Spotlight On | November

Spotlight On: Matthew Needham

Artist and curator, Matthew Needham

Emma Sells

Matthew Needham is the ultimate modern multi-hyphenate. Right now, he describes himself as an artist and curator, but that doesn’t really scratch the surface of his different roles; he’s also, in turn, a designer working with unexpected and found materials, the Sustainability Lecturer for Fashion Design at Central Saint Martins, the co-founder of creative community and support group Trash Club alongside his friend, Katy Mason, a serial collaborator and, for the past year, a resident of the Sarabande Foundation. His career is constantly evolving but threaded through everything he works on are his aesthetic, which he describes as “a fairy tale at Travis Perkins, like a builders scrap yard filled with fantasy and escapism”, a deep sense of connection and community and a desire to create something with genuine worth. “I feel that my purpose is to research and showcase, to develop art or visuals that help to communicate and start conversations around the value of things rather than just creating works because they’re visually nice to look at,” he says. “That doesn’t sit well with me; it’s almost like you’re just creating more shit to put in the world. So, it’s less about making works in order to sell them and more about giving experiences to people. That feels very genuine to me.”

 

 Needham meandered his way into the fashion industry. He grew up in Leicestershire but, thanks to his Czech mother, spent magical summers and Christmases in Prague, exploring the city and learning about its myths and legends with his grandmother. “I was in the theatre when I was a kid, too” he says. “I loved watching old movies, the costumes and old Hollywood, and it was that theatrical, fantasy dream world that I was always aspiring to, this idea of something more that can be achieved and escaping from where I grew up.” Not sure where his creativity would take him, he moved to London when he was 18 and, on a whim, enrolled on an Art Foundation course that helped him hone in on fashion and propelled him to study at CSM.

02. WHAT LIES AHEAD, Estethica Exhibition, Berlin Fashion Week 7 Large Spotlight on with artist and curator, Matthew Needham

What Lies Beneath, Estethica Exhibition, Berlin Fashion Week

During his degree he interned at Louis Vuitton and Chanel in Paris. “It was super amazing,” he says, “But it also led me to see the amount of waste that was being produced in the industry. I come from a family that was very resourceful. We didn’t have money when I was growing up, my dad [a carpenter and joiner] was always reusing and repurposing things that he found on jobs, and so that concept of just throwing things away after sampling was just bizarre to me.” So, when he returned to London, he started making clothes out of deadstock materials alongside things he’d found on the street. “I still always pick up stuff, especially things that I can’t understand where they came from,” he says. “I like that mystery and knowing that it must have had a purpose before. Then, by using it, it almost starts a new lifecycle. You have the opportunity as a creative to create a new life for it.”

 

Sustainability has been a constant touchstone in Needham’s work ever since and he quickly found that being boxed into conjuring seasonal collections that would be taken at face value didn’t satisfy his need for something with much more meaning and impact. “I really like the idea of exploring more curated works and exhibitions because it involves conversation, which is what I was missing from the fashion world,” he says. “Conversation around why things were made and what the purpose or the value behind them is, whether that’s in a material sense or an emotional attachment that we have to specific things.” Clothes and the way that we all relate to and communicate with them are still a huge part of his practice whether he’s working on projects with Fashion Revolution or Estethica or curating innovative solo projects like The Anthropologist, an immersive installation of his own and found clothes framed in reclaimed sash windows, each one accompanied by an upcycled scent developed with his friend, Ezra-Lloyd Jackson, and based on four elements – canal water, fresh moss, damp concrete and burnt window frames.

What Lies Beneath, Estethica Exhibition, Berlin Fashion Week

I really like the idea of exploring more curated works and exhibitions because it involves conversation, which is what I was missing from the fashion world. Conversation around why things were made and what the purpose or the value behind them is, whether that's in a material sense or an emotional attachment that we have to specific things.

Matthew Needham, artist and curator

Next year Needham hopes to open another solo exhibition and he’s mulling the idea of going back to school to study Anthropology and Sustainability at some point in the future. In the meantime, he’s enjoying being the person for his CSM students that he wishes he’d had when he was there.  “This younger generation is so much more educated and aware of the situation, of where they want their work to serve, and what they want the purpose of it to be, so it’s challenging as a millennial to keep up with them,” he says. “They teach you a lot of the time, which is great and also feeds into this idea of disassembling hierarchy and really understanding that, even now as they’re at university, these students are providing the solutions for the future. It’s a constant reminder that this conversation on sustainability has to be open. It can’t just be directed from one person, we learn from each other.”

What Lies Beneath, Estethica Exhibition, Berlin Fashion Week