Aries, Arise! SoFia Prantera on Rave, Rebellion, and Remaining Relevant
We take the train a couple of stops north to Essex Road and catch up with Aries co-founder, Sofia Prantera, to talk about how the intertwining roles of fashion and streetwear have evolved during her career at the forefront.
Thanks for inviting us to come and chat, Sofia. Could you tell us a bit about how Aries began?
Well, Aries started as a concept at the beginning of 2010. Fergus [Purcell] had just left Tonite, and I’d just had 2 children. I had been working on Silas [and Maria], which ended in 2007 and had done some freelancing in-between, but I just thought it was time to do something else. We started mainly as a unisex concept – Ferg and I wanted to wear the same t-shirts, I wanted to add in some dresses and other bits – but this was 2010 so a lot of people didn't really understand it.
The concept behind the graphics, and name, came from Ferg. Aries is about rebuilding upon a lost or broken civilization, about things that come from the ruins. Part of the concept was about repurposing and reutilizing things, and standing against waste. The references to classicism, to Italian culture in the ‘80s, the Versace references… that graphic identity was there from the beginning – the temple, the rat, the rubbish, and the broken columns. I think, within reason, we’ve stayed true to this original concept.
How come you feel people didn’t necessarily understand the label at first?
I think even if you start with a good set of values, it's become much harder once you go into market and translate them into something viable – it soon became apparent that at the start it was easier to run Aries as a womenswear brand, since that market was much more open to a unisex concept. It was much easier to put a chino, a dress, and a baggy t-shirt in a womenswear line than it was to put a dress in a unisex line. There just wasn’t such a thing as a unisex store then either – concept stores then weren’t like that.
We remember reading how you wanted the brand to be a return to the ‘80s, where ‘streetwear was fashion and vice versa’…
Yeah, I mean I’m Italian, so I think the lines have always been a lot more blurred between what is, in my mind, fashion and what is streetwear. A lot of the big brands there have always referenced streetwear - it’s much less about being ‘formal’, and even Italian formalwear is much more casual than British formalwear. I started studying fashion because I was interested in street style, you know?
My mother used to go to London and would bring back i-D, The Face, those kinds of magazines, and I’d be looking at people who went to clubs and who dressed in a particular way. There were brands like Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, and they were all coming from street culture, and it was a clash between that and what the established brands like Versace and Prada were doing in Italy. Those were my formative years, before I even came to London to study, and they inspired me.
How do you feel it’s diverged since then?
I think prior to the ‘80s there was a very defined line between what was considered ‘high fashion’, and what was considered ‘low fashion’, or streetwear. I think it crossed over in the ’80s, and even later at the beginning of the ‘90s it crossed over again and became really divided when I came here. The ‘90s were so anti-fashion – the rave came along so we just weren’t interested in it, we were more interested in clubbing, The Happy Mondays, all that kinda stuff. I originally came in looking at British fashion as it was presented in i-D and all those things, but that didn’t actually belong to my generation. My generation was after that.
Now it seems to be crossing over again, but whether we’ll ever go back to where we were, I don’t know. I don’t think we will. I think formalwear has permanently changed, and I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the kind of formalwear that was once considered high fashion.
You’ve said in the past you felt you struggled to reconcile your love for fashion with streetwear experimentation, antifascist youth movements, trash culture, all these clashing influences. Do you feel you’ve reconciled it through Aries?
I think right at the beginning we struggled, but since we launched the original concept a lot of people caught up with the idea and there were a lot of brands that started doing it in a louder, more attention-seeking manner. The way I reconciled it with myself was that all of a sudden I realised it just wasn’t an issue anymore, and it was due to brands like Vetements, for example. They shouted in peoples’ faces, “THIS is what people want to wear.” I think up to that point I felt quite isolated and divided in where my influences were coming from – they were both from fashion and from skate wear.
When the other brands came on the scene it changed the way things were perceived. We were always part of a subculture, and then all of a sudden we weren’t, we were what was actually acceptable, somewhere people wanted to go and buy clothes. They liberated everyone from this concept of streetwear and high fashion - you can have a really beautiful silk dress with a shit t-shirt next to it and it looks good! And that’s what’s been part of our generation’s formation and cultural reference.
So where do you feel the role of streetwear lies today? If it used to be a means to stand out or differentiate yourself then where’s it left when everyone’s wearing Palace?
Well I guess it’s kind of ubiquitous now, but I think the mentalities of younger people have changed. I think for my generation it was really important to have that difference, that [sense of] rebelliousness. I’m not sure if it’s that important anymore, or if it is you don’t necessarily express it in the way you dress.
I just think it’s because it’s been done, you know? We’re the parents now and we did that. Rebelling through the way you dress isn’t really relevant anymore. I see it with my children – maybe they’ll grow up and start wearing… I don’t know, clothing from the 18th Century or something, but there’s nothing they’re going to do that’s going to shock me, put it that way [laughs].
I think maybe the whole idea of streetwear and street style is becoming slightly irrelevant – the question is more where does that leave fashion as a way to communicate because these days I feel it’s really difficult to communicate through the way you dress. There are so many micro-trends, and it’s lost. There used to be a time you could get on the tube and know people were going to the same pub or club as you. You don’t now. It’s harder to identify a tribe now, and it’s more chaotic. In a way, that’ll probably make it irrelevant.
Why do you feel that tribal aspect has gone or, at least, was more relevant in the past? The Internet? Late stage capitalism?
I think it’s because everything is so much faster. Even in movements that preceded me, such as punk or even rave to a certain extent, that were born from the underground, they were movements that were cultivated for years before they even reached any kind of attention. Now any small movement can reach attention in minutes and things can get commercialised before they’ve even had a life. I find it quite liberating in a way because I find I don’t have to know what’s in fashion – I just do what I want and I don’t worry about it. At the same time, whether the younger generation feels the same way, I’m not really sure.
So where do you think that leaves fashion?
It’s really difficult to know. We always felt part of the avant-garde in some ways, and that we were moving ahead of fashion. I don’t know if that’s there anymore, and I don’t know what is ahead. I think chaos, maybe? [laughs] I definitely feel that’s the way I’m designing – it’s about clash, and clashing all the time. Whether even that’s going to become irrelevant soon, who knows?
What does the future hold for Aries?
Well, I’m hoping to carry on producing a fairly undefined offering that men and women can buy into as and when they please. We have a lot of new collaboration projects coming up this year, we’ve got some art projects, some pop-up projects, and we’ll explore things that, at the moment, we can’t manufacture. I’m really excited about what’s happening and you know, hopefully we’ll keep growing!