Designer Todd Lynn on Learning From His Musical Muses and Why Lady Gaga Should Never Have a Fashion Line

A model walks the runway at the Todd Lynn fashion show during London Fashion Week. Credit:

Even if you knew nothing about Canadian-born designer Todd Lynn, one look at his recent Spring 2012 runway collection, presented at London Fashion Week two weeks ago, makes it clear the type of customer he serves: someone thoroughly modern and culturally aware who likes their wardrobe to reflect their world view. Or, as Lynn states, someone who "doesn't have to fake it, who just is."

The spirit of authenticity means a great deal to the Central St. Martins-trained designer, who perhaps more than almost any other contemporary fashion thinker, understands the intricacies of his craft in relation to the music that drives him to do it. His sophisticated, dark-natured collections never scream "this is what rock & roll looks like" like some more overtly music-driven lines (Balmain, Diesel, Alexander Wang, et al); instead the suggestions drifts from abstraction to reality when you realize what he's doing is capturing a feeling, not branding a look. Fashion critics appreciate Lynn's cut-throat tailoring methods and unusual dexterity with knits, which he spindles into seemingly impossible shapes and silhouettes. Meanwhile, alpha females savor his shadowy aesthetic for its subtle suggestibility and ability to project both a hard and soft sensuality. "Those who appreciate androgyny seem to get it," he says of his line's appeal. "And traditionally, women in music love to play with that idea."

Lynn can namecheck his influences, who double as muses, with ease: "PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Shirley Manson." He's had the good fortune to work with the former, as well as Janet Jackson, U2, David Bowie, and Marilyn Manson, demonstrating the fluid, genderless versatility of his tenebrous design scope. THe designer fills Rolling Stone in on how his smart (and selective) relationship with the musical community is something more poignant than a well-branded collaboration can ever capture.

What were some of your priorities for Spring 2012?
I wanted to move things forward, and take new challenges. What I do is based on tailoring, and it's my signature, but I don't want to be limited by it. How do I take it into a new and unexpected direction? I wanted to create a lightness; Spring should be about feeling light. That led me to experiment with new fabrics and play with the palette. Subtle shifts. 

Your line has gained a reputation as being quite musical, and yet the quality that makes it so isn't necessarily easy to pinpoint.
Exactly. But that's because I don't think overtly in terms of "themes." I don't go out of my way to project a musical vibe; it's really innate for me, so that influence just comes through organically. But look, everyone likes music, everyone wants to look like a rock star. I don't think you need to state it, it's already a given. There's a masculine/feminine tension there. I think creative women love that, so they are drawn to my collections.

You've also been called "goth." Did you ever identify as that?
Believe it or not, no. I love dark imagery and the possibilities of that aesthetic, but it's been so bastardized and butchered, that the vitality has been lost. When you say "gothic" now, let's face it: it generally has a negative connotation.

What's a positive way to incorporate "darkness" into your wardrobe without bordering on the cliché?
Buy items you feel comfortable with. You know bizarrely, it doesn't even have to be black. Everyone thinks "gothic" has to be black, but it's really more of a mood, a cut, a feeling the clothing gives you. It's an attitude. I do think when people who generally wear black wear color, it needs to make a statement. It needs to reflect that subversive and strong element; that color's new role is to replace black. You want a color that doesn't back down, that has a core strength in its presentation. I'm working on that! I'm even working on prints; it's not there yet, but it's coming. Not because it's a trend, but because it's important to figure out how to convey your values in new ways.

What else do you want to do next?
With my line itself, I want to do shoes and accesories. And I want to work with more musical people again. Maybe a campaign, an album, a film. Something conceptual.

You're a known avid music fan and collector. What value does physcial collecting have to you in a digital age?
It's really important to cherish something, and to be able to touch it, to hold onto. I think people's expectations have diminished. When CDs came out, remember how people complained you couldn't get the high quality artwork and sound, that vinyl offered? Well, now, with digital, we're offered even less, on both fronts. But we adjust our expecations again. What's interesting about that is that it forces musicians to test drive their material on the worst possible stereo system to see if their work can deliver. The question seems to be: "At its worst, does it sound great?"

Can you think of a fashion parallel to that?
Well, a lot of quality compromises are made. I think a lot of designers use terrible fabrics and charge a lot for it. I often go to stores and check out the quality of the materials various lines are using, and I'm appalled. I buy seriously expensive fabrics; when I put something on, I want to feel great in it. The way you dress can provide unexplained highs; your mind, your perceptions of the world changes. It literally can transform the way you live, if you let it. Fabric and cut totally influence that. I cannot cheapen that experience. 

What has your work with musicians taught you about clothes?
Again, that it has to feel great. Musicians need to move onstage, and the clothing needs to move with them, not against them. The right cut of fabric allows for that fluidity, and at its best, can even enhance the look of it. We have to function on some level as people; nothing is worse than when clothing inhibits your life. My clothing looks very constricting, but I use a super-stretchy fabric, a structured linen, for my trousers. They look great, but are extemely comfortable and allow you to move with ease. Women go crazy for them.

The relationship between fashion and music is more noticeable than ever now; it's almost required that one plays off the other in some commodifiable form. Is this healthy or redundant?
It can be amazing, but it can be banal, because, yes, it's become almost required. At this point, fans expect their favorite singer to have a clothing line, and there's something wrong with that. It becomes about a product more than about expression. It's just branding an inferior product to the people who support them. That's a bit shit.

There's something to be said for the fact that so many of the icons fashion channels the most Debbie Harry or David Bowie, for example never had capsule collections you could just purchase to mimic their look.
It was more exciting when you couldn't just purchase it. Stephen Sprouse and Debbie Harry had that special designer/muse relationship; that was special and unique for its time, but it was also prescient.  

What are your thoughts on Lady Gaga?
She's truly exceptional. It's clear that every other singer who dresses "kooky" is simply following her lead; it doesn't really fit them, whereas with her it's real. I always say that when it comes to clothes, it has to look like it's a part of you, not that it's wearing you. She's an example of someone I hope never does a clothing line. First of all: what would it even be based on? She looks different every week. Secondly, it would defy what she preaches, which is individuality. If anything, she should do a book on DIY fashion! 

Did you ever want to be a musician?
Didn't we all? [Laughs.] And you never know... 

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