A sartorial sculptor of sorts
Clash Magazine fashion profile: Gemma Slack

At just twenty-four, Gemma Slack’s gothic tendencies and obsession with the female form have led to her designing outfits for some of the biggest names in music.

She believes in empowering women through clothes and has become a sartorial sculptor of sorts: with her warrior-esque epaulettes, theatrical hair skirts and sexed-up body con numbers, it’s no wonder Roisin Murphy, Peaches, Fergie and now a revamped ‘grown-up’ Kate Nash have turned to Slack for attention-grabbing designs.

So how did it all begin? When the bright lights of the Big Smoke beckoned, Sheffield-born Slack, keen to fulfill her dream of becoming a painter, took up a place at Chelsea to study Fine Arts and was soon brushing shoulders with like-minded art students.

Slack soon threw herself into her painting: she would spend hours a day producing varied representations of the female body. And it was not long before the designer began to explore the world of 3D. Her fondness of sculpture led Slack to give fashion design a whirl and she enrolled on a Textiles course in her last term at Chelsea.

Though the self-effacing Yorkshire lass lacked the self-belief needed to throw her fully into fashion, after a nudge from her wise-old college tutors, she eventually relocated to the London College of Fashion.

Surprisingly for someone with such an obvious affinity with textiles, Slack couldn’t even sew when she was accepted at LCF. “I would always attempt to make clothes, but not properly,” she admits. “I suppose you would call it a punk aesthetic, although that sounds a bit like bullshit...”

Slack never believed that fashion could be a realistic career. “I loved the fantasy aspect of it all and I liked making things. I’ve got a back catalogue of fashion magazines coming out of my ears but I’m still waiting for someone to find out I’m a fake!”

However, there is absolutely nothing fake about this girl: she shows a steadfast commitment to the DIY ethic and cites The Ramones and “classic teenage punk” amongst her musical influences. So how do these tastes manifest themselves in her work?

“It was the whole shebang that always attracted me to them, the lifestyle as well. Like, I really wanted to be in ’76.” Her designs definitely channel that late-Seventies goth-punk vibe and she has tendency to work with leather, a material that helped define the era.

Her spiky black creations soon caught the eye of a certain Roisin Murphy. After a chance encounter with the singer, one of Slack’s outfits suddenly appeared in the press on Murphy’s fashion credible back.

“I met Rosin at a party and one of the jackets from my graduate collection was hanging up,” she tells Clash. “Roisin just really liked it and asked to borrow it to go out in that night, but she ended up wearing it for two days. It was really good for me because all of a sudden I’ve got these pictures in Heat, which was really random and kind of weird.”

Her relationship with other musicians grew from that: her client list is now glittered with some of music’s most infamous (and headstrong) female players. This is where Slack feels most at home, making clothes for these strong women, especially Canadian angst songstress Peaches.

“The Peaches thing was amazing,” says Slack. “I made her this armored bodysuit, which really fitted with her image, and I also made her this elaborate hair skirt.”

Slack recalls her first meeting with the singer: “I was sharing a studio with [hairstylist and fellow-designer] Charlie Le Mindu at the time and Peaches was always in and out for various shoots. One day I was particularly stressed out and so she turned up with a little box of spring rolls. She told me to eat them and calm down. It was so sweet.”

Slack has recently been commissioned to work with Kate Nash on her re-emergence to music, taking the cue from her to make skeleton embellished designs.

“Kate's got a great new look, she’s definitely grown up,” says Slack. “I tried to find some kind of middle ground between her style and mine. I made her a black leather skeleton suit with molded vertebrae for her tour. It was more like a piece of jewellery - as the arms moved. I expected her to be this really girly girl but she’s not at all - she’s really determined and totally has her head screwed on.”

Slack has also been making outfits for Black Eyed Peas’ outspoken front woman Fergie, which she wore in her latest video and on her tour.

“At the moment I am completely in love with Patti Smith,” she gushes. “I have read her book twice over and it’s amazing.” But Slack’s ultimate dream is to create some fantastical garb for her icon, Siouxsie Sioux.

“I would love to work with Siouxsie Sioux - I know what I’d get her wearing but it’s difficult with someone like that because she’s got such a strong sense of personal style, you just wouldn’t want to change it.”

Gemma Slack is certainly the current hottest choice for musicians with theatrical style. And now, with a move into menswear, with an eagerly anticipated collection for next season, she is undoubtedly set to be the highly-reputable designer and authority on fashion that she once doubted she could be.

Words by April Welsh


Clash Magazine Issue 50

This is an excerpt from an article that appears in the 50th issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores from May 7th.

You can read the full issue online HERE and subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.