"I had struggled with reconciling my love for fashion, beautifully made and cut clothes, and sartorial experimentation with the love for street wear, anti-fashion youth movements and trash culture in general," writes Sofia Prantera, designer and cofounder of cult label Aries, in her brand manifesto, "so we decided that Aries should encompass all these elements."
Alongside Fergus Purcell, the creator of the iconic Palace triangle logo, with whom she first worked on pioneering '90s brand Silas, Sofia has created the ultimate hybrid, where fashion meets streetwear, luxury meets underground. At brands like Off-White, streetwear manifests as athleisure and can feel reserved for Gen Z, but Aries' amalgamation – despite its skatepark roots – appeals as much to Supremacists and hypebeasts as it does your Matches Fashion customer. The brand's laconic tees can be worn with a bucket hat, oversized denim and kicks, its silk shirts teamed with a Stella McCartney suit. Aries defies definition.
The London-based, Italian-crafted label was established as a womenswear brand in 2012, and in a male-dominated streetwear landscape, changed the narrative by making oversized long-sleeved tees and irreverent and referential graphics a new offering for women (though a reflection of what Sofia had been wearing all along). Demand grew and Aries expanded to include men’s sizes, so it’s now genderless or unisex or whatever you want to call a label that doesn’t care who you are, it just wants to dress you. "I have always designed and dressed in some sort of unisex way, but when we started Aries, it did seem outdated to be making different T-shirts for men and women," Sofia tells Refinery29. "But it was an instinct, not a real plan."
As well as breaking down the confines of gender within streetwear, you could argue that Sofia and Fergus predicted fashion’s new informality, long before Virgil Abloh’s neon and logo-driven label was crowned 2018’s Hottest Brand. Of course, hindsight is a beautiful thing. "I would love to say that I saw the future and had some kind of vision that tees and jeans was the way forward but, again, I didn't articulate it that way at the time," says Sofia. Instinct is what seems to drive Aries – an intuition of what’s relevant, what’s cool, what’s going to capture the zeitgeist while simultaneously recalling tenets of the past.
Most recently, that intuition has inspired a collaboration with the artist Jeremy Deller, which centres around the mysteries of Stonehenge. As always, Aries' signature pithy humour is there, with T-shirts emblazoned with winky smiley faces (the eyes represented by the prehistoric standing stones) and the phrases 'Make Archeology Sexy Again' and 'Stonehenge: Built by Immigrants'. The moody campaign was shot by legendary photographer David Sims and an accompanying exhibition, Wiltshire Before Christ, was hosted at The Store X on London's Strand.
To celebrate Aries' SS19 collection, all pastel tie-dye tees meets electric animal print bowling shirts meets soft crepe tailoring, we asked Sofia about her obsession with subcultures, how underground movements can thrive in the digital age, and the films, podcasts and spaces inspiring her right now.
Hi Sofia! What first drew you to London?
My mother is English, and we used to come here on holiday, and both my sister and I moved here to study art at a young age. I think my mother subconsciously pushed us to leave Italy and make something of ourselves. She used to bring back fashion and culture magazines like i-D and The Face plus some art college prospectuses. I wanted to do maths at uni but had this fascination with club culture and fashion that eventually took over.
Tell me about your time at Central Saint Martins.
It was really fun, though I am not sure we were taught much. All the other students were so interesting and creative – I had no idea what I was doing and was a pretty average student :-( I had zero creativity. In Italian schools you don't do any art at all. I remember looking at other people's work and thinking, How did they come out with that idea? I had zero ideas.
I read a tutor there told you that streetwear wasn't fashion – what was your response?
It was me and two other boys in my class that had done a streetwear project and we just laughed, you know, in that arrogant way that young people have when they think they – and often do – know best.
After graduation you were working at Rough Trade / Slam City Skates with Russell Waterman, with whom you went on to found Silas. What was your mission with the label?
