Ryan Mercer studied Fashion Design & Communication in Canada before he came to London to embark on a new fashion experiment at the Royal College of Art. His MA womenswear collection has a full package: bold sense of colour, clever use of print and texture, sophisticated silhouettes and proper application of interesting details. He skillfully handled all these elements, completing a beautiful collection. First, you will be impressed by the strong colour blocking; second, you will notice how exquisite each piece is, and finally, you will want to know more about both the designer and his work.
Were you a fashion kid when you were little?
I wouldn’t say I was a fashion kid. But, I did have serious opinions about what I wanted to wear and more importantly what I refused to wear. I used to have silent tantrums in my room when my parents would gift me with clothing of their choice. I know that sounds quite bratty but I had very strong mental images and opinions about how I wanted to dress and be seen, while being completely clueless about fashion. To this day I think it would be very difficult to wear a turtleneck without being reminded of my mom dressing me to withstand the cold Canadian climate for my walk to primary school.
Did you know as a little boy you would become a fashion designer? If not, what did you want to be?
No I had no clue that fashion was a source of employment or a profession. As a kid I liked spending my days drawing and being creative. I used to spend loads of time flipping through books with pictures and my dad’s old record sleeves. I think I was drinking up the imagery. I wasn’t a big reader; I spent most of my time in the clouds and the rest documenting dreams on paper. I guess that’s why I initially studied classical animation and had ambitions of working on Disney films before computers took over the industry. In high school I had a job as a cashier at a grocery store. Out of boredom I started browsing the fashion magazines displayed beside the checkouts. I think they had Elle and InStyle and I quickly fell in love with Christy Turlington and classic Calvin Klein sheath dresses.
You had studied in Canada and France before Royal College of Art. Was your experience at Royal College of Art different from the education you had before?
In my experience fashion education in North America is very technical, full of industry standards and consumer needs. I knew there had to be another more unique way of looking at clothing. A lot of American brands headhunt for their creative design positions from schools in the UK. I did some research and decided to apply for an MA at both the Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins. I was offered a place at RCE and moved to London for the chance of better opportunities. While there I had the privilege of design tutorials with Julie Verhoeven, someone who’s work I had long admired. I really appreciated her encouragement and ability to read through the surface of initial research and ideas, spurring you to further in-depth exploration and development. She’s someone I feared, loved and truly admired because I believe she wanted all of us to grow and find success and was there to help if you were willing to put in the hours. I think the biggest difference in education is that here I was encouraged to be an individual, while back home I was asked to meet requirements.
What was the starting point of your MA collection? Did you keep your initial idea or change your mind at some point?
When I showed up for the second year of the course I was convinced I would be making an all white collection with various textures, fabrics and distressing techniques. I had created some prints inspired by the abstract works of Gerhard Richter. I was also looking at classical busts, particularly the pedestals used to mount and display them. By the time I had created the pre-collection outfits leading up to Christmas I was bored and dissatisfied. I used the holidays to re-think what I was doing and decided to flip everything by adopting new inspiration and taking a more graphic and bold approach to designing.
You showed in your MA collection an unusual way of colour blocking with panels of different textures and some hints of print. Colour blocking can often end up being just a 2D graphic effect, but yours achieved both visual and tactile impact. How did you come up with the idea?
I found a book by Shirana Shahbazi, Then Again which really struck a cord. The graphic colour compositions found throughout the book were paralleled with organic imagery that both contrasted and complimented one another. I was inspired to make paneled leather garments made primarily of lambskin, with bleached and dyed python and leather embroidery and lacing. I paneled a lot of the leather together and then had lasers engrave patterns created from scanned pieces of silk I had torn and pulled apart. These raster patterns allowed me to include print in my collection without resorting to obvious traditional printing options.
You used a lot of eyelets and stitching. What kind of effects did you expect?
The leather cords, eyelets and lacing were used for accessories and to frame and structure the perimeter of some garments. Leather embroidery was hand applied and used to soften some of the harsh graphic lines created by the intersection of colours. I chose to include these techniques to intensify the tactile quality of the garments, by adding a three dimensional quality.
Your collection has a sporty feel. Are you interested in designing a sportswear like collaboration with a sports brand?
I think that happened rather inadvertently. I didn’t mean to create a collection with a sporty feel but I can definitely see why people make that connection. If an opportunity presented itself I would definitely be interested in the challenge of designing sportswear. It’s a huge market and a great opportunity to have your designs worn and seen by the public.
Who is your role model?
I know it’s cliché to say, but definitely my family has inspired me through nurture and example. If I had to name a fashion role model I would say Narciso Rodriguez or Nicolas Ghesquiere, both for very different reasons. I see Narciso as someone who’s developed a signature not through gimmicks or trends, but through an ability to distill his research into effortless flattering garments, full of precision and finesse. When Balenciaga is shown on the catwalk it’s like Christmas as a kid, there’s lots of anticipation and a sense of newness, always fresh yet bold. I think both are great designers with a clear point of view, able to conduct their visions in beautiful and desirable clothing.
Finally, what are you up to now?
I’m currently sitting in Holland Park absorbing some necessary vitamin D and enjoying a truly sunny day in what has been a rather cool and overcast summer. After the show I took some time off but I’m now looking and seeking the next opportunity, be it freelance, or a design position. I’m currently interviewing and sending out work to different houses, but also thinking about new projects and what I would like to create next.
Words: Young Eun So
Photography: Saty + Pratha
Fashion: Chad Burton
Makeup: Tomohiro Muramatsu using Mac Pro
Hair: Masato Inoue using Bumble & Bumble
Model: Sara Semic @ Next
Clutch: Urban Outfitters