in Frieze | 04 DEC 19

Matty Bovan: 'Don't Try and Be Something You're Not’

Matty Bovan explains his creative background, being a UK designer based outside of London and the role his website plays as an archive of the different ‘characters’ at play in his work

in Frieze | 04 DEC 19

Frieze Academy: Could you tell us who you are, and what you do?

Matty Bovan: I’m a fashion designer based in York, Yorkshire. Today I’ve been at Frieze Academy talking with Tim Blanks.

FA: What’s your journey’s been so far?

MB: I’m originally from York and I’m still based in York actually, but I did come to London to study. I went to Central Saint Martins to do Fashion Design and Knitwear BA and then Fashion Design MA with Knitwear so like, directly through. I was lucky enough to be taught by Louise Wilson on MA who is very legendary and Fabio Piras. It was really creative studying at Saint Martins, it really helps you shape your own identity and your own vision. They don’t really want you to be part of any box they want you to just be very much your own person and your own self and that takes quite a long time to actually realise, I think.  I’ve been lucky enough to be working with people like Katie Grandy, and Fashion East and Mandy Leonard; I have a really amazing team of people I work with and I’ve just shown my seventh collection, super exciting.

FA: When did you begin to notice that your career was changing?  That people were taking more notice of your work?

MB: There have been a few pivotal moments for me. One of the pivotal moments was being part of the MA Central Saint Martins Fashion Show at London Fashion Week, and then also I showed with Fashion East. I had my own first solo fashion show nearly two years ago, which sounds crazy, and I think that’s when people actually started to realise it was more than just a very brief moment and people started looking at things completely differently. I didn’t think that would necessarily happen, but it really did, there was a seismic shift in people being more interested in the brand.

FA: How did that feel, was it something you’d hoped for, for a long time?

MB: Obviously, it’s amazing to have recognition from the industry, and at the same time you’re on such a personal journey. You want to challenge your own ideas of taste, of fashion, of creativity. It’s difficult to get perspective and see yourself from the outside. So each season I have to challenge everything I think.

Matty Bovan SS20

FA: About taste: how do you deconstruct that in your work every season?

MB: For me a really integral part of working is taste, and levels of taste, and questioning what is tasteful and what is good taste, what’s bad taste. I think really it’s my job in a way to present people with things they wouldn’t necessarily like – whether it’s a colour, a texture, a shape – and try and make them kind of question, and to get a reaction as well. People react quite quickly because it’s a very visual medium, so people have quite strong opinions about it, and I think that’s good.  My idea is to really challenge and push what I think is tasteful as well.

FA: Can you talk about your online presence and how important it is for your website to be an archive of all your old shows and creative artwork?

MB: Being a designer in 2019 the internet’s an incredibly important tool, and having a website is an incredibly important tool because 20 years ago you couldn’t look at a designer’s back catalogue at all on the internet, it would have been all publications and VHS or maybe DVD - just. For me I like to have the record of the work, because if people are interested in the brand they engage with the website and then they see this progression. Each season is a very different character for me, so it’s nice for them to see the different characters that make this whole thing up. I also work on a lot of independent ’zines I’ve done, which are all on there, as well as the show videos on there, other projects I’ve done. Designers in 2019 are much more like polymaths doing a lot of different things, so it’s incredibly important for people to see it all in one place. With Instagram, it’s more of a zeitgeist, its more of a moment, it’s more “now”, so you have to scroll through quite a long way and even then it’s hard to understand whether what you’re looking at is a project. People’s attention spans have also gone, so they’re not necessarily engaging.

FA: Could you talk about how certain individuals have played a role in the development of your brand and your creative outlook and who those people might be?

MB: Growing up I was very influenced by my mum and my grandma. They were both very glamorous, they were both quite together, both quite specific about their clothes – but not really into labels or into the status of fashion. So I think I approached it from much more of a  creative point of view. My mum’s very creative, I’m very lucky. She was always doing the house up, just literally painting bits on the wall, or we used to a lot of tie-dying and everything. That had a big impact on me because I realised there’s such enjoyment in the process. That’s really important for me. Everyone sees the show, no-one sees the process. With the internet is people never see what goes behind everything. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work; it’s not a quick outcome, you don’t suddenly just arrive at that. I think usually the process is way more enjoyable because you might sometimes not even like some of the things you’ve made but to get there was so fun, or you learned so much. It’s really difficult to explain to people that the process is key. And then after a show it’s like… NEXT! What do we do next? Mentally you’ve sailed.