After a while of going into work without any specific responsibilities (although I did fold a lot of T-shirts), Russell, who was employed but sort of ran the company, suggested we did our own in-house label, so we started a new brand called Holmes. We eventually got frustrated of not being able to run it as we felt was right and decided to leave and start a new brand. Silas Holmes was the name of the fictitious character in charge of designing Holmes, but we left the name Holmes behind and started Silas.
Did you predict how successful Aries would be when you began?
No. No one really understood it, but it was my fault really, as I can be very introverted, especially about my work; I find it difficult to talk about it. I would love to say that I saw the future and had some kind of vision that tees and jeans was the way forward, but I didn't articulate it that way at the time – I just did what I do and left it there for other people to sell and understand. I had been out of work for a few years and I wasn't very confident about my vision. It is easy now to look back and say I was right all along, but I didn't know that then.
Your work is so tied up with counterculture and subcultures. Why do you think you're so drawn to them?
I think it’s partly my education, as my parents are quite nerdy. My dad collects political comics like Métal Hurlant, Il Mago; there isn't a proper British equivalent but they’re actually quite highbrow. The content mixes adult comics and political writings and they were part of the counterculture movements of the '70s and '80s, mainly in France and Italy. We were brought up reading them. It is also generational, I think: a lot of people my age were inspired to take different career paths by following and belonging to subcultures.
Italy has this legendary fashion scene – do you think your nationality has shaped your work?
Growing up in a mixed-culture family it is difficult to know which part influenced what, and it is possibly the mix that was the most influential in what I chose to do in my career. I think the nature of being dual nationality creates this tension in your output. It is like you are constantly trying to find a balance.
Streetwear has typically been a male-dominated area. Do you think that's changed over time?
Possibly. I think there might be a social element to why subcultures are predominantly male-dominated; it could be because, historically, women would have had children and looked after families. As the position of women in society changes, we will see more change. Often, though, subcultures – especially streetwear – are led by obsessions, and I think on the whole women tend to have less obsessive behaviour. This might be both cultural and genetic, so I’m not sure.
Did you ever struggle being the only woman in the room?
No I didn't, as I have always enjoyed being different. But it is quite possible that had I been male, I would have found success earlier in my life.
How do you feel subcultures have evolved or changed in the era of social media?
I think the real subcultures are the ones you don't see on social media. Our classic notion of a slow-building underground movement and its subsequent, unavoidable commercial exploitation and promotion by the mainstream has ceased to exist because of the power of social media; everything burns too fast.
But they do still exist – not as fashion but as counterculture. Interestingly, I don't think it's generational, and to survive in its original form it has to insulate itself against exploitation by being truly underground and therefore, out of necessity, be unattractive to potential mainstream audiences. So maybe this makes it more of an underground than ever before.
Finally, what does rebellion mean to you?
Going your own way.
Five overlooked cultural highlights inspiring Sofia right now...
'80s magazine Frigidaire
"It is an Italian underground magazine which was very formative for me growing up. It dealt with information, counterculture, taboos, comics. It was very left-field and a very important part of my development."
Bruno Bozzetto's VIP My Brother Superman
"Just an amazing and very overlooked Italian animation film that deals with consumer culture. Extremely beautiful and ahead of its time."
Scorpio Rising by Kenneth Anger
"Kenneth Anger has also always been very ahead of his time. Scorpio Rising deals with themes of extreme masculinity and fetishises clothing and dressing up. It's a must-view for anyone interested in fashion, subculture and their history."
The Bomarzo Park, outside Rome
"A beautiful and forgotten monster park in the outskirts of Rome. Mysterious, bizarre and completely unique."
Under the Skin with Russell Brand
"Russell Brand’s political podcast, where he interviews intellectuals and thinkers like Douglas Rushkoff, Yanis Varoufakis, Adam Curtis, Brad Evans and Henry Giroux to name a few. They are very simple yet deep, inspiring and funny."
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