Louise Dawson meets the designers behind emerging minimalist design label MASC
Duncan Shaw and Billy Yick are a refined and demure presence at Vauxhall Fashion Scouts’ International Press & Buyer’s reception. Already dominating Selfridge’s Bright Young Things window, you might expect a certain degree of divadom, or at least nerves, but the two young designers behind emerging label MASC are refreshingly down to earth.
Two of a kind
“We both have the same creative vision,” Shaw explains of their close personal and professional relationship. “Meaning we know when something is right without even speaking to one another, which is very rare I think. We also bring different abilities to the table, with Billy keeping us super organised and me producing drawings and talking to people on the front line. Eureka moments are great as we always have someone to share them with!”
Their vision this season was all about chic minimalism, which feels like a breath of fresh air amongst the prints, pastels and pretty-pretty excess currently dominating fashion.
Inspired by the poetic ambiance and Mandarin aesthetics of the film In the Mood for Love by Kar Wai Wong (2000), their A/W 2012 collection is big on structured elegance, with saturated hues, high collars and rectangular panelling combined with a1960’s Hong Kong silhouette. This sense of drama has seen the pieces feature in i-D, The Times and Italian Vogue, but they retain a flattering elegance that is eminently wearable.
Made in England
Provenance and craft are also central to the MASC philosophy, with both the previous and current collections entirely handmade in England. Shaw emphasises that the duo insist on full control over the quality of each item. “Each piece is cut by hand and then made-up by our highly skilled in-house seamstress,” he explains. “All pressing, pleating, hand finishing and quality control is given our full attention, ensuring that each MASC garment is perfect when it leaves the studio. We really enjoy working with British factories. There are real craftsmen here and we learn from them as well as ensuring each piece is perfect. It also means we can deliver high quality womenswear very quickly which gives us an edge over larger design houses that manufacture overseas.
These are truly homegrown boys. They met at Nottingham Trent University while studying for their BA in Fashion Design. On their graduation in 2007, Yick accompanied Shaw to Paris where he had been selected as the only British graduate invited to study at the Institut Francais De La Mode.
Shaw believes that the time they spent together in Paris has had a considerable influence on their outlook as designers – and indeed, with its strong colour palette of navy blue, maroon and cream, interspersed with bright bursts of red, there is something of the Tricolore about their latest collection.
Upon returning to the UK they settled in east London and started collaborating on MASC. Shaw’s advice to aspiring designers characterises the label’s bold and confident look: “Stick to exactly what you want to do and you will create a strong body of work. Trust your instinct. Do not make a portfolio that tries to appeal to everyone at every market level, specialise and move in the direction that appeals to you.”
Their ten year plan? ‘We see MASC as an established label offering a full line of desirable, yet unorthodox womenswear and accessories to an international audience,’ Shaw explains. Rooted in strong ethics, a strong aesthetic and a super-strong relationship, MASC evidently has serious designs on our wardrobes.
Photography: Phill Taylor