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Electronic Sheep comes to London Collections Men
June 3, 2016
Electronic Sheep has been on our radar for a while. The brand’s signature is its ‘tapestry-esque’ scarves, and while the word tapestry might conjure up images of fifteenth century textile art, Electronic Sheep is anything but. Dripping in colour and peopled with fascinating characters, modern history is retold through eccentric (knitted) pop art. With stockists around the world, regular features in top global media and on television, it’s no wonder the cult brand is shifting position to celebrity favourite and tapping into global fashion’s main vein.
We caught up with the duo (Brenda Aherne and Helen Delany) behind the brand in an exclusive interview to talk punk’s influence on knitwear, meat cleavers, Picasso and London Collections Men.
How did Electronic Sheep come about?
H: Brenda winning a knitwear design competition was the starting point; the award money was used to start up the label. My specialty is graphics, so we started to do graphic knits (jacquards) together – it was just a natural progression of both our disciplines – knitwear and graphic design. We have a very similar aesthetic, which probably stems from the fact that we’ve been friends since we were eight years old. We grew up next door to each other, hung out and went to the same art school.
You’ve been designing and making for sixteen years. How has Electronic Sheep’s aesthetic transformed over the years?
H: I think our aesthetic hasn’t changed so much as our techniques and skills have. We have both worked in the design industry as well as on Electronic Sheep over the years so we are stronger as designers because of time. We are also more focused now and our experimentation is based on our skills and knowledge rather than flights of fancy.
Have historical moments always been a source of inspiration for the brand?
B: Yes very much so and often collections have been inspired from our own history. We grew up on the north side of Dublin on what is now the famous Cedarwood Road. Bono, Gavin Friday and Guggi Rowan all grew up on our street. So as kids we saw a lot of colourful activity in the area.
Our childhood directly inspired two collections: Red Lemonade and Pussy’s Leap. The first was about sugar-induced birthday parties of the late 70’s and all the crazy fizzy drinks, soda streams and penny sweets. The latter was about a ‘true’ ghost story that Helen’s father told us with great sincerity and terrified us into creative depictions.
Your AW16 collection is inspired by Gerturde Stein and Parisian Bohemia. Can you talk us through this?
B: We were both struck by how contemporary the Bohemian creative scene in Paris was to life now even though it was one hundred years ago. The cafés in Montmarte, the clothes, the parties, the relationships…All of it felt kind of familiar to our lives now.
I was reading the book The Autobiography of Alice B.Tolkas by Gertrude Stein, which is actually the autobiography of Gertrude Stein and talks about all of the extraordinary painters and writers she met between 1903 and 1932 including Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. As soon as I started reading it I was really engrossed and influenced by it. It fit perfectly with our plan to celebrate one hundred years from 1916 to 2016.
We really like the scene of Picasso eating a plate of spaghetti in one of your knitted scenes. Which pieces are your favourites?
H: One of our favourites is a blanket scarf called Artist Party and it’s a summary of the whole collection. It is a massive illustration that we made up about a party that might have happened in Gertrude Stein’s house in 1916. We loosely reference some of the décor and art that she had on her wall and include some of the characters that would have been there like Picasso and his girlfriend. Then we threw in everything that we wanted to say. We added other historic pieces like a chair from 1916 by Irish artist, Eileen Gray but mainly we wanted to have fun. For example Marcel Duchamp being hit on by an androgynous barmaid while he flirts with a woman on the stairway, Gertrude drinking absinthe and Picasso eating pasta…
The collection consists of various collaborations with artists and historians, what would be your ideal collaboration?
B: I would love to do a collaboration with Miu Miu as I think our aesthetic would work for the label. Helen would like to work on a film with Quentin Tarantino and have his leading heroine dressed in only Electronic Sheep.
What has been your most notable moment, either as a duo or for the brand itself?
H: One notable moment was when we won a design award for a collection that in general had been dismissed as a bit controversial. It was called Homage to Butchers and innocently (we thought) featured meat cleavers, joint knives, etc. After producing an extensive collection, the money from the award couldn’t have come at a better time so it quite literally saved our bacon.
We’ve heard there’s significant relationship with Electronic Sheep and music…
H: Yes, Brenda’s and my background is more your traditional rocker, but we both ended up marrying punk rockers. As teenagers the plan was always to run away with a rock band. Music has been probably the biggest influence on our work and lives, although we never got into a band in the end.
Where would you like to see Electronic Sheep in 5 years time?
B & H: We would like Electronic Sheep to have more facets to it, not just knitwear, but other clothing and accessories and creative projects, and ideally we would like to bring a manager on board to handle the boring aspects so we could solely focus on the creative side.
Where can we see Electronic Sheep over London Collections Men?
We’ll be showcasing pieces at The Grooming Room at Century Club on the 12th and 13th of June, and we’ll be gifting pieces there in the celebrity gifting suite.
Words by Jennifer Neufeld