Ex-girlfriends, tequila drinking and prints of men waving their arms in the manner of a chicken. These are among the hot topics at the Dalston headquaterters of menswear’s latest ascending stars Agi Mdumulla, 26, and Sam Cotton, 25 of Agi & Sam. The young pair are the buzz of the men’s fashion scene following their hit autumn/winter 2012 collection which showed at the Royal Opera House this February. Aside from featuring their signature witty prints, colourful plaid and snappy tailoring, the show culminated in an explosion of eye-catching rooster suit jackets and mallard trousers. Not bad considering the whole lot was made from recycled bottles.
The Agi & Sam studio is a lot like a teenager’s bedroom, with giant blue Ikea bags full of clothes that litter the floor. In the corner of the room there are two sewing machines while a young dude in a baseball cap is at work at a cutting table. On a desk in another corner are DVD box sets of Miami Vice and Magnum PI. Apparently, these are inspiration for the duo’s next collection, being shown in June, which will be based on “rubbish detectives.”
The pair met while interning at Alexander McQueen during the Lee years. “I’ve never seen anyone’s brain work so quickly,” says Sam, as he makes a scissor cutting sound effect and mimes the ripping of fabric off a model. Their own label was set up in 2012 and was born out of frustration, says Agi – neither could find work that creatively fulfilled them. Despite being the new kids on the block, they’ve quickly established strong and influential industry mentors, such as Fashion East’s Lulu Kennedy, GQ Style’s Ben Reardon and menswear champion Charlie Porter.
Before their recent show, they had too many ideas and the collection was swerving in all directions. Porter told them that they should focus on the wit and humour in their work, which he said had something of the Paul Smith about it. Since then, Sir Paul himself has taken a keen interest, recently inviting the boys over to his offices for a chat and to dish out advice. Sam rather brilliantly proceeds to do a series of gestures to explain Sir Paul’s formula of purity versus commercialism – fashion’s holy grail.
Sam grew up on a farm near Stratford Upon Avon (might this explain those chickens?) and trained in illustration, but it was following an internship at Topman that he realised he wanted to branch into fashion. Agi meanwhile hails from Yorkshire and, until he was 16, wanted to be an airline pilot. But an art foundation in Leeds, followed by a BA in fashion design at Manchester Metropolitan university changed that. The partnership works with Sam developing the prints and Agi doing the patterns. “We sit together at the start and draw the collection together,” says Sam. “So we know what the shapes and our overall ideas are.”
The research for autumn/winter included podcasts about Quantum physics, the aforementioned tequila, 2001 A Space Odyssey, M. C. Escher, and ideas around evolution and the future. Eventually, the collection would be called Darwin’s Theory of Why the Chicken Crossed the Road. Beyond the jumble of references was a strongly focussed menswear mix, including suits, printed shirting, tailored coats and sporty parkas, anchored by a strong use of colour. Up close my favourite pieces were the repeat pattern duck shirts (jolly, commercial), a belted coat with rounded shoulders and a print that reminded me of a wet water colour canvas (arty, fashiony), and a simple orange and black blown up plaid print T-shirt (the kind of thing oki-ni should stock).
“The prints are so loud that you can’t push the clothes too much. They need to be wearable but not boring,” explains Agi talking about the shapes and styles in the collection. Their PR pipes up “you’ve got to entertain with a catwalk show, don’t you?”
And then there’s the recycled bottles. “We began printing on polyester, firstly due to cost as we couldn’t afford digital printing,” they say. This was then followed by a lot of research, which led them to a signage company, various canvas cotton alternatives and then eventually to GreenPac, who sell emulation polyesters that performed exactly how they wanted for suiting and outerwear. The polyesters were then woven to replicate natural fabrics, such as cotton drill and jersey. “We are definitely interested in finding new, revolutionary, cost efficient and eco-friendly ways of producing clothes, so we will be working on more stuff with Green Pac.”
Currently the duo’s prints slot perfectly into the celebratory London aesthetic for print and colour, which is happening in women’s fashion too. “London is more accepting of new things, new designers. You can’t really do what we do anywhere else,” says Sam. Agi says the daring of London designers is partly to do with the multiculturalism and the variety of tribes that live in the capital. “In London, you walk down the street and you’ve got seven different cultures all on that one street, and I think it’s that mix that’s inspiring. You don’t get that level of multiculturalism anywhere else in the world.”
With London hosting its first full menswear event this June instead of showing at the end of the women’s shows, menswear is clearly having a moment. The pair have their theories. “Metrosexuality,” says Sam grinning, and the fact that being interested in fashion no longer seems like a pursuit for the posh, which he thinks hindered menswear during the Thatcher years. Agi, meanwhile, rather wisely says that: “The internet and globalisation means people are able to access anything anywhere. You can see what people are doing and wearing, and when men see other men wearing stuff, it just becomes more acceptable to them.”
So on a scale of 1-10 how brave does a man have to be to wear a pair of trousers with a duck on them then? “Probably a three,” says Agi smiling. “I’d say more like a six,” says Sam looking at the trousers in question as they sit on the rail. “I mean, they are white!” he laughs.