Stefan Cooke and Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative advisor to H&M and jury chair.

Stefan Cooke wins the H&M Design Award 2018

By exploring the everyday wardrobe for men and replicating the garments in woven elastic or plastic chainmail, the Central Saint Martins graduate claims the 2018 Design Award.
1 December 2017

Stefan Cooke, a 25-year-old MA graduate of Central Saint Martins, has just been awarded the 2018 H&M Design Award and knows exactly what’s he going to do to celebrate. “I’m going to have a bath and relax a bit!” he laughs right after the announcement. “It’s been an intense couple of days – it’s always nerve-racking to go in front of really acclaimed people and talk about your work, but it’s also been so incredible.” 

For the 2018 H&M Design Award, what started with over 550 applicants of 42 different nationalities from 17 different fashion schools around the world was eventually narrowed down to eight very talented finalists. And while it was a tough decision, Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative advisor to H&M and jury chair, announced Stefan on the evening of November 30 to a packed room of international press.

The jury was particular wowed by Stefan’s innovative thinking – in technique, silhouette, material and imagination. Staple menswear pieces, such as jeans, chinos or a cricket jumper, were photographed, digitally manipulated and then printed onto synthetic materials. Elastic is woven together to create jackets and coats, the chainmail-esque jumpers are made of plastic, while long-sleeved tops are shredded polyester or acrylic. Bandage-like body-con trousers are also constructed from elastic, cover-stitched together. The result was a clever subversion of everyday clothes.

“I think there is also a Britishness to what Stefan does. There’s an enormous amount of wit coupled with real, painstaking craftsmanship, and I think people see those as real hallmarks of British fashion. When Stefan was talking about the way he creates the elastic pieces, each strip is printed four times to get the necessary images together in order for him to weave them into these garments. There is so much work that goes into each of these pieces, but ultimately, they are very simple, very easy to digest visually and a lot of it is also very easy to wear. And that’s really the hallmark of Britishness – something that’s incredibly complicated to make, but very easy to wear,” says Alex Fury, fashion journalist, author, critic and editor of AnOther magazine.

This year, the jury consisted not only of Ann-Sofie Johansson and Alex Fury, but also Veronika Heilbrunner (stylist and founder of Hey Woman), Luke Day (editor of GQ Style), Michal Pudelka (photographer), Sarah Richardson (fashion stylist and consultant), Richard Quinn (designer and winner of H&M Design Award 2017), Floriane de Saint Pierre (President of Floriane de Saint-Pierre et Associés) and Margareta van den Bosch (creative advisor of H&M).

They are garments that are actually wearable – you can move in them, you can run around in them, there’s no restriction to them.
Stefan Cooke

With the award, Stefan, who is from West Sussex and currently based in London, has won a prize of €25,000 as well as a six-month internship at H&M’s Head Office in Stockholm to work alongside the design team best suited to his skills and experience. Or, he can exchange the internship for a grant of €25,000, which would bring the total prize sum to €50,000. With the well-deserved bath put on hold for at least another hour or so, H&M Magazine caught up with the newly crowned winner in person

CAN YOU TALK US THROUGH YOUR WINNING COLLECTION?
"The collection was all about making a staple men’s wardrobe, but in an entirely new way. Most men are not that adventurous in what they wear. I’m the same, I’m a jeans and a jumper kind of guy, but I started exploring how I could still have the elements of what those garments are, but in a new way. Because I was a textiles student, I was trying to find innovative ways to express these garments so I began photographing clothes and putting them onto other fabrics to get this kind of visual. I just came across elastic, but when you think of labels such as Hervé Léger, it celebrates the body, it’s fab and it’s one of those one-size-fits-all things. I love working with stretch fabrics (the shredded stuff stretches as well to unbelievable proportions) because there’s so much scope with it."

WHAT INITIALLY DREW YOU TO STUDY FASHION?
"Growing up, I always loved art. My parents always took me to galleries and things. I wasn’t very academic, but I always felt that I could pick up a pencil or brush and really say what I wanted to say. So it’s always been there. And ever since I moved to London, the community I’ve surrounded myself with has really influenced what I do. Like my boyfriend, he’s incredible. He’s this encyclopaedia of fashion and we both have such a love for fashion. Everyone uses it and everyone expresses themselves through it. It may be a cliché saying, but it’s an amazing thing." 

TELL US ABOUT ONE OF YOUR EARLIEST FASHION-RELATED MEMORIES.
"I remember stealing my dad’s coat, this fleece I wanted so bad, when I was like 13 or 14. I remember going out with my friends and taking the coat, thinking I was the coolest person ever. But I obviously wasn’t because I was in my dad’s coat [laughs]. It’s so funny, that’s what I think this collection is all about – those pieces that are nostalgic. I didn’t want it because it was a particularly good coat, but because it was my dad’s coat. I felt a connection to it and that’s what this collection is about. I’m sure there are earlier memories than that, but they’re really embarrassing!"

WHEN SPEAKING TO THE JURY, WAS THERE ANY TALK OF BALANCING THE CREATIVE WITH THE COMMERCIAL?
"Sure, but what I think is amazing about these clothes is that I believe there’s already a commercial element to it, and that’s what the jury picked up on as well. Because at the end of the day, they are garments that are actually wearable – you can move in them, you can run around in them, there’s no restriction to them. And it’s not really a bold style choice. If you just wanted a pair of jeans, but they’re in elastic and they’re still a pair of jeans. There’s so much viability in terms of commerciality and for next season, I definitely want to play on that. I want to go to Paris, I want to do sales, I want to be able to make this a sustainable business that actually grows."

SO WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS’ TIME? TEN?
"Hopefully in a house with a garden! That’s pretty much it [laughs]. And hopefully still doing exactly what I love to do. Honestly, this time a few weeks ago I would never have thought I would be in this position so you never know what’s going to happen. And that what’s exciting, because no one ever knows…"

STEFAN COOKE’S FAVOURITE...

DESIGNERS… "Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons, Jun Takahashi at Undercover and Junya Watanabe."

MODEL… "Lindsey Wixson because she has a gap tooth like me!"

CITIES… "Definitely London and though I’ve never been to Japan, I think Tokyo would be one."

BOOKS… "I really love reading Stephen King. It’s horrible, but it’s so good! And I hate horror, I can’t deal with horror, but reading it, I love it."

MUSIC… "I’ll listen to anything my boyfriend chooses and it’ll probably be something like Aphex Twin."

FOOD… "I love a good ramen." 

WAYS TO RELAX… "Besides a bath, going out for a walk in nature. And hanging out with my family – I love that."

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