Samuel Ross is the only designer in London who has 15- and 16-year-old boys skipping school to congregate outside his show in hopes of getting in. This happened early today in freezing Brick Lane as Ross was prepping his A-Cold-Wall show for midday. The reputation of his brand has exploded into the obsessive kind of fandom that used to fire teen music-collector loyalties from the 1960s to the 1980s—today’s teenagers’ granddads and dads. Ross is a young British hero of the streetwear phenomenon, whose followers know everything about him—including the fact that he worked for Virgil Abloh.
Ross is conscious of his power and responsibility as a cultural leader who is touching the aspirations of a generation—a potential to message beyond the domain most fashion designers occupy. “There is a further insight beyond the immediacy of just the clothes,” he said, as the crowd was filing into an installation space filled with two tanks of black water. “This is about how to paint a holistic picture of what’s going on in society that our generation has to deal with. Freedom of movement, nationalistic fears; these are nuances I’m touching on in this show.”
There was a regular runway in the narrow space between the two tanks, in which two groups of black performance artists clung together, helping each other to crawl through the water. In a week when a Royal Navy patrol has been sent out to intercept boatloads of migrants desperately crossing the English Channel to seek asylum from the camps of France, it made for conceptual imagery that came uncomfortably close to home.
Yet elevation—the overcoming of conditions that hold people back—was the ultimate message in the design of Ross’s clothes. You don’t see the surrounding drama in the water in these pictures—or the moment when a Rottweiler was let out to bark at the actors. The brief Ross seemed to have set himself is that his vision of streetwear isn’t going to be confined to any sub-cult lane. His collection spoke to the graphic design education the 27-year-old received at De Montfort University, filtering the symbols of graph paper, rulers, and protractors into his brand identity, with the slogan “Modernist” printed on coat hems and scarves.
It reached for a sophisticated level of design, integrating the familiar language of utility pockets, zippers, and puffers into a collection that now extends to tailored suits in technical fabrics, trenchcoats, and leather jackets with cut-out portholes. Like so many of his young British menswear peers this season, Ross went one confident stride beyond what might have been expected of those representing a country mired in adversity. In a time when politicians are giving no hope of a brighter future, it’s the creativity, dignity, and undaunted energy of this generation that does.