Isaac Raymond is a young British fashion designer, diagnosed at the age of 7 with Asperger syndrome. He has achieved national acclaim for his couture shows, based on his response to mental illness. Isaac is also a keen rider. His recent work has included becoming an ambassador for the newly launched ‘Young Equestrians’, a youth club aimed at re-engaging young people with equestrian sport. Nikki Goldup talks to Isaac to find out more about his life as a fashion designer, equine ambassador and how riding and fashion design have enabled Isaac to understand more about his own and others mental illness.
"Since a young age I have loved the pleasure that can be felt through the power of wearing well designed clothes"
Isaac Raymond has already made a head start in the industry, producing four collections that have gained press recognition and been featured on national television. ‘The Revolution of Bravery’, shown at Brighton Fashion Week in October 2015, showcased thirteen looks inspired by Isaac’s personal interpretation of mental health issues.
Alongside his life as a designer, Isaac has become an ambassador for ‘Young Equestrians’, at Horsham and Mid Sussex Equestrian Academy. A project which has been initiated through the support of the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) in collaboration with The Pony Club. Thanks to Sport England funding, the initiative encourages young people aged 13-18 to reconnect and engage with equestrian sport through nationally based social clubs.
Isaac rides regularly at Horsham and Mid Sussex Equestrian Academy. Through his Young Equestrians Ambassadorial role Isaac has been asked to design T-Shirts to be worn by its members. It is just one way the club aims to showcase the young talent in the riding school, making it and relevant and inspiring to young people.
"The main thing I realised is how blessed I am to only have Asperger's and not a more challenging mental illness"
The fashion industry is renowned for being competitive, pressured and incredibly hard work. What first attracted you to it?
Since a young age I have loved the pleasure that can be felt through the power of wearing well designed clothes. As a child I would rather wear fancy dress costumes than ordinary clothes. I would not leave the home if I was not dressed as some sort of character. It was a way of expressing myself. As I grew up this translated into expression through design. I am also someone who thrives in a competitive and pressured environment - I find it exciting!
Designing a collection, based around a personal reaction to mental health is a huge undertaking. How long did it take you to develop ‘The Revolution of Bravery’ pieces, and do you feel the process helped you to understand more about your own life with Asperger's?
When designing this collection, I tried to capture and create an accurate representation of the stages of different mental illnesses. I thoroughly researched the individual and complex issues. This process was conducted alongside the designing and making of the garments. My collection took just over ten months to design and create. I would say the main thing I realised is how blessed I am to only have Asperger's and not a more challenging mental illness.
As a designer how did you translate these complex and concept-driven ideas into actual garments?
The collection is full of symbolism within the silhouettes, embellishments and fabrics. One perfect example of this is the stage two Schizophrenia jacket. The structured shoulders symbolise the symptom of hallucinating as well as underlining the collection theme of transforming oneself through recognising the individual’s issues with mental health - this is shown through the wing like the shape of the shoulders. The fabric of this jacket is also a subtle hint of the light emerging out the darkness of Schizophrenia as the individual starts to improve.
On this shoot at Horsham and Mid Sussex Equestrian Academy, their rustic scrap heap from the recent redevelopment of arenas lent itself to a creative journey to start the shoot. I was able to match the feeling individuals can get from a mental illness into the physical form, taking the viewer on a journey through to the release you get by connecting with a horse and letting go of those emotions.
To design and make a collection to a short deadline, is a massive undertaking. Did you have any support and how did you cope with the pressure?
I have a very supportive family who help in any way possible. My mother is very helpful when it comes to the final weeks of a collection by helping with the last few bits of sewing. Riding has always been something I love - I find it very calming. The relationship between a rider and his horse is one of the most special there is. It is this special relationship that can have such a significant positive effect on people who suffer from anxiety or mental health issues. It really helps me process any pressures I’ve experienced.
"Riding has always been something I love - I find it very calming"
Your designs have a very couture feel about them and echo the work of the late Alexander McQueen. Would you cite him as an influence?
Yes, all of my garments are handmade and have a large amount of hand sewing and embellishments involved. It was McQueen’s work that first inspired me to start designing when I was twelve. He was a designer who would always push the boundaries of design and society norms. It was the depth and complexity of these designs that first attracted me to his work. They were not just garments -they were almost alive! As I have developed as a designer, I look less to other designers for inspiration and only focus on more varied aspects of art, culture, history and nature. Inspiration can be found everywhere!
In your television documentary ‘Fantastic Mr Fashion’ you talk about the production and chorographical elements of a catwalk show being very significant. Why do you feel is this so important?
