YUGEN is teaming up with Orlanda James to share real people’s stories on mental health within the creative industries, from unhealthy masculinity, to the pace of the world and its impact. Orlanda will be publishing periodic work on our platform, as part of an ongoing series.
As busy people with busy lives, our health - especially our mental health - is sometimes the least of our worries. But if there's one thing that we have all learnt during the past few months, it's that this should not be the case. Caring for our health shouldn’t remain a separate concept, instead, it should be an integral part of our lifestyle. This is why we are excited to introduce our collaboration with Orlanda James, fashion menswear graduate and mental health advocate. This is her story.
Originally from Brighton, Orlanda received an alternative form of education at a young age. She studied at a Steiner school where she was encouraged to nurture and develop her creative aspirations through sculpture, metal work, jewellery and gardening classes. Craft based endeavours were part of her day-to-day life and they eventually became the determining factors that influenced her decision to pursue a career in fashion.
In 2015, Orlanda kicked off her BA in Fashion/Apparel Design at Kingston driven by her strong and personal interpretation of fashion. But as time passed, Orlanda became disillusioned with the conceptualisation of today’s fashion. From a young age, she had learnt to respect her creativity and let it flourish in sustainable ways, but at university she was faced with the realities of the industry. From the commercialisation of the projects, to the frenzied pace of production, and the neglect of people’s mental health, Orlanda questioned if she could ever exist in a space that had so easily assimilated all of these conditions. As her peers sought internships at GAP and Urban Outfitters, her passion for fashion waned.
Joining an Erasmus year before her final year of studies was a defining point, interning at HAAL in Stockholm and UY Studio in Berlin. Away from the mainstream pop fashion hubs, she experienced another approach to fashion, one that was more accessible, organic and similar to her childhood upbringing. That helped Orlanda to rethink her relationship with fashion and rediscover her love for the craft. She was comforted by that mind frame and held onto it fiercely when she came back to London to start her graduate collection.
Developed in 2019, Orlanda’s collection (named ‘Fractured egos and wrists’) was a positive reconsideration of the stereotypes associated with the masculinity of young British men. Hoodies, tracksuits and balaclavas were key pieces in her collection, as were camouflage and workwear, purposefully and symbolically used to challenge the stigma associated with such garments and reframe the outsider’s perception of male mental health in the process. The automated symbols of CCTV, facial recognition and a Big Brother omnipresence were introduced in Orlanda’s final shoot, to further address the human desire to conceal and protect one’s identity from external, often harmful, perspectives.
While Orlanda’s collection was socio-political and culturally aware as it was, there was an added personal journey of self-discovery driving the concept forward caused by the loss of her father to suicide at the tender age of 10. The absence of a male progenitor in her family defined the future of Orlanda’s relationships; juxtaposing, in the abundance of male friends and the close fraternal bond with her brother, but also connecting, in the resemblance of their stories. Through her creations, Orlanda navigated the search for her own identity in relation to the male figures in her life, designing for a man able to go beyond the surface of social constructions and balance a strong and vulnerable aspect of a wholeness in character. This duality was translated through her use of fluid but durable fabrics, and, camouflage but bright colour palettes featuring multiple high craft panelling and sectioning. The layered portrayal of masculinity shown by Orlanda’s designs provided a safe space for the introduction of softer elements in an apparently tough, rough environment.
Through the process, Orlanda continued to emphasise that the collection wasn’t about people, but for people, and for that to happen, other creatives’ voices had to be brought into the scene. It started with her partner at the time (a poet himself) and her brother producing pieces of writing, but it soon transformed into a wider collaborative project with other creatives from various industries. Graphic designers, photographers, filmmakers, editors (many of whom were men) contributed in some way to Orlanda’s collection, inspiring the project day to day and helping to transform it into the powerfully complex collection which was finally presented in 2019.
Now, after a year away from design, Orlanda is slowly coming back into the fashion sphere, more reflective and self aware than ever. The past year has been especially hard for our minds and bodies, and this has caused us to reevaluate the future and search for more meaningful connections and share more stories that resonate with our clear values. We are excited to announce that throughout 2021 we will be teaming up with Orlanda to share more real people’s stories on mental health within the creative industries, and more. A round of applause and a warm welcome to Orlanda joining the YUGEN community of great minds.