Cover Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding (Photo: Jeff Spicer/BFC/Getty Images)

Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding share how they turned challenging personal experiences into triumphant and innovative designs for their Autumn-Winter 2022 collection

It isn't easy turning a negative into a positive, but Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding discuss how self-reflection is the key to healing, and turning abstract feelings into actionable terms can inspire tangible creativity. Acknowledging trauma and the emotional journey to move past it was at the core of their latest Palmer Harding collection, and they share their thoughts about their creative process.

What was this collection inspired by?

Levi Palmer & Matthew Harding (LP & MH): It was an expression of the emotional journey of the past six to nine months, which caused us to question the importance of our creative identities.
 
Why was it so important for you to express mental health in this collection?
 
LP & MH: Over the course of the pandemic, we realised that we had focused all our energy on Palmer Harding for the past decade, and we needed to cultivate individual identities outside our business as we could have potentially lost it at any time [due to the situation]. This caused us to reflect on the aspects of our life that we had neglected: Family, friends, our relationship and ourselves.
 
This introspection came with aspects of depression, which were difficult to get through, but we found coping mechanisms and methods of self-healing which helped us to reignite the aspects of our life that we had for so long forgotten.
 
Among the joy of these new found passions, there was a situation during Fashion Week where our designs were copied by another designer. This caused us to return to our negative emotions, and for many months we were unable to cope with stresses or enjoy even simple pleasures.
 
After some reflection we felt that the best method to heal was to interpret our emotions creatively, which is what pushed us to create this collection as a way to find closure.
 
This desire to return to a place of happiness is what pushed us to also partner with the mental health charity Young Minds, who help children and teenagers deal with mental health issues, and for every garment made in this collection, we will donate £1 towards Young Minds.
 
We are also providing discovery points on our hang tags, which could provide a vital link for someone dealing with depression or anxiety.

See more: Tatler’s Edit of the Best Looks From New York Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2022

How do you face adversity creatively?
 
LP & MH: To us, facing adversity creatively means not searching for temporary distraction or escapism, but instead becoming introspective and dissecting your emotions to understand the reasoning behind them.
 
It is a long and painful journey, but with this method you are not only able to identify the pains and discomforts more clearly, but also discover aspects of your personality you may not have known existed. Once you understand these intricate details of yourself you can then begin to heal.
 
In our case, we felt the best method of healing was to interpret our emotional journey through our creativity and find a beauty in the pain which allowed us to find closure.
 
How did you convey complex emotions in your garments?
 
LP & MH: It is always challenging to convey an emotional concept three dimensionally. However, we searched for the words used to describe emotions, and once we conveyed these actions, we translated that into draping on dress forms.
 
The concept of anxiety come through as a “twisting” motion, which can be seen in the saffron satin dress and top.
 
The idea of healing comes through in the lattice work on the oversized white satin dress as sutures or stitches of a wound.
 
Recurring stress is often called an emotional loop, so we used the idea of a bias cut fabric loop to create a black dress made of two simple loops of fabric, which opened this collection.
 
Lastly the idea of tension is conveyed in the mesh dress that closes this collection, which has foot pads at the bottom of the dress to simulate that tension as the wearer walks.

See more: After The Tokyo Olympics, Hong Kong Swimmer Stephanie Au Is Tackling Mental Health In Sport

Your use of morse code broderie anglaise is so unique—how did you come about the idea initially, and why are you continuing to use it?
 
LP & MH: It started with our Spring 2021 collection, which was inspired by falling in love. The concept was when you realise you love someone, but you feel too vulnerable at first to tell them, so you find secret ways of expressing that love. So the idea of a secret code which said “I love you” was developed so that you could express your love publicly, but have it be hidden in plain sight.
 
We have always loved broderie anglaise, but it is too often very feminine and floral, which isn’t our woman, so we wanted to develop something a bit more geometric. When we started playing with morse code, it really struck a chord as we were able to have a constantly changing pattern which could also tell the story of the collection for those interested in the inspiration behind it.
 
This season, the code says “anything can be a distraction to happiness”, which touches on the internal conflicts we faced while developing the collection.
 
Have any sustainable aspects been included in this collection?
 
LP & MH: There are plenty of sustainable aspects to this collection, from organic cotton to recycled polyester and eco-friendly viscose and acetate.
 
However, we try not to talk about these aspects too much, as the concept of seasonal fashion in itself is not sustainable. Instead we encourage responsible fashion, and consider our buying habits, as well as making ethical and responsible choices when choosing suppliers and manufacturers.

See more: Sustainable Fashion: This Is What You Forget

Is there anything new about this collection that you would like audiences to know?
 
LP & MH: There is a beautiful reference to one of the most inspirational people in Matthew’s life, Louise Wilson OBE, who taught him the MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins. She was a formidable woman and passionate to a fault about originality. She always wore black oversized jumpers and long black skirts or trousers.
 
Our Louise Jumper is an ode to her, and is styled with chunky silver jewellery and black leather bracelets like she used to wear. Sadly, she passed in 2014 but her memory and all that she did to help cultivate originality in thought and design will live on long after.
 
What is your next dream or goal?
 
LP & MH: Currently, Matthew and I are planning several big dream holidays to find relaxation, perspective and inspiration, Iceland Japan and a few other places. 

NOW READ:

Couple Style Files: Nero & Julien-Loïc

6 Expert Tips to Manage Your Mental Health During Quarantine

Meet "Grandpa Maoyu", Hong Kong's Most Stylish 67-Year-Old Psychologist

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.