‘For me a catwalk show is about telling a story and making the audience feel a mixture of complex emotions through the garments, music and choreography. A show can be a great way of conveying a message. This is what I hoped to do through the presentation of my collection ‘The Revolution of Bravery.’
What prompted your interest in riding and when did you start to ride?
Both my parents rode especially my father. I have always loved horses for as long as I can remember - there is a sense of nobility about them. I started riding when I was around five. I later lost Interest for a few years as a young teenager mainly due to the amount of time I was spending learning and designing.
I started riding again last year and have since noticed how it has had a massive positive impact on my work and time management as I am feeling much more relaxed within myself. At the academy I really get to see the positive impact riding has on young people be that via formal equine assisted therapy, learning and improving during weekly lessons or just riding out in the countryside, surrounded by nature and fresh air.
How does the sport support your life as a designer?
Not only is it a great chance to switch off from the hectic nature of the fashion industry, while riding it has been marvellous meeting fellow equestrian lovers. It’s been wonderful getting involved with riding again and meeting other individuals who are passionate about riding. I love my lessons at Horsham and Mid Sussex Equestrian Academy - it is great being around such supportive and enthusiastic people. I also receive a student discount which makes the lessons far more accessible.
A prominent aim of ‘Young Equestrians’ is to promote riding to people who have maybe dropped out of the sport or no longer find it relevant to their lives. Why do you think some young people disengage when potentially equestrianism has so many positive qualities to offer?
I think it completely depends on the individual - for some it can be that they want to experience other sports and activities. That was the reason I dropped out for a while as I became immersed within my fashion work alongside balancing it with studying. One of the other issues that stands out to me is that young people who drop out are often the ones who do not have many friends who ride. It is this reason why the Young Equestrians will be such an important programme as it allows teenage riders to reconnect and engage with equestrian sport through social clubs.
"There is nothing more ‘cool!’ than the connection between a rider and their horse"
From a fashion designer and young person’s perspective do you think horse riding has a ‘cool’ image? What do you think can be done to promote the image and make it more appealing?
I do as there is nothing more ‘cool!’ than the connection between a rider and their horse. It is this connection that makes riding such an uplifting, powerful and freeing experience. The equestrian community needs to become much more involved with social media to engage my generation and younger, so that individuals who may not be from a riding family can see the joys of riding. It is this balanced with social clubs such as the Young Equestrians that will really revive riding’s ‘cool’ image.
I have been asked to develop a range of T-Shirt designs that will be worn by the Young Equestrians who attend Horsham and Mid Sussex Equestrian Academy. This is a really exciting opportunity for me as it utilises my design skills but also links design and fashion to equestrian sport. I think that’s a very important thing as many young people are interested in style and the clothing they wear as it forms an important part of their identity. Some may view riding as an ‘old fashioned’ interest but by working with young people as an ambassador and designer I hope to dispel some of these views and make riding more accessible and cool.
What is your view on contemporary equestrian fashion? Are there any brands that have grabbed your attention?
There are areas of riding where traditional riding attire is timeless - it has been perfected over many years. In my view it is important it stays unchanged as far as looks are intended. However, in other areas of equestrian sport It seems to me that there is a gap in the market for men’s contemporary riding fashion. There simply just is not enough stylish equestrian menswear. I tend to mix riding essentials like jodhpurs and boots with well-designed jackets by more mainstream brands - sartorial style is key! Womenswear brands seem to be doing contemporary country style much more successfully.
A favourite menswear brand of mine is Sir Plus. They do a great take on country wear that can be worn both in the city and countryside. Their Moss Herringbone Nehru Jacket is a perfect example of this! For jodhpurs and other riding wear I tend to go to Harry Hall.
"Horses will always play a part in my life. Not only do they give a welcome rest from daily life - they are a great inspiration for me and my work in many ways!"
As an emerging designer what are your plans for the future? Where would you like to see your ambition take you? Will horses and riding be a focus in your future plans?
In September, I hope to be starting a course in Fashion Atelier which focuses on couture and bespoke tailoring at Rochester UCA University.
In the future I would like to spend some time working in different couture houses to develop and expand my knowledge in order to learn how the industry works. This understanding is most important as I wish to eventually set up my own couture house.
Horses will always play a part in my life. Not only do they give a welcome rest from daily life - they are a great inspiration for me and my work in many ways!
Learn more about Isaac:
- Designer and Stylist: Isaac Raymond
- Shoot Photographer: Michael Thorn
- Models: Emily Bunclark & Rebecca May Bolton
- Hair and MUA: Nicola Johnson & Martine Turner
- 'Isaac Raymond' catwalk photo: Malcom Tam
With special thanks to the team at HMSEA: