The vulgarity of the natural world, which spawned inspiration for Leo Carlton from their farmland upbringing, is evident in the fantastical designs of the fashion artefact designer. It’s no wonder that Leo Carlton has collaborated with the likes of Tim Walker for the outlandish Wonderful Things Exhibition: Chin-clasp whiskers faery wings and fungus-like headpieces are all peculiar and Labryinth-esque crafts that are a part of the Leo Carlton collection.
However, Leo Carlton not only differs from other designers in the image but in method also. Leo Carlton talismans are formed via 3D printer upon request of purchase, with no stock held in order to keep waste to a minimum. The designs are concocted using only biomaterials and Virtual Reality to “vomit ideas in a waste-free way.”
Although Leo Carlton’s designs could be seen to be visually grotesque, their stance on sustainability is utopian in an industry that burgeons on glut.
We had the opportunity to interview the creative director and founder Leo Carlton about their artistic inspiration, career span as a milliner, unique design process and the Leo Carlton SS24 presentation at London Fashion Week.
VT: Leo Carlton has been featured in many prestigious editorials including British Vogue and Vogue Italia. What do you think of the way your artistic work has been interpreted and used in editorials?
LC: In the fashion context, my work and message can often be lost in the chaos of styling, direction and other designers. In the hierarchy of an editorial, the work often gets overshadowed by overzealous styling. Since having NEWGEN, I am in a position with presentations where I am pushed to highlight what I am about individually and that’s what makes me thrive.
VT: How would you want your fashion artefact designs to be interpreted? Is there a message that you want to convey with your artistic work?
LC: With my artefacts, the aesthetic is a product of my materials and processes and the journey it has taken me to get there. Fashion always celebrates the aesthetic, but for me the importance of incorporating biomaterials and integrating my ethics with technology and learning new processes has continually developed and improved. The product has been an easier medium for this.
My work sits visually in the realms of an archeological dig of prehistoric extraterrestrial skeletons.
VT: Leo Carlton is unique in their design process. What led you to use 3D-printing with biomaterials in your design process?
LC: Coming from a traditional fashion and headwear background. The timelines are minuscule, the deadlines are quick. I was being forced to use glues and toxic materials to keep up with the fast pace and expectations in the name of aesthetics. I felt the need to learn other modes of making. It was a jump in the dark, but the mistakes and failures have been a catalyst for creative growth.
VT: Do you believe your design techniques, including the use of V.R. and 3D-Printing, will become ‘the norm’ in the future?
LC: I don’t see my techniques completely replacing the current working methods. However, I can definitely see some processes being utilised effectively and efficiently. The techniques I’m using are new in fashion but have been utilised for a long time in film, architecture, engineering and animation.
In my ideal vision of the future, we are all wearing uniforms of 3D printed mycelium and algae shoes. But the human obsession with money and oil based products will continue to outshine those things for a while yet. I hope that my material choices for 3D printing could change the choices that people make in their own home printing spaces.
VT: Which creative, past or present, would you want to collaborate with? How would such a collaboration pan out?
LC: Arca, but that recently came true.
I’d love to take magic mushrooms with Hieronymus Bosch.
VT: Leo Carlton uses Virtual Reality to test and practice design ideas. How is V.R. more useful for the design process in comparison to trialling ideas manually?
LC: VR allows you to play, expand and vomit ideas in a waste free way. Traditional 3D material manipulation always requires multiple steps, waste, material and energy. This is not necessary in VR.
VT: Leo Carlton’s designs could be described as being fantastical. Where do you draw inspiration from to create such distinctive designs?
LC: I am definitely influenced by the automatic drawings and sculpts that can be made in the above programs. My background of coming from a farm is also formative in its beautiful yet violent actions has always captured my imagination. There is perfection in the imperfect which I always strive for. Ultimately I always try to capture fluidity and movement in a static object. I like design that gestures to elements and worlds that the viewer imagines them to reside.
VT: Could you give Vanity Teen an insight into the inspiration and influences of the Leo Carlton SS/24 presentation?
LC: This season I’m showing a film directed by Luca Asta on the digital schedule of LFW. It is less a collection and more an example of how the processes we use in studio can be applied to others. Exploring automatic drawing, as a daily ritual Leo sculpts in virtual reality and learns to embrace failure and mistakes as a catalyst for creative growth.
The film follows a workshop lead by Leo where each participant is given a block of clay to sculpt and mould as they choose for a short time. The clay sculpts are then 3D scanned to keep a digital trace, and then the clay is squashed back into its original form so there is no physical evidence other than an ever changing lump of clay. The 3D scans can then be turned into AR filters and 3D object assets that can then be used to adorn a body or to project into a space.
VT: I understand that you graduated from Cordwainers at London College of Fashion. What drew you towards fashion artefact design as opposed to apparel design? Would you consider a future endeavour in designing clothes using your unique techniques?
LC: I’ve always been very sentimental about objects around me, whether gifts, self-fabricated, found items. I think the application of meaning to an inanimate object always interested me about apparel too, but I felt I could bring more to the table with fashion artefact. Fashion artefact felt like a space on the divide between sculpture within fine art and applying this to some wearable or body-related objects.
VT: What previous positions or work experiences aided your founding of your own brand, Leo Carlton?
LC: my first job in fashion was at Bicester village at Burberry when I was about 15! I actually loved Prorsum then and I think it gave me an insight into material choices and designer awareness.
When I graduated Cordwainers I worked for five years at Stephen Jones Millinery as a millinery assistant. This background in traditional millinery working in fashion, theatre, film and the music industry lead me to a lot of my current choices and processes. More often in reaction against how I was working and trying to find a space for myself that worked.
VT: Since founding Leo Carlton, how did you grow and promote Leo Carlton into the brand it is today?
LC: I followed my gut and went on this journey which is still appearing in front of me. The more I guide things, the less control I seem to have ! I’m riding the wave and ultimately the more I enjoy myself, I think the better the work I make.
It’s a constant push and you always want to improve, which takes time. I promote work by aligning with collectives like Fantastic Toiles and Newgen, alongside projects I feel won’t sap all of my energy. Step by step, you can make small progress each day which over time accumulates to a lot.
VT: In 20 years time, what would you want the brand Leo Carlton to have established itself as?
LC: I would really like to be branching into multiple creative industry spaces and with an over arching aim to include others within communities and education spaces I think the brand can be one of experimentation and learning.