Aaron Esh on his subversive menswear, inspired by friends
‘It’s about taking something authentic, the people that I know, the clothes they wear,’ says Aaron Esh, the recent Central Saint Martins graduate making menswear inspired by his native east London
The British designer Aaron Esh, a recent master’s graduate of Central Saint Martins, grew up in east London, a location which remains inscribed on his work. Subversions of traditional menswear garments – such as a bubble-hem mini skirt built onto a pair of tailored trousers, or a leather jacket with swirling protrusions emerging from its shoulders – are inspired by, and made for, his friends, most of whom gather in the east London neighbourhood of Dalston.
‘It’s about taking something authentic, the people that I know, the clothes they wear, and mixing that with the fashion references I like,’ says Esh of his so-far concise catalogue of clothing, comprising a six-look final collection shown at the Central Saint Martins MA show in February 2022. Despite its brevity, it has already been bought in full by Ssense, a major North American e-retailer, and sees Esh feature in a portfolio of emerging menswear designers in Wallpaper’s September 2022 Style Issue.
A feeling of control and sensuality defines Esh’s approach, reminiscent of two designers he references as inspiration – Tom Ford during his tenure at Gucci in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and Helmut Lang’s collections of the same period. ‘It’s about reimagining that reference on this east London, Dalston boy,’ says Esh. In particular, a loop of metal in lieu of a strap on a black asymmetric tank top seems to recall the abstract metal buckles across Ford’s seminal A/W 1996 collection for Gucci, though in Esh’s case, such flourishes are informed by the designer’s fascination with sculpture and form (which he credits to his mother, a sculptor and artist).
New menswear: Aaron Esh A/W 2022
This same fascination extends to the fastidious physical construction of each garment. ‘They’re for people who want to feel fit, to feel great,’ says Esh of his clothes, which he hopes accentuate their wearer’s features. To achieve this, each garment might be fitted onto a model six or seven times in order to perfect its shape (during the course of his MA, Esh even utilised full-body scanning to further refine this process). Moulded leather and twisting metalwork – both of which he calls his ‘signatures’ – add a feeling of underlying strangeness to archetypal menswear pieces (the biker jacket, the hoodie, the dress shoe, the tailored blazer).
His exploration of these building blocks of menswear might be traced back over half a century to the 1960s, when Esh’s paternal grandfather, a tailor, first moved to east London from Cyprus. Later, Esh’s aunt would run an East End clothing factory. ‘I’ve always been around clothing, and manufacturing,’ says the designer, though his own connection to this heritage only came to the fore when he switched to fashion from graphic design at the age of 25. ‘I was always interested in kids on the street wearing clothes, not this amazing couture thing, but what people wore and how they wore it. I always wanted to make a body of work, and fashion just became the medium. I was good at it.’
Hours before, Esh had returned from another London factory, picking up the pieces from his graduate collection produced to be sold. ‘It feels like a very personal experience to be like: OK, these clothes are now going to be for sale, because I never really designed them with that intention,’ he says – now, he is not only Aaron Esh the designer, but Aaron Esh the label. Either way, he’s steadfast in doing things his own way – a little under the radar, made for those in-the-know.
‘For me it’s about leaning on my community; engaging with people who matter to us. You start to realise that it’s not the clicks, or likes, or followers, or the celebrities or musicians who wear it which make something great – it’s about the fashion.’ §