Conner Ives: ‘I want to blow apart our idea of what sustainability is’

Next Generation 2023: American designer Conner Ives’ 2000s-tinged collections imbue upcycled garments with newfound glamour – but he’s much more than just another ‘sustainable designer’

Woman in Conner Ives dress sat on filing cabinet
This page, top, £400; shorts, £110, both by Conner Ives
(Image credit: Photography by Jessica Madavo, fashion by Clara May Joy)

Conner Ives is part of ‘The New Fashion Vanguard’ – four international fashion labels and designers presenting a new way to dress, as featured in Wallpaper’s January 2023 ‘The Future Issue’, where we meet the rising stars shaking up the creative industries. 

‘I try to see all limitations in the processes as an opportunity,’ says US-born designer Conner Ives from his studio apartment in Tottenham, north London. He’s talking about his efforts not only to upend the dogmatic schedule of fashion shows but carve his own production processes with wasteless upcycling. 

But framing Ives as a ‘sustainable designer’ is to perhaps short-change his ability to create one-of-a-kind, striking couture dresses and outfits that have been stealing headlines since his first year at London’s Central Saint Martins (when he was just 20, model Adwoa Aboah wore one of his first-year student creations to the Met Gala). A playful, 2000s-tinged approach – his dresses are often cut on the bias – features riffs on American design in a vivid amalgam of prints and colours. 

Conner Ives on sustainability, individualism and a legacy of American design

Woman in Conner Ives silk dress stood next to chair

Dress, £1,285, by Conner Ives. ’Tongue’ chair, by Pierre Paulin, for Artifort, available for loan from Time & Space

(Image credit: Photography by Jessica Madavo, fashion by Clara Mary Joy)

Ives grew up in Bedford, outside of New York, where Ralph Lauren once had a house (an important influence for the young designer, who is exploring the significance of American archetypes – ‘it was happening in my backyard’). Although his was a standard small-town childhood – ‘you don't want to stick out like a sore thumb, I wasn't looking for trouble’ – ultimately he desired something more. ‘The oneness that comes from going to American public high school… you dress the same to survive. I got to a point where I was so hungry for some individualism.’

Graduating in 2020 after an unprecedented upward trajectory, he presented his first official collection in February 2021 as a lookbook (the pandemic halted plans for a show). American designers Donna Karan, Todd Oldham and Bill Blass provided particular inspiration, continuing into a collection shown in February 2022 which explored the tropes of American fashion. ‘One of the pillars of American lifestyle design is [creating] really well-designed products,’ he says; as own his brand evolves, he’s focusing on building a comprehensive collection of wearable pieces alongside the more dramatic red carpet styles.

Fabrics are sourced mainly from within the UK, often buying thousands of T-shirts at a time from vintage wholesalers in the Midlands, while vintage silk scarves are sourced in Italy. Availability of raw materiality in the supply chain informs the design process too (for example, pristine plain white T-shirts are hard to come by in the vintage circular market, so you won't see him working with many of those). ‘I really admire the identity that vintage clothing has,’ he says.

‘I don't want this to just be a flash in the pan,’ he adds of his so far short career. ‘We are trying to change so much. I tried to blow apart our idea of what sustainability is because there is no textbook definition. Every aspect of what I do, and every aspect of my job, is in some way confronting the question.’

Models: Phyllis at Milk Management. Casting: Feranmi Eso. Hair: Kim Rance at LGA Management using Authentic Beauty Concept. Make-up: Marina Belfon-Rose using RMS Beauty. Photography assistants: James Robertson, Sam Callahan. Fashion assistant: Yun Zhang. Hair assistant: Anastasiia Gryniuka.

A version of this story appeared in the January 2023 issue of Wallpaper*, available now in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today

Tilly is a British writer, editor and digital consultant based in New York, covering luxury fashion, jewellery, design, culture, art, travel, wellness and more. An alumna of Central Saint Martins, she is Contributing Editor for Wallpaper* and has interviewed a cross section of design legends including Sir David Adjaye, Samuel Ross, Pamela Shamshiri and Piet Oudolf for the magazine.

With contributions from