Texan Levi Palmer and Brit Matthew Harding take the humble white shirt and make it something at which to marvel with their dual-gendered ready-to-wear label palmer//harding. Having studied design for both men and women at Dallas’ El Centro College and London’s Central St Martins, the pair launched their brand five seasons ago, making their on-schedule debut at London Fashion Week SS14. Staying in line with the timelessness of the white shirt, palmer //harding constantly reinvent the wardrobe stable, offering complex yet clean designs. We track down the design duo to talk co-operation, creativity, and getting caught in the rain…
Can you explain your design process and how you work together?
We tend to start by doing research and finding things that inspire each of us separately. We then edit each other’s research to find a commonality between the two lines of thought. From that point we collate all the finalised images and discuss the ideas and concepts that these references communicate. After that it is a lot of sketching and draping.
What are the pros and cons to working in a partnership?
Sometimes it can be challenging finding the right path of communication to clarify your design ideas or concepts to the other person. However it can also be very exciting once that line of communication is understood because ideas and concepts can develop very quickly.
By focusing on the white shirt, do you find this self-imposed constraint actually encourages
Yes, it is exactly this. Creativity without constraint leads to a lack of direction. To innovate, you must have barriers to break down.
How does your approach to designing for men and women differ?
Both the menswear and womenswear come from the same place, the idea of blending innovation and accessibility. However what is innovative and accessible to men and women is completely different.
Do you have any muses?
That is such a strong word, but there are a few women we think about when designing. These are Carmen Borgonovo, Caroline Issa and Jan Strimple, all friends and incredibly stylish women
With the menswear we don’t necessarily have a muse in mind; instead, we design for what we would wear personally, which gives the menswear a very intimate approach.
Your SS14 womenswear collection and show was inspired by summer thunderstorms, how did you arrive at this idea?
We are always inspired by emotions and experiences. We wanted the SS14 collection to feel liberated, and we felt the idea of being caught in a warm summer’s rain expressed this perfectly. It is a feeling of escape and cleansing and we wanted to try and capture this freedom in the clothing.
You have won the NEWGEN award for your womenswear and have been sponsored by COTTON USA three times, how have these accolades helped the success of the brand so far?
They are both such amazing programs to be a part of and both have helped to raise the awareness of our brand. With NEWGEN, we were introduced to such an amazing variety of national and international press which has given the brand some authority in the industry and provided a great platform to launch from. With COTTON USA, they have really helped to raise the awareness of the quality of our brand in the consumers’ eyes. COTTON USA not only wants to highlight our aesthetic, but also want to highlight the beauty of the cotton that is produced in America and that we use in all of our cotton shirting.
This season palmer//harding debuted on schedule at LFW, with a far vaster collection, do you hope to extend the brand across all aspects of women’s and men’s fashion – what are your plans for the future?
We will continue to expand on the womenswear in a similar trajectory, keeping the focus on the shirt but adding further supporting elements to allow greater accessibility for our stores and consumers. Our menswear is taking a similar but much tighter approach to growth. We will continue to do our core wardrobe of five men’s shirts, but plan to slowly expand on the idea of what a classic, yet innovative, man’s wardrobe can be.
Words / Roxanne Golding