FA: You’re based in York. What are the advantages of being based outside a major fashion centre? Does it affect your sense of community?

MB: I’m based in York, where I grew up. I moved away for quite a bit and went back, more for financial reasons, and then ended up staying because I actually really like the space. And I still also have to make it work, because no-one pays on time. I honestly didn’t really think of living in York as a big thing and then over the past year, I’ve come to realise that it is very unusual to be based outside of London when you’re showing at London Fashion Week. In fact, I don’t really know how many people actually do that. It’s really interesting for me, it’s interesting for other people watching it, it’s interesting for consumers because they realise that everything isn’t so London-centric. I’m not against London at all, I’m very pro-London but you’ve got to do what works. I don’t have family in London, I’m not from here, so being based in York was more circumstance: it became a choice, because I like it. I have lot more room to work and you need a quality of life. It’s very different being in York. Fashion’s not a thing, it’s not really on the radar; it’s a luxury industry and it’s a niche industry. The internet plays a role in maintaining a foot in London, and people don’t realise I’m not in London, a lot - people applying for internships, the press. We get returns sent back to us addressed ‘York, London’ or ‘York, New York’ – I don’t know how things ever get back to us, it’s just crazy! People always mistake when I say York, for New York because in that world, it’s just very out of the box, and I think that’s good.

FA: What advice would you give aspiring designers?

MB: The main thing I can say is don’t try and be something you’re not, and know your strengths. Try and work at what you really enjoy doing, and really go with it and push for it. Don’t try and be everything, because it is really difficult to do that. Don’t try and be super minimal and slick if you’re not super minimal and slick, and don’t try and be crazy and eccentric if you’re not. Because a lot of people do try and ‘be something’ and people can tell. It’s the same with any creative practice, you have to really be behind it I think, and really believe it – whether people like it or not, if you believe in it, you sell it to them. If you stick to your guns and really believe in what you do, I think you almost unlock a different way of working because it a bit more fearless. You’re not having to think at every move, but it does take a long time to realise that. I studied that a really long time and I guess I’m still studying in a way. You’re never going to feel super comfortable.

FA: Can you talk about what’s next for you?

Matty Bovan SS20

MB: We’ve started developing next season, A/W 2021, which we’re showing in February. Of course, your latest collection is always the most exciting thing you’re doing, your latest piece of work is always the most compelling, like: this is it! We’re now starting the process; it’s the most fun bit and you never know where it’s going to go, this could just be terrible, this could be amazing. It should be on the knife edge inbetween. A lot of things don’t work, and you maybe get them out next year, or the year after. It’s all learning and it’s all building up but there is a lot to the practical side with fashion. Like now we’re starting to outsource more, working with factories in the UK, and there’s quite a lot of logistics and the usual things that come with a business. 

FA: One of the differences between fashion and art is that fashion is a bit more honest about its relationship with money. So there seems to be a lot of financial support for young designers.

MB: Yeah, well there could always do with being more. But yes, it’s a bit more cards on the table – to be able to say: “We need X amount of money.” The good thing about fashion is you pretty much have to show twice a year minimum, and so any creative process has to finish.  Two weeks before the show we could go on for nine more months and make amazing stuff, but you have to finish and that’s really good actually, I think. The older I get the more grateful I am because I need a deadline. I like a deadline, I like having to try and say what I’ve got to say in that space of time. You could go on for another year easily and make a huge amount of stuff, but you’d spend so much money and things move on, you’d get over it. I think that’s a blessing of fashion over art, is that there’s deadlines and you move on. And also, people buying fashion aren’t as interested in your inspiration as they are with art. It’s a bit more throw away. Art gets so over-criticised for being intellectual or concept based, with fashion people really aren’t actually that interested. You talk about it and very few consumers are really interested. The next show’s on an hour later.

Matty Bovan spoke at the Frieze Art and Fashion Summit, which was supported by Squarespace. Squarespace helps people with creative ideas to launch their brands and businesses. Find out more about their suite of tools – including websites and online stores - and how to start building your own web presence at