Suits festooned with mallards and roosters. Models of varying ages carrying attach cases and sporting bristly, Magnum PI-inspired moustaches. The 7th Marquess of Bath as fashion inspiration. These are all part of the mix that has made young menswear upstarts Agi & Sam the talk of London’s men’s fashion week.
Now, designers Agi Mdumulla, 27, and Sam Cotton, 26, look set to capitalise on all the industry chatter, and reach a wider audience, when their debut collection for Topman launches worldwide next month.
The pair met while working at Alexander McQueen in 2008. Sam was producing prints while Agi was working with the men’s design team. Their complementary backgrounds -- Sam studied illustration at University of Lincoln while Agi graduated from Manchester School of Art with a degree in fashion design -- led them to join forces, setting up their brand in August 2010. Last year, following just three catwalk shows, the duo found themselves with a British Fashion Award nomination for the Emerging Talent menswear prize. Meanwhile, Sir Paul Smith is a mentor.
The 20-piece Topman range includes trademark snappy tailoring and digital prints and is a great example of the developing Agi Sam formula: quirky inspirations mashed up to create lively clothes for the anti-minimalist. The collection, dubbed ‘The Owls’, draws on the birds (a familiar Agi & Sam motif) as well as football kits and George Best.
“I’ve tried, with all my heart for the past five years, to make Agi like football, so we can play football, talk about football, but Agi prefers to talk about Made in Chelsea and Radio 4,” smiles Sam over coffee. He has wanted to design football kits since he was young, so the Agi & Sam Topman ones, inspired by strips from the early 1990s, is a bit of a dream come true. Though notably it is Agi who is wearing one this morning. As he wisely points out, football appeals to the masses, while retro sports kits have a certain ironic fashion appeal.
The owl theme was then added, with feathers and the mottling on owl eggs used for prints on shirting and tailoring. “I’ve always liked owls. They’re underrated animals,” announces Agi with sleepy charm. Indeed, the Agi & Sam logo looks a bit like an owl’s face Sam has developed this into a football badge for the Topman kits and during the six-month period it took them to settle on Agi & Sam as the name for their brand, “owls” came up as an option.
Away from Topshop, the Agi & Sam mainline collection is doing well and their T-shirt range for Liberty has already sold out. Stephen Ayres, head of fashion at the department store, praises the duo’s ability to do print- on-print, a look popular on the women’s London catwalks.
“Many young menswear designers have experimented with this trend but Agi Sam have been successful in translating it into the men’s arena,” he says.
Their hit autumn/winter 2013 show this January continued to use a mix of models of different ages, while riffing on country estate chic, with hunting prints, gilets and bold tailoring. Tim Sturmheit, buyer at oki-ni.com, also stocking the label next season, says: “They have so many great ideas almost too many but this autumn they’ve picked the best ones and made a really coherent collection.”
Robert Johnston, associate editor at British GQ, is also a big fan. “I’m not a young kid but I’d buy their clothes. I think the mixed casting has helped a great deal. They’re good at making clothes that people want to wear, as well as knowing what makes a good picture, which is the ultimate catwalk success.”
Lulu Kennedy founded and runs the initiative Fashion East, which works with Topman on the MAN group show that has given Agi & Sam their platform for the past three seasons. She praises their work ethic and their ability to seek out help and listen to it. “Despite roaring success they’ve kept their feet on the ground,” she says. “Though I do find myself telling them off for not wearing their own clothes often enough.”
The speedy rise of their label is not something the designers particularly think about, though. “We’re not sitting around Googling ourselves,” says Agi, rolling his eyes at the thought. “My mum does though,” Sam chips in: “My mum has had a Google alert set up.”