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Conner Ives’ fashion journey has been anything but normal

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As the wunderkind designer debuts his eponymous website, he talks terrifying red carpet appearances, bringing glamour back to the runway, and ‘best boss ever’ Rihanna

It would be something of an understatement to say that Conner Ives’ journey in fashion thus far has been a whirlwind. By the time he’d hit his second year of Central Saint Martins’ revered womenswear course, the American designer was already in hot demand among London boutiques including Browns, and scored a high profile fan in the form of model and activist Adwoa Aboah. A brief brush with the Met Gala’s red carpet later, and Rihanna also took note. Not only did the singer and burgeoning fashion mogul step out in a series of Ives’ signature slashed and spliced looks, but she also enlisted him to get Fenty off the ground as part of the label’s in-house design team. Now though, as he gets set to launch his eponymous website, he’s excited to spend some time “as a normal designer”. 

“It’s almost been like I haven’t gotten to just be a student for, like, the last four years – I’ve just been this young designer who had no fucking clue I was doing because everything happened so fast,” Ives, dialling from New York, tells me. “The kind of icing on the cake was not being able to graduate last year. I’d had it in my head that I was going to go to CSM since I was 12 or 13, and that final show is such a big deal. To be millimetres away and have it taken from you at the last possible second… Let’s just say, I wallowed for a couple of weeks. But then I was like: come on, stop moping. What are you going to do next?”

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With the world slowed down to a standstill for much of the last year, Ives was afforded the opportunity to take some time out and think his next steps through. First came his graduate collection, which may not have made it to the catwalk, but did get its debut on Vogue. The intricate offering was heavy on feminine tailoring, shot through with subversive flourishes, and finished with an intricately bejewelled egg-shaped dress – all of which demonstrated the designer’s development beyond cut-and-sew tees and slinky reappropriated scarf tops. Soon after, he got started on his website – an unconventional, “almost breathing” space where fans of the brand can find his quintessential designs, in addition to one-off jewellery and demi-couture pieces.

When it came to taking more formal steps to set up his label, it helps that Ives has had a first-hand look at what it’s like to build something from the ground-up – thanks to Rihanna and the rest of the Fenty team. “It was an intense, once in a lifetime opportunity that taught me what I want from fashion,” he says. “I remember we’d be sitting at one in the morning, on some hotel bedroom floor, going through designs, and her face would light up and we’d both be getting really excited. She’s one of the most famous people in the world, but she was never scared to get stuck in. She was very democratic, knew everyone’s name, and was always sure to say hello and give them a kiss goodbye, and I think that’s so rare in fashion. Seriously, she was the best boss ever, which sounds like something I was paid to say but I swear I wasn’t! I really learned so much from her.” 

Though the SS22 womenswear season is fast approaching – kicking off IRL in New York next week – this time around, Ives is sitting things out. “What we’re trying to do takes so much longer than traditional cutting and sewing, so we have to leave time or else one collection won’t even make it to the stores before the next is out,” he explains. “I was like, you know what? I will make one collection a year, and show it in a very grand, epic way. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about Balenciaga’s (AW21) couture show, and this amazing book called Fashion Conspiracy, by Nicholas Coleridge, which I highly recommend if you’re a fashion geek. At one point, he describes the pomp and glamour of a YSL salon show so beautifully it makes my heart race. I really want to do something special, so maybe that’s the direction I’ll go in eventually.” Refreshingly, this considered process also plays into the fact he’s also keen to avoid burnout, which the fashion industry is notorious for. “I work really hard, but finding that balance and longevity is very important to me.”

Though Ives was granted a little bit of “normality” across the course of the last year – at least when it came to being a designer – things are set to amp up for the rising fashion star once again as September rolls around. Next week he’s due to land in Paris for the 2021 LVMH Prize final, which he’s in the running for alongside Bianca Saunders, Rui Zhou, Christopher John Rogers, and Nensi Dojaka, before, in a further surprising turn of events – for him at least – he’s also been invited to this year’s comeback Met Gala, where he’ll be taking a turn on the red carpet (for real this time). 

“When I went with Adwoa, I was just kind of there to make sure the dress looked good before she went in, and then I sidled off,” he explains. “I was talking to my PR and asking her about what it was going to be like this time – like, will there be a side door I go in or something? And she said ‘Nope, you’re going to be walking in the same way as everyone else’. I feel like I’ve hit my head and I’m back to this weird fantasy life – like what, I’m just going to be making my way down the red carpet behind Nicki Minaj? I’m terrified!” With a growing legion of fans and devotees behind him, however, if Ives’ fashion star continues to ascend at the pace it’s currently hurtling along at, those red carpet appearances might be something he has to get used to – terrified or not. “I guess I’ll have a couple of glasses of champagne and hope for the best,” he concludes with a laugh. 

Click through the gallery above and head here to check out the website.

Credits: Creative direction Conner Ives, Photography Jules Moskovtchenko, Hair and make-up Mari Kuno, Art Direction Isabella Bruton, Casting Emma Mattel, Model Anna Pye, Assistants Andy Coppins, Pieter Eliëns, Ami Tamiya.