By Diana Kiernander
David Black was amazed when an experimental kilt he designed, then wrote off as ‘too weird’, was a huge hit with art students in the city. He scored his first fashion sale and has been riding on a sustainable style wave ever since.
Post Cop 26, climate change marches and Greta Thunberg appearances in Glasgow, it goes without saying that saving the planet would be cool, but sacrificing all that I love about dressing up in fancy frocks to do it, is asking a lot of my fashion heart.
When I started writing for magazines, back in the noughties, it was hard to imagine that clothes could come with a conscience. In those days it was OK to covet the entire Kate Moss collection for Topshop without thinking too much about where the garments had come from.
But in 2022, the ethical and cultural landscape in the fast-fashion era are hard to ignore. Landfills. Sweatshops. Stealing designs from the independents. Right now, fashion hasn’t got a pretty face.
But if we’re honest, the sustainable alternative doesn’t always fulfil our fashion frivolity dreams either. The billion-pound turnovers at companies like Shein and Pretty Little Thing is shameful proof that we all struggle to give up the fun factor. If only we could feel ‘wow’ as well as worthy…
Step forward David Black. You’ll get those vibes as you walk through his House of Black doors in the supercool space on The Hidden Lane in Finnieston. The shop has got sustainability just right. Exciting design and recycled fabrics, it’s a treasure trove of weird, but incredibly wearable, one-offs. It is the work of Glasgow boy, David Black, 32, who set up shop here on his own, in 2019. Now working out of his studio space in the creative heart of the West End, he has been on a fashion adventure across Scotland. He gained his Masters in Fashion Design for Industry at the Galashiel’s campus of Heriot-Watt university and hot-footed it back to Glasgow to rack up more style stripes working in theatre, teaching, retail and visual merchandising. But his biggest fashion coup now is bang on the sustainability trend and it’s gloriously simple.
‘Everything is made from garments either damaged or unwanted. I don’t pay for the material, so my customers don’t either,’ explains Black, in the humblest, most honest bit of fashion speak I’ve ever heard. ‘I price pieces according to how much time I spend making them.’
The result? An extremely reasonably priced mesmerising mix of hand sewn creations. Think crayon coloured t-shirts, upside-down blazers, slouchy knitwear, and bias cut ball dresses. Black draws inspiration from club kids, drag artists, music icons and even horror films. He’s a self-declared ‘Dr Frankenstein of Fashion’ who enjoys cutting up old or discarded clothing to make something beautiful.
Back in 2018, whilst working at City Retro, a vintage shop in downtown Glasgow, he got his first chance to showcase and sell his own designs. But when he fashioned a very unique kilt out of classic heritage pieces, he feared he’d gone too far. He cut up an Argyle diamond pattern golf gear sweater and paired it with other loopy fabrics to make a sort of post-modern kilt hybrid. Then he panicked and nearly pulled it off the shelf.
An art student found it in time and convinced Black that his style is special.
More than jumping on the upcycling trend, he’s always loved the experimental frisson fashion can offer and this sets him apart from a lot of sustainable brands. He explores the chance clothes give everyone to transgress. Men’s shirts are transformed into dresses, skirts are fashioned into gender neutral wares. It’s unsurprising then that Roison Murphy from Moloko is his go-to style crush and someone he ranks way above Lady Gaga in the dreamy dress-up charts. Staying with the music, he tells me his first fashion memory is when Kylie (the Minogue one!) wore that white jumpsuit in her ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ video and transformed from pop star into icon.
Subsections of his business transform too, like his more couture centred ‘Black Market’ line. Here, staying true to his fashion fan boy roots, he becomes less concerned with wearability and pushes the experimental, Frankenstein edge a bit further. Expect to find garments taken apart, arms moved from suit to skirt and pieces buttoned, pinned and even turned upside down for a bit of deconstruction drama. It’s couture you can afford and the biggest thing he’s moving around in fashion is where it sits within the planet now. And like the fabric he recycles, that doesn’t have an expiration date.
Quick Fire Round:
DK: What are you wearing?
DB: Vintage t-shirt and vintage trainers from City Retro andtTrousers from ASOS.
DK: What fashion designer rocked your world first?
DB: Martin Margiela. Everything he did with sustainability from the start of his career really blew my mind. His Artisinal Collection was amazing. I remember he created a waistcoat from car light reflectors and he drilled holes in found objects All of that eventually influenced my work, especially the Black Market line.
DK: What do you order at the Hidden Lane tearoom?
DB: Nanaimo Cake – 3 layers of chocolate, nut and wafer bliss
DK: Tell us an interesting fact about the House of Black?
DB: The space where my shop is now used to be a Queer Bookshop, called Burning House Books. I like to think it retains that radical, independent vibe it always had.