May 30, 2019 | By Louise Squire
Jan 10, 2017
By Nick Paget
London design duo Agi Mdumulla and Sam Cotton have carefully built an identity that takes in their long friendship and has seen them play on mutual interests such as football. Since first showing their label Agi & Sam at MAN, their collections reflect the clothes they like and wear themselves and feel like an honest view of what they feel men like them might want to wear.
We interviewed them backstage immediately after their AW17 show, still buzzing from the Boiler Room soundtrack and the gothic surroundings of a disused chapel. Here, we talk about their AW17 collection, their partnership with Woolmark and becoming sapiens at 30.
How do you feel about the AW17 collection you’ve just shown?
AM: Well, we haven’t seen it yet! It’s quite hard to even digest it.
Sam Cotton: From here, as we were styling it and sweating over it, it felt like it’s the way we dress; it’s the clothes we wear. The concept itself is something we really care about.
I could hear you being interviewed before and heard people saying it felt quite dark, but I also heard that you don’t think that.
AM: I don’t, but I don’t know about you, Sam—do you think it’s dark?
SC: I don’t think so. There were loads of references taken from things we just liked—for example, a lot of the coats, the ones with the topstitching—that’s from Dr Martens shoes. It’s a cultural thing, referencing sub-cultures where I feel like someone might like that shoe and then want to take that reference and base their clothes around it. We didn’t approach it like: “Oh, we’re going to make this angry!” We just thought “I like this…” Maybe we’ve just had a tough six months!
We definitely have! How do you think the last year has impacted on your work?
AM: It’s impacted everybody, but Brexit hasn’t actually happened so it’s hard to think about how it’s affected the business pre se. But in terms of how we feel, it’s sad. But again, this wasn’t a Brexit collection, it’s about our emotions and feelings about what’s happening in the world around us.
It’s about the disintegration of communities and what’s important to us.
I think we might see more of that from artistic people, that subconscious reflection of what’s happening—it’s a natural thing.
SC: Yeah—maybe that’s why it came off as being quite angry—because we’re saying that most subcultures are dead. It’s time to develop something that people care about. They’re usually about trying to piss people off or trying to develop something they’re not usually about a literal message.
AM: But for us, when we’re thinking about how to respond to all this, we either go full-fantasy and essential escape or go really political. I don’t think slogans and flags and banners are really that appropriate anymore. I think there needs to be a more nuanced way that’ll make people think about what you’re trying to show rather than just telling them. People don’t think so much for themselves anymore so we wanted them to look and think about “why?”
SC: One of the first things we looked at was Plato’s Cave Theory. About how he felt that in early society, theatre was a low form of art and that it was just shadow puppetry. He felt that theatre wasn’t people using their own brains, they were just looking at someone else’s view. And it’s going on so strongly now, when you look at social media—everybody’s being channeled into these views. So we didn’t want to do that with our collection, we wanted to have a message, but for people to decide what they thought about it for themselves.
When you guys first started, you talked a lot about your shared interests having grown up together and been friends for a long time . Do those themes still feed into your work?
AM: I think we’ve just grown up really, I think it’s just the things that interest us. I don’t know whether it’s because we turned 30 last year.
SC: We’re sapiens, proper sapiens! I read this book that was like a brief history of humankind and where we’re going, and I told Agi to read it, and now it’s like our bible. I think that got us really thinking about how society is and how we could change, what we wanted to do.
AM: I think the difference is that in the past, our collections have always had some element of social commentary, but maybe now the social commentary is stronger and takes precedent. We’re focusing on us, what our tastes are, and how we’ve evolved over time.
How has it been working with the Woolmark Company? You’ve got some really great fabrics there.
AM: It’s been amazing, absolutely amazing.
SC: We’ve always used wools throughout our collections, and we wear wool all the time ourselves. We’ve used loads of techniques, for example, we used a mill that makes scarves and we’ve shown this Prince of Wales check that’s a constant knit of scarves but without cutting them, so you get this deconstructed effect. There’s a lot of thought gone into it. We just worked with our mills and really pushed wool with our ideas.
AM: It was just really exciting to push the boundaries with different techniques; we’ve done so many tests on laminating and deconstructing these styles.
In the beginning, you were pretty much the fashion outsiders, but you’ve really built your standing. Do you feel like you’re part of the establishment now?
SC: We’re always trying to prepare ourselves… I don’t think you ever feel like “Oh, we’re here…”
AM: But I don’t know how we would feel part of “the establishment.”
SC: This is a big step for us, having this experiential thing, and it’s nice to have this venue and the support of Boiler Room and Woolmark to create something that felt like our own. So when people walk into it, they walk into our world. We’ve got our zines and these projections and the music—this is all our world. So that’s the step for us, from being “emerging” and people seeing the clothes to them realising the lifestyle. It’s a total identity.
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