MINGLING WITH MARK FAST
by Brian James and Leigh Maynard. Portrait by Grzegorz Mikrut.
One of the 5ELEVEN London Fashion Week highlights is always Mark Fast, where the excitement of each new collection is matched by the energy of the shows he stages to announce them. Spring Summer 2022 was no exception, with a collection determined to take us from pandemic to party. Extravagant, sassy, body con dresses were paired with patent knee boots and super-luxe kaleidoscopic sportswear featured for more low-key raving. The designers signature neon was complemented this season by a partially pastel palette, and those juxtapositions added to the overall visual vibrancy.
With this collection, Mark referenced his love of the 90s while re-imagining and re-interpreting those influences for a generation who until very recently have been unable to assume the party baton due to restrictions. Set in an industrial multi-storey car park, a stone's throw from Trafalgar Square, its graffiti adorned walls mirrored the location of so many of those underground raves of the 90s. The soundtrack was equally conducive to the feeling that these were clothes to be worn by a generation who could finally party. That sense of release was magnified by the models who stomped the concrete with fashion fierce immutable intent signalling that not only are physical fashion shows back but that going "out, out" dressed by Mark Fast is most definitely back.
5ELEVEN spoke to Mark after the Fashion Week dust had settled about the innovations which inform his always-evolving design process, the key to his longevity in an industry renowned for its temporality and what inspired and influenced this latest collection.
Congratulations on your Spring Summer 2022 collection. It seemed to us to be the perfect assemblage of pieces to take us from pandemic to party. How much was it influenced by the post lockdown zeitgeist we find ourselves in?
To be honest, it is a bit of both. Mark Fast DNA is always about the party, good times, and positivity with its neon highlights and knitted body-conscious stripes. On the one hand, we have comfy sportswear for lounging at home, worn on top of party body-conscious dresses, mixed with fun printed tailoring. We've been waiting to go out and mingle for too long, so this seasons collection definitely reflects the party that we always have within us, and this time celebrated with a crowd.
It references and re-imagines many of the styles of the 90s. What is it about that era that inspires you, and how much of your design philosophy and artistic vision has been nurtured by that decade?
In a way are always longing for our youthful years when we were leaving the house, attending college, discovering the world; for me, that was the 90s. Meeting new friends from all backgrounds and not necessarily the people you grew up with... From a fashion point of view, there was something clean about the 90s and the discovery of sportswear. It's that style and my love affair with skaters and graffiti grunge that have influenced this collection.
The show's multi-story car park setting, the painterly graffiti, and the soundtrack all contributed to the atmosphere and sense of excitement. While many designers are still showing digitally, how important was it to you to stage a COVID secure show in a physical space, with all the immediacy and audience reaction that brings?
There is no doubt that for myself, my team, the models, and my loyal followers that nothing beats a real show. Like any performer or artist, the interaction with its audience is essential; the Mark Fast shows always captures the moment and provides the audience with that special, indescribable, real-life experience, something we maintained throughout covid with the exception of one digital show. The car park reflected both the seasonal feel and reflects the brand well whilst at the same time, of course, remaining covid sensitive following all measures without affecting the experience.
The collection featured cut-out knit dresses, jumpsuits, shorts, and knee-high patent boots in a palette of pastels and bold neon. We saw it as sexy, sassy clothes for going "out-out". How do you want your garments to empower the person who wears them when they do go out?
First, it's important to remember that my knitwear dresses are demi-couture 360-degree, interknitted spirals that follow and adjust to every woman's body and curves- Rather than cutting out, we are wrapping in. There is a sense of extravagance and going 'out-out partying; at the same time, the sportswear and fun tailoring are kind of elevated, everyday kaleidoscopic printed treasures. I guess if you mix them both, you get the wow factor, but it really depends on the personality of whoever is wearing them, as they can easily be worn separately with a white t-shirt and jeans. I think it's all about individuality.
