The world of high fashion has spent the past half decade slowly succumbing to the lure of streetwear, establishing a new norm that’s somewhere between haute couture and everyday, easy-to-wear garments. To some critics, it’s the sign of a revolution; that the archaic, elitist ways of the fashion industry are over, and we’re making way for younger, more politically in-tune talents instead. But there are just as many people who claim this salience of graphic t-shirts, sneakers and hoodies is diluting the fantasy, like the glue holding the industry together is starting to lose its stick. Samuel Ross — the designer behind A-COLD-WALL* — is the kind of creator who stands in the no man’s land, observing the argument from a distance, refusing to submit to either side.
As the 27-year-old founder and creative director of one of London’s most lauded young fashion brands, Ross has become the one of the most influential and promising new names on the menswear scene, garnering a nomination for this year’s coveted LVMH Prize. Adored by the rap cognoscenti and hypebeasts alike for his technical streetwear — but still respected by critics for his esoteric take on it — it’s not unusual to see him being referred to as an artist rather than an atelier.
But what is it about Ross’s indefinable brand that has sent everybody into a stupor? To get yourself completely up to speed, here’s everything you need to know about A-COLD-WALL* and its supremely intelligent founder.
Ross’s roots are in graphic design
Born in the south London borough of Brixton before moving to Northampton, Ross didn’t study at Central Saint Martins like the majority of his couturier contemporaries. Instead, after being raised in a primarily white town by a stained glass window-making father and a lecturer mother, he studied Graphic Design at De Montfort University in Leicester. Fashion seemed like a far-flung career to him; back then, the scene was dominated by dreamers like McQueen and Galliano — not anybody making the kind of clothes young Brits wanted to wear.
He is Virgil Abloh-approved
Often, all it takes for young designers to make it big is the backing of a fashion heavyweight. For Ross, his hard work and keen eye for design caught the attention of Off-White founder Virgil Abloh, who enlisted him as an assistant back in 2014. The duo worked on a number of projects, and Ross was there to supervise the now-Louis Vuitton menswear designer as Off-White broke out with its first Parisian runway show for Spring 2016. The two are still tight; Abloh sat front row at A-COLD-WALL*’s Spring/Summer 2019 show earlier this month.
A-COLD-WALL* began on Insta
Following a bout of success on Instagram, where he shared his individual creations, a 25-year-old Ross launched A-COLD-WALL* as a fully fledged label in WHAT YEAR, with a 25 piece capsule collection. On the back of his IG hype, Ross also worked with Nike on an Air Force 1 collab, and cemented his status as a “designer to watch” at A-COLD-WALL*’s first full, co-ed collection at London Fashion Week Men’s for Autumn/Winter 2017. The collection was a commentary on the melting pot nature of modern city living, featuring mixed slouchy suits in white pinstripe with foil lab coats, alongside his signature sought-after graphic t-shirts in off-kilter cuts. To this day, that contorted mix of tailoring and elevated casual-wear (regular suits and tracksuits often appear on the same season’s runway) and his inspired use of man-made materials, like PVC, have become his most recognisable hallmarks.
It’s about more than just streetwear
Those who dismiss streetwear-inspired fashion as fickle or flat should take a deeper look at what Ross is doing. Even the name, A-COLD-WALL*, is a commentary on the steely, almost impenetrable nature of society, and the barriers put in place to make progression for the underprivileged even more difficult. Meanwhile, Ross’s designs take equal amounts of inspiration from the oppressive class system in the United Kingdom — particularly those affected as part of modern black Britain — and brutalist and Victorian-era architecture. His AW18 collection, for example, merged the colours found in the National Gallery with silhouettes seemingly inspired by construction site workers. That dichotomy, between the privileged and the working class, is something he’s always been fascinated with, and it manifests in a lot of his work.
And it’s making waves
But Ross’s conceptual and intelligent approach to design does not affect the street-friendly aesthetic of his garments, which are as covetable as they are considered — especially when they’re regularly sported by the likes of Abloh and Jaden Smith. That trickle-down influence, paired with Ross’ intrinsic understanding of what today’s young people want from their wardrobes makes his creations some of the most in demand for international stockists like Machine-A, Barneys and Slamjam, and it’s not unusual to see his biggest pieces sell out.
Ross is a master of the runway show
After just four appearances on the fashion week calendar, many designers might not feel seasoned enough to toy with the format of their shows. But Ross’s unfettered belief in his vision – a trait he adopted from Abloh – has given him the confidence to stage something more audacious. For Spring/Summer 2019, Ross conceptualised a strange, dystopian presentation opened by models marching down the runway in a tight-knit procession, covered in grey body paint and wearing Ross’s signature detachable hoods, as if they’d just survived the apocalypse. After the garments had been presented, the same characters wheeled out a styrofoam box, battered it down, and stepped back to show a man, writhing naked in blood and water, crawl out of it. It was called ‘Human. Form. Structure’, and demonstrated a new level of artistic intelligence that proved the designer is still as unpredictable and impressive as ever. “Streetwear really isn’t the term now,” Ross told WWD after the show; a sign that the way his work can be interpreted as shifting away from its roots. Still, he conceded, “it’s been integral to this journey.”
A-COLD-WALL* is going places
Having helmed A-COLD-WALL* for the past three years, taking it from a small-scale fashion label to an internationally-stocked, multi-million pound brand, the path for Samuel Ross as a designer is peppered with possibilities. Polythene, a spin-off of A-COLD-WALL* that’s set to cater to a younger demographic still making that high street to luxury fashion transition, is set to launch later in 2018. Meanwhile, an injection of cash from an investor, Tomorrow London Holdings, has allowed A-COLD-WALL*’s production to move from East London to Milan; a surefire sign that the brand is set to explode to Off-White levels of ubiquity in future. All that’s really left for Ross to do is follow in the steps of his mentor, and take the creative reins at a major fashion house. At this rate, it won’t be long before that box is ticked too.