Aries Arise, an East London-based womenswear brand, heavy on the denim, has quietly been working its way onto the hangers of discerning dressers in London and beyond. Founders Sofia Prantera, Luca Benini, and Fergus Purcell started the brand in 2012, but they actually met nearly twenty years prior. The trio first crossed paths in 1993 while working at British skate shop, Slam City Skates. The threesome formed an instant bond — over their love for comics. "I grew up in Rome, but my mother is English, my father Italian. My influences were always a clash of those two cultures," Prantera says. Her earliest memory of Italy? "Going to Fiorucci to buy comics." She recalls picking up pink creepers on those trips, too. Prantera says her father was the one who introduced her to graphics, through his own interest in comics. "In the late '80s, comics were very important culturally and politically in Italy. They were rather extreme and adult." A conversation with Prantera about jeans makes it clear that the classic wardrobe staple is imbued with a lot of significance — power, even. "I remember being at a New Year's party in Rome as a teenager and I'd arrived by myself wearing a pair of jeans; everyone else was dressed up. I saw a girl in a skirt and really high heels and it just struck me how vulnerable she looked. I felt empowered in my jeans." Prantera says of the virtue of a great pair of jeans, "As a woman, you're so autonomous in [jeans]. You can go anywhere in them. And there's just something cooler about being dressed down."
When Prantera met Purcell for the first time, he arrived with comics in hand. "I just fell in love with everything he did," she tells us. "Up to that point, I hadn’t met anyone else who was as into comics. And from the very beginning, we discussed establishing a brand together." So, how did an Italian teenager find herself in a basement off Tottenham Court Road in London's most famous skate shop in the early '90s? "My mom would come back from London with copies of i-D and The Face, so I was aware of London that way," Prantera remembers. "My sister and I were listening to post-punk and American punk music at the time, and she helped me shave my head and dye my Mohawk pink." Encouraged by her mother, Prantera soon found herself in London during the Acid House era, a house music and clubbing movement circa the mid-'80s. She moved in with her stepgrandmother, who wouldn't notice when she would sneak out at night with friends.
Things settled down temporarily when Prantera enrolled at the prestigious Central Saint Martins. "People were raving, and high fashion was irrelevant — but you could see the seeds of Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan," she says. The shadow of the grand Italian houses she'd grown up under was receding. Prantera says it was less about big brands, and more about music. "Only with magazines like Dazed & Confused did it become relevant again." From the beginning, Prantera's connection to Acid House — and London, more widely — was seminal in her work. Traces of the scene's aesthetic can still be found in her and Purcell's designs: giant smiley faces, glow-in-the-dark cartoons, splatters of iridescent rainbow paint. However, up close, the cut and finish of the garments render the final products more high-end and refined. "For me, it was always going to be difficult to reconcile that high-low fashion balance," Prantera explained. "I decided I would incorporate my love of graphics and skatewear with my appreciation for designer fashion via my methods and processes: The production costs have to be high, and you have to work with really great manufacturers; otherwise it folds into itself." High-fashion and streetwear may be highly visible in the industry now, but these two movements first coalesced in the early '90s, due to the explosion of youth culture — and Prantera happened to stand at the collision point, due to her connection to both worlds. Now, she says one of her tricks is her choice of fabrics — picking more ordinary materials, like jersey and denim, and rendering them in more sophisticated fabrications. "What we do is not mass produced — I'm mathematical with my cutting. I think that’s my being Italian; we don't do 'sportswear.'"
Before Aries Arise came to be, Prantera worked for a host of different brands and freelanced for different clients. When she decided to start her own brand in 2012, she recalls the market not totally embracing streetwear (yet). "People had seen it the first time around, and weren't ready for it again," she notes. "Or, so they said." Purcell and Prantera met up again in 2012 (nearly two decades after meeting at Slam City Skates) to discuss launching a brand. They picked up where they left off — with conversations about those grand Italian fashion houses and their enduring passion for graphic design and comics. (Purcell had since come up with the infamous Penrose triangle logo for another skate shop, Palace Skateboards, emblematic of youth culture and street culture in the U.K. "The name came first — [Purcell] is an Aries. Our logo, which is a temple, is supposed to represent [classic] Italian labels, like Versace and Moschino. The graphics were then all about destroying the temple; rats and ruin and flies — and the fly became our logo — the death and decay and the resurrection," Prantera says. "Out of that came Aries Arise. It was mirroring what we were seeing — looking at those brands going through changes and new things coming out of that, the rose, signs of new life."
The duo's signature jeans (think bleached straight-leg jeans with giant hairy middle fingers painted on the calves with gold leafing on the buttocks and furry lettering) have been consistently present, collection to collection. But their fall 2016 line shows subtle signs of change. Dennis the Menace, furry bumblebee jumpers, and red silk trousers with ombré tassels stand out, as do military green knits and large wool overcoats. The overall impact is a fresh take on a post-punk aesthetic. The brand has been stocked by retailers like Matches Fashion for several seasons now, but surprisingly, when asked where she sees Aries going, Prantera says, "I want it to be a proper brand." In a time where trends get killed off so quickly, Prantera is after longevity. "What kind of jeans you’re wearing in a particular moment says so much, she says. "It's reflective of where you are in your life and what you're doing in that moment in time."