Menswear Focus Series: Ike Rust
Issue 1: Ike Rust – Course Director MA Menswear University of Westminster.
This the start of an ongoing series from our Menswear team here at Range Room. We are aiming to shine a light on some of the hugely interesting aspects of the Menswear side of the fashion industry.
We kick things off with one of the most influential people in Menswear Design globally. However, you may not have even heard of him. Range Room travelled to the leafy parkland surroundings of the University of Westminster’s Harrow Campus for a coffee and a chat about the future of menswear with Ike Rust, Course Director MA Menswear.
In 1995 Ike moved from a design job at Calvin Kline Jeans in New York, to California. There he started his long and hugely successful teaching career by setting up a new curriculum for BFA and MFA fashion courses at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. After 3 years an opportunity too good to miss presented itself. Ike moved to London to head up, what was then the only dedicated 2-year Menswear MA course in the world, at the Royal College of Art. Ike stayed at the RCA for 17 years and has overseen some of the most creative Menswear talents to ever to enter the design industry. He has recently taken up the position of Course Director of a new 2-year Menswear MA he set up at the University of Westminster.
Matt Clayton Photography
RR: What’s so important about Menswear? You have held, and continue to hold, extremely influential positions in the development of new talent that enters the fashion industry. What excites you about menswear?
Ike Rust: Menswear has a savage ancestry evolved from the ideals of war. It is rife with hidden codes and appealed to me because it was subversive and off the fashion radar. In terms of design, there are still plenty of opportunities to contribute to the way men are viewed, and of course how we view ourselves in the world.
RR: Menswear has enjoyed, seemingly, a renaissance over the last 10/15 years in the UK? What has made it so sustained? And is this level of creativity sustainable?
Ike: Good design is sustainable. Creativity has played a key role in enabling menswear to be viewed as an innovative design discipline, which the RCA course promoted fearlessly. Luckily platforms such as MAN, NewGen, On/Off and Vauxhall Fashion Scout were set up to capture and ease some of that talent – designers like Matthew Miller, Astrid Andersen, Aitor Throup, Katie Eary, Alex Mullins, Liam Hodges and most recently Feng Chen Wang into successful and hopefully sustainable businesses. The majority, however, is the brilliant hidden talent within design houses around the world.
RR: How much of a sense of responsibility do you feel you have regarding your teaching position? Is it solely towards the students or do you have a connection to the wider industry?
Ike: My students are the future of the design industry and my priority is to enable them to recognise their potential and to identify a context for their work – otherwise it remains pointless. Involvement with industry is integral to that learning. It is a fine balance managed by an experienced staff team who organise a curriculum that is kept live by experienced and aspirational tutors. So far we are working with Matthew Miller, Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, Simon Foxton, Liam Hodges, Dora Szilagyi, Johnny Diamandis, Feng Chen Wang and Alex Mullins.
RR: Does your approach to design reflect the way your teaching style has and continues to evolve? Is your approach to design linked to your approach to teaching?
Ike: To be effective it is essential to learn about yourself as a teacher. Knowing how and when to encourage, when to challenge, when to be full on and when to stand off. Teaching is much more demanding than design because as a designer you are always seeking to be in control of the product. In teaching at a certain point, you have to suck in your ego and hand over the responsibility to the students so that they can become who they are. And the one thing experience has taught me is that you can’t autonomize that process so you go over it with each individual every year and it is never the same twice. Brilliant!
RR: How much of an impact does menswear now have on high street retail? Let’s face it money talks. Do you think stores/brands are catering to a modern man correctly?
Ike: There are amazing collections being created, thoughtfully put together product, designers working to come to terms with original expression, sustainability, longevity, human rights and equality. This is fashion and culture. High-street is clothing – that is the difference. High-street stores produce pretty much the same product styled and marketed to look like the same product – no one is fooled. The thing we now know post-Trump is that money is speaking too loud and modern man is a dinosaur.
RR: Who in your opinion is really nailing it in terms of influence and impact on the menswear industry at the moment?
Ike: In the light that is Carol Christian Poell all else pales. And anyone thinking about nailing anything would be best advised to look at pioneers like Uscha Pohl from VERY Magazine and Orsola De Castro at Fashion Revolution who are setting up a sustainable and ethical way forward for fashion. It is the risk takers whose example we need to follow.
RR: Ike, Thank you for your time and it’s been incredibly generous of you to share your experience and thoughts with us here on the RangeRoom Blog.