In September, 2018 Jorja Smith appeared in Interview magazine wearing a gorgeous leopard-print jacket, with stunningly sculpted shoulders. A look that made you hesitate… turn back the page, look again. The jacket was by Steve O Smith.

The designer has a knack for fashion that makes you do a double turn. With his eponymous label SOS he combines keen craft and a skillful imagination. His AW19 collection is a fantasy come alive – here’s the first look.

SARAH OSEI: Steve O Smith, what does the O stand for?

STEVE O SMITH: The O stands for O’Hagan, which is my middle name.

SO: I know that you grew up in London and studied design in the US before returning to the UK. How did those two very different places influence your own style, and what SOS came to be?

SOS: I think growing up in the UK fashion was all about identity, and you would dress to stand out and fit in. Clothing, going to stores and hanging around vintage markets was a really social thing. It was quite similar in the US, I think the aesthetics and points of reference are just slightly different.

SO: Do you think of your designs as belonging to a larger context of UK or American Fashion?

SOS: As I live and work in the UK, I would say that my work fits more comfortably into that context.


SO: Your designs are often modelled off historical references, is there any age that’s been particularly influential?

SOS: Generally, I think historicism is most successful when it says something about the past that resonates with the present, so whatever concept I’m working around tends to dictate any specific references. For instance, for the AW19 Pantomime collection I looked at 19th century British fashion, because I was interested in satirizing these very “British” characters. What’s interesting to me about that period in fashion history is that it happened during the same time that ideas of modern Britain were formed, alongside industrialisation and empire. British exceptionalism was really born out of that period, and so it felt like a relevant thing to look at right now.

SO: You have a very distinctive style, it’s girly, sassy and hyper-feminine. Would you consider yourself a feminist?

SOS: Yes, I would definitely consider myself a feminist.

SO: How has SOS changed and grown since you started?

SO: I think my design process has really evolved a lot since I began SOS. It’s taken time for me to really learn and understand what goes into the craft of making clothes at a high quality. I’m in a position now with my pattern-making and knowledge of construction where I feel like I’m able to realise my more ambitious ideas and designs, and I’m excited to push that further.


SO: Can you tell us about this new collection?

SOS: This season I wanted to make my own interpretation of the British Pantomimes that I spent my childhood watching. For me, as a tradition, Pantomimes have all of the satire, wit and eccentricity that I really love about Britain, and the farcical and ridiculous aspects of it also felt relevant to what’s going on right now. I was interested in the Hero/Villain relationship, so I made a cast of 7 heroes and 7 villains: 1. Revolutionary – Politician; 2.Harlequin – Lord; 3. Bride – Dame; 4. Vamp – Lady; 5. Merchant – Banker; 6. Fox – Hunter; and 7. Soldier – Flag.
Each pairing is meant to say something about a power dynamic, for instance the Soldier and Flag is nationalism, the Merchant and Banker commerce etc. All together they stand as society.
In regard to design, I started off by doing 5 or 6 large drawings for each character and then pieced them all on a wall so I could see everything together. I was interested in using patchwork techniques which were inspired by the old clown costumes from 19thcentury Harlequinades, so for I did patchworks of pin-stripe fabrics (for the Politician and Revolutionary) and patchworks of leather (for the Vamp and Fox). I was also interested in playing with volume for some of the Villain characters, so, for instance, the PVC coat seen in the Banker look has a full tulle petticoat structure that holds the skirt up. For the Lady, we used moulded wadding to build the shape of the hip between the outer dress and lining in order to exaggerate the silhouette like it was in the original sketch. For 9 of the looks, I worked with the milliner Leo Carlton to make matching hats to both reinforce that 19thcentury aesthetic and the theatricality of the concept.

SO: What feelings do you hope to provoke with your clothes?

SO: When I design a collection all together with a concept in mind, I start by thinking about the impression they make all together. Once that stage of the process is done, a lot of attention goes into each garment. I always want to make sure there are things that can be worn, and that people actually want to wear, because seeing people bring their own energy to the clothes and get empowered by them is what it’s ultimately all about.


SO: Instagram and social media have disrupted conventional fashion and there’s a lot of mixed feelings about whether or not this is a good time for fashion, creativity, in a wider sense. As far as your experience goes, how do you think these platforms have helped you as a designer and a brand?

SOS: I think the positive side of social media is that it does give people a voice and a means of communicating that voice, and as a young designer it is certainly the most effective way of communicating your visual ideas. In terms of research I do the majority of my own in libraries because I think the pool of fashion imagery online and on social media is actually quite limited and often presented without context.

SO: As you know, Jorja Smith wore a gorgeous SOS jacket in our September 2018 issue. How did you feel when you saw that?

SOS: I was gagged, I love Jorja Smith. I thought she looked amazing. I think she’s really talented.

SO: What do you envision for your future in fashion? Is there something in particular you’re excited for that you can tell us about?

SOS: I’m excited to dive into a new idea and carry on making what I love. I’ve got a few plans for the future but nothing I can share just yet, you’ll have to pay close attention!

Interview SARAH OSEI

All looks SOS AW19 by STEVE O SMITH