inspire you to start designing?
KC: The influence my mother had on me is unbelievable! There’s a joke in our family that we’re clones of each other; our closets are both completely black, white and grey. Colour probably makes up about five per cent of our wardrobes!
She taught me how to style our body type; we’re exactly the same shape so what suited her looked good on me too. She’s always been my style icon. I’ve never disliked anything she’s done.
Since I’ve been at college I’ve been finding my own style and becoming my own person. There are a pair of boots I’ve been asking for for birthdays and Christmases for two years. They finally went on sale and my mom bought me them this past Christmas. In my last few weeks at home I was wearing them a lot and when I got back to St Andrews my mom sent me a picture of her shoes. She had bought the exact same boots and said I inspired her to buy them. It was a moment where I really felt like an adult.
TS: How would you describe your personal style?
KC: I really value comfort in my clothing. Nights out can be the worst for me; I don’t like skinny jeans and they’re a staple of my going out outfits! When it hits two in the morning all I can think about is putting on sweatpants. Makeup still on, hair done, sweatpants and a hoodie is always my look for after-parties.
I don’t like wearing things that are constricting because I find it distracting, so I love men’s clothing; it’s so much more comfortable. Oversized is a perfect trend for me; I always buy my trousers two or three sizes up anyway as it’s more comfortable and a look I like to play with. A lot of my pants are too long or too big and I tend to belt waistbands up higher and wear crop tops with them. I love long jackets, clean colours, and small pops of colours. I will always love denim but it can be so difficult to find styles that fit properly. It feels almost like the jeans you wear say something about your personality because it’s such an individual thing.
TS: Is there a specific way that you like clothes to make you feel? Do you like them to make you stand out or fit in, make you feel sexy, confident, different?
KC: That really depends on what I’m dressing for. It also kind of depends on what music I’m listening to at the time. I listen to music a lot when I’m walking to class, and in London I always had music on while I was on the tube. I don’t know if anyone else does this but when I have music on I feel like it’s my soundtrack for that day and I want to dress the way the music makes me feel. If I’m listening to rap or hip hop I want to feel kind of edgy and cool, but if it’s empowering songs then I want to feel like a badass.
Last year I was an FS Rep and I was nervous about going to set up because I wanted them to know I cared a lot about it and I was interested in fashion. It’s funny now looking back and realising how little it mattered, but I showed up to the setup in such a professional outfit; I had a blazer on and everything matched. I realised it wasn’t really an outfit for set up, it was like I was dressing for a job interview!
TS: How does designing clothes for other people make you feel?
KC: I can’t explain the kind of happiness it makes me feel. I think it’s such a personal thing as I design items for specific people and so I try to put as much of their personality into each item as I can. In a way it’s my interpretation of people through clothing. At the moment, I’m making overalls for a friend and before I started anything I had to sit down and really think about his personality and what aspects of that I could incorporate into a design.
TS: When you began thinking about designing for FS, what drew you to designing male lingerie?
KC: It’s interesting that you ask that because I was actually really uncertain about designing menswear. When I was first asked about designing a collection, I was told I would have to design a minimum of six looks, three for women and three for men. It terrified me, but I began thinking more about what aspects of menswear had been less exciting in the show in previous years. The underwear section really stood out to me, as the girls were given really pretty sets and stockings or suspenders, while the boys walked in plain black boxers. Lingerie has always been associated with women, and it seemed to me the intention was to really frame the female body in flattering and sexy pieces of clothing. Fashion, to me, is about bending the rules and solving problems, and this felt like an opportunity to do both.
TS: What were your inspirations for this collection?
KC: Originally, I wanted to create some kind of play on words by stamping the word ‘boxer’ on mens underwear, but it felt a bit reminiscent of Off-White and I don’t like the idea of my work being too similar to that of another designer. While I did include some wording in my final creation, it was words like ‘SAINT’ and ‘1413’, which were connected to the university’s history. The idea of making the outfits resemble those of actual boxers came to me, and I used vintage boxing short designs as my foundation due to this, and bought boxing gloves to accessorise the looks. Most of the runway looks were vastly different to my original sketches.
Most of my inspiration comes from day-to-day life — I had some ideas for designs while I was doing the dishes this morning! I took a lot of inspiration from the models themselves and designed things I felt would be flattering on each. I tried to base colours on their skin tones and chose designs that would stand out on each model individually. A lot of this was down to their walk; whether they move their hips, shoulders, arms, even the way their knees move! My design for Sami had longer trailing pieces of material, both to resemble the straps boxers are wrapped in and because he walks in a way that would allow the drapes to move fluidly. Similarly, I chose to wrap chains around Valentine, both because they echoed the chains used in boxing arenas to string punching bags to the ceiling and to complement his shoulders.
TS: Did you encounter any difficulties in designing this collection?
KC: I was just so nervous about the collection. A few times I really considered calling Hunter [Pruitt, the show’s director] and telling him I couldn’t do it! The only thing that stopped me was how much I really loved making and designing the collection.
The other challenging part was creating a collection on a budget. My parents very kindly bought the boxing gloves for me, but the rest of my materials were self-funded and I spent a lot of time looking for inexpensive fabric to use. I bought lots of materials at the hardware store near my house, and spent a lot of time going through clearance stock at fabric stores. This Christmas break, my family had a large clear out and I found lots of pieces of fabric, including an old table cloth set, and incorporated those into my designs. I loved this process as I felt like I was able to create designs I was proud of in a more sustainable way.
TS: Do you have any reflections on the fashion community as a whole? What are you hoping to achieve in the upcoming years in terms of your own design?
KC: Sustainability is a big word in fashion at the moment but there are still brands — from high street to high end — making clothes in sweatshops and using irresponsibly sourced materials. The fashion community has one of the biggest environmental impacts globally, and I think bigger companies should be consciously making efforts to reduce their impact on the world.
I took a fashion course in London over the summer, and we were shown a program used by most fashion companies that predicts trends in upcoming seasons. If consumers were clear that they will buy more sustainable clothing, I think these companies would be impacted by that. They are businesses, motivated by monetary gain, and the need for ethical clothing can be dictated by the consumer.
My hopes for a future in fashion reflect this. I would love to be able to update and create designs from vintage items and materials. There are so many clothes in circulation globally, and I would love to create a business surrounding recycling these designs, materials and styles in modern ways.
Kameron and I spoke for such a long time that I cannot possibly include all that we discussed – although some key brands she mentioned as making a great effort to promote sustainable clothing were Levi’s Archive Collection and Everlane. Her passion for the industry was evident in her stories, and I am grateful to Kameron for taking the time to sit down and talk through her collection and thoughts on fashion with us.