Steve O Smith Fall 2024 Ready-to-Wear Collection

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Meet Steve O Smith, who’s just arrived fully-fledged from London with his startlingly beautiful debut collection. As you may guess when you scroll through his look book, Smith started in fine art and is now transferring his expressive drawings into making clothes. “I think these are both drawings,” he said, holding a sketch in one hand and comparing it to a rapturously enchanting dress composed of black silk appliquéd squiggles floating across white tulle. “It’s a bustle, essentially, encased in organza,” he explained. “Obviously the dress is a different thing, but it’s drawing in its own right—a life-size drawing in the round.”

Smith hired a classy Airbnb apartment on the rue du Temple to introduce his collection to potential clients. It ran from tailoring for men and women through trompe l’oeil shirts and ties to cocktail slips and then the magical apparitions of his sketches as ball gowns.

At each stage, Smith created new techniques, cutting away layers of canvas in tailoring, making suits that appeared to have erased patches, and outlining dresses with the vigorous, spontaneous black lines he applies when speed-drawing. Wearing one of them is the nearest imaginable thing to becoming a walking fashion illustration.

Smith went to the Rhode Island School of Design before coming to London and setting up a brand of his own. That first enterprise failed when a retailer went bust, and Smith decided to go back to education to try to rediscover his passion. “At Central Saint Martins MA, every time I presented something, they’d keep challenging me: ‘Steve, why do your clothes never look as good as your drawings?’” It caused an epiphany. From then on, Smith was designing direct from his sketches, keeping the impressionistic flourish of his pencil lines and silhouettes dashed off on paper.

That was in 2022. His graduate collection was swooped on by an art-loving private collector: “She’s an amazing woman who has a gallery, who bought more or less everything.” The stylist Robbie Spencer put Cate Blanchett in a couple of sketch suits, and Harry Lambert procured one for Harry Styles to wear.

Two years later, the intense, handmade evolution of Smith’s work is here to see by appointment in Paris. This series began with his fascination with George Grosz’s sketches of nightlife at the height of the Weimar Republic in Berlin in the ’20s and ’30s. You can pick up the flavor if you squint your eyes, but Smith’s hand has taken over and made it his own. Smith presented his clothes alongside a table display of the drawings they came from. They were just part of the crop of hundreds he makes constantly. “I take life-drawing classes at the Royal Drawing School every week,” he said. “It’s amazing—and free. Anyone can do it!”

It’s perfectly easy to see who’d want his clothes and where they would wear some of them. Ideally, they’ll be people—not just celebrities—who appreciate art and exuberance and would see that commissioning Smith is no different from patronizing or investing in a young artist’s practice. Like so many young designers now, he is not interested in getting involved in the risks of the wholesale business again—and anyway, the beauty of this dedicated work is that it’s done slowly, by hand, with a tiny team in London. You feel he’s not being crazily optimistic to hope that, in a world where so much luxury fashion has turned timidly generic, there are people who will be seeking him out to order direct as soon as they see these pictures. “If there are a hundred people in the world that understand what I do, I just need to find some of them,” he said. “I really don’t want to spread my net that wide.”

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