Following reports late last year that Meadham Kirchhoff’s business was not doing so well, the brand has officially closed up shop. The London-based label, which was launched in 2005 and headed up by Ben Kirchhoff and Edward Meadham, has been a golden child of the British fashion industry for some time now. The Central Saint Martins grads have been bestowed with a series of industry accolades, including the Emerging Talent Ready-to-Wear award at the British Fashion Awards in 2010; a nomination for the British Fashion Awards’s 2012 inaugural “New Establishment” award; and inclusion on the shortlist of brands for the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund that same year. The designers, who are known for their feminine designs that are considered and executed in an old fashioned manner, have also been on the receiving end of an array of sponsorships, from the first Fashion East showcase in 2005 to the BFC and Topshop’s NEWGEN program.
Providing proof that industry nods do not pay the bills or entice consumers to actually buy, Meadham Kirchhoff has officially dissolved, something Edward Meadham has confirmed. While up until now, the brand boasted an impressive list of stockists in the UK and beyond (think: brick-and-mortars hat included Harvey Nichols, Ikram, and Browns, and e-commerce sites, such as Net-a-Porter, among others), that obviously was not sufficient to relieve deep-seated production and cash flow issues that the brand has been facing.
Speaking about their troubled situation this past December, Kirchhoff said: “The way the industry works, you’re driven to do all these grandiose shows, all these things that are incredibly expensive and then one day, the sponsorship runs out. You’re on your own.” As for Meadham, he said: “What we made, we sold. Our problem has always been delivering what stores have ordered. It’s always seemed like, ‘How do we do this? How do we keep up?’”
This is one thing the designers share with other similarly situated brands: the lack of support that exists in between the stages of being brand new and being a bit more established. Of the “one-size-fits-all business model had been imposed on him and Meadham,” Kirchoff said: “It does seem like there ought to be some other way of doing things. Is there a way of selling directly to your customers? Can you avoid doing a big catwalk show? Maybe it’s better to just quietly have a store. Or do private orders. I don’t know. At the moment, even thinking about the alternatives seems too exhausting.”
Also problematic for the brand, it seems, was their inability to turn their highly theatrical runway shows into commercial viable collections. While this proved fatal to the brand, it is simultaneously the exact reason why the brand is so special: they placed a lot of weight (maybe too much, in hindsight) on pure creativity – the exact thing upon which they built their appeal from the outset. The design duo indulged in the art of design to an extent that is so rarely seen in an age when fashion is so very clearly dictated by commerce. There is nary a brand that places more value on art than commerce these days and thus, the design duo, two maverick conceptualists who make clothes with intricate cutwork or embroidery that is finished by hand, will always hold a special place.
With this in mind, the shuttering of their brand speaks to the slightly backwards notions we have about fashion, an industry that is founded upon creativity and innovation. Yes, we love the thought of the new and exciting – we look for it twice a year at the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter shows – but do we really embrace it? It does not seem so … because the bottom line dictates. Fashion is a business, and as a result, the garments that hit the runway must be – first and foremost – inherently sellable (with only a handful of brands serving as exceptions).
A collection that is not commercial enough? Not a good sign for designers that are still in the realm between emerging and established. Bigger, more established brands (the “handful of brands” I just referenced – the Dior’s, McQueen’s, Chanel’s, etc.) can get away with showing over the top, fantastical designs on the runway; this is because they have lower-priced alternatives and license deals – highly commercial ventures – in place to pay the bills. For emerging designers, without the financial backing provided by other ventures, this is a dangerous route.
In a statement to i-D this past week, Meadham confirmed the closure, saying: “Meadham Kirchhoff is dead. Meadham Kirchhoff wasn’t killed by the fashion industry; it was killed largely by itself. We were in a quagmire of debt and it was impossible to keep up with anything. One of the worst things about the death of Meadham Kirchhoff, for me, was the loss of the archive. Our studio landlord just locked the doors and got rid of it. We tried to continue a bit and then the studio closed and I went to hospital. Me and Ben, we’re never going to work together.”
IMAGES COURTESY OF MEADHAM KIRCHHOFF