We loved the knit dresses, and you are constantly pushing the boundaries of knitwear innovation. How much does the science that you bring to your craft inform the design process?
When it comes to the demi-couture spiral knitted dresses, this is something I have been working on for over a decade since graduating with my MA from CSM. It starts with strips, ribbons, which are all hand knitted and then dyed. It is only then that we drape them in the studio and linking them together according to the body curves. Sometimes we create full fashion versions, and this season we introduced linking knitwear with metal chains that together wrapped the body and enhanced the feminine curves naturally. I know it sounds simple and looks effortless, and that's its beauty, but I can honestly say each dress takes many hours and lots of patience.
You have collaborated with icons such as Beyonce, Grace Jones, and Rihanna. Is there anyone you haven't yet collaborated with that you would like to in the future?
It's always such a pleasure to dress amazing, inspirational people, to then pigeonhole my designs to just a select few, I couldn't! It's always such a joy to see Mark Fast on these icons.
In an industry that can see designers burst onto the scene and then quickly disappear, you have produced consistently breathtaking and constantly evolving work for over a decade. What do you think the key to your longevity is?
First, I would like to thank you for this question because in the fashion industry, just like any other, we usually tend to focus on great successes. And actually, my case is an example of an amazing breakthrough when I graduated my MA from St Martins following winning the new generation award getting global press and recognition for my creativity & now again with my global success. However, I have also had my fair share of lows. I think it is mainly to do with filling the gaps/and or translating the artistic recognition into commercial success. It's also about finding the right allies for manufacturing distribution and marketing, which as a young designer, I had to work very hard to find, unlike my creativity and ideas, which come naturally from within.
The evolution of the Mark Fast brand has seen you open a flagship store in Beijing and a global e-commerce website. How do you envisage the brand growing further in the years ahead, and are there any other new markets or technological developments that you are particularly keen to embrace?
The flagship store in Beijing and eCommerce prompted a great response in the Asian market, which has welcomed the Mark Fast brand tremendously. Therefore, we have escalated our operation in Asia and opened two further stores in Shanghai and Hong Kong, with three more to open in the first half of 2022. At the same time, I am constantly improving the technique of the knitwear and its innovation and finding new ways to seamlessly incorporate new materials within my yarns.
The twin existential crises of the pandemic and the climate emergency have placed the industry very much at a crossroads. As we look to the future, how do you think the industry will emerge from the first, and what more does it need to do to respond to the second?
In general, I think people will want fewer items that are better executed and curated. The younger generation who buy Mark Fast care about the environment and realise that it's in our interest to take care of nature. This is something we are definitely embedding within our products whilst keeping the upbeat, fun, optimistic party approach to the future.
Mark Fast has displayed creative longevity, which has seen him remain at the fashion forefront for over twenty years. Constantly evolving while never changing the design principles and desire for experimentation that underpin the brand's DNA, this ethos has seen Mark navigate the trials and tribulations inherent to the fashion industry and emerge stronger and more successful than ever.
None of those tribulations has had more impact than the pandemic, a period which saw the brand grow exponentially, establishing a series of flagship stores in Asia together with an eCommerce website. It's a huge testament to Mark that not only did this period see his eponymous brand go from strength to strength commercially, but that it also saw his passion for knitwear innovation and evolution remain undiluted as he continued to explore and refine his design and production processes.
Spring Summer 2022 saw Mark Fast channelling the subcultural styles of the 90s and harnessing the power of fashion to greet the post-restrictions zeitgeist with a collection that married high octane flamboyance with unapologetic escapism. Sassy and scanty hemlines, super-luxe shell suits, and hand-painted denim are all beautifully created and curated to dress a generation ready to party like it's 2019.
5ELEVEN would like to extend our huge thanks to Mark Fast for taking the time to give us such insightful and informative answers. We would also like to thank Anna at AB-Comms for all her help. In addition to the brand's worldwide physical stores, you can connect with them at markfast.com and on Mark Fast IG.