Ethel Vaughn is a young label out of Hamburg serving up print heavy streetwear. Founded by designer Katrin Diedrich in 2010, the label is unreservedly loud and fun, taking millennials back to their past with its references to 80s and 90s fashion and culture. I recently caught up with Katrin to talk about her collections, personal style, and the vibrant pubic hair print that has got everyone talking!
To generalize, Ethel Vaughn heavily extracts influences from the 80s and 90s. On the one hand, you’ve got the outspoken prints reminiscent of the 80s and then you also have the clean and minimalist pieces that directly reference the 90s–would you say that a generational nostalgia informs your design?
Katrin: There is an influence from the 80s and 90s which is my design base, but I always translate this to present times.
I love to change and to advance with a strong and fixed foundation.
How do you see this evolving in future collections?
Katrin: This approach is how I am and how I work and how I design. Of course the actual hype with 90s looks and streetwear also influences my work and pushes me to improve several very basic statements in order not to repeat myself while maintaining a clear brand identity. When you have such a strong design language and very outgoing pieces, you need to ground it in craftsmanship. I connect bold designs with classic pieces and this is evident in every collection. Connecting those elements is what I strive to achieve.
You’ve mentioned before that films from those decades have inspired the pieces you create. There are many films from those decades that inspire collections these days, even films that weren’t meant to be fashionable in any regard. What are some of your favorite 80s/90s fashion moments on the big screen and which have influenced your collections?
Katrin: There were so many impressions throughout the last 25 years including the fact that my husband Nic, who is five years older than I am, drops his ideas and is basically responsible for all graphic works. As I’ve mentioned before, there are classic 90s gangster movies like Blood in Blood out, Poetic Justice, Boyz´N the Hood, Menace 2 Society and even Bullet, but speaking of geometrical, cinematic and overall inspiration I have found inspiration in films like Zabriskie Point, Gangster No.1 and The Holy Mountain. I think the most direct inspiration I had was and continues to be from music videos, starting w videos from Twenty 4 Seven, 2 Unlimited or East17, Fading into Gabber, Techno and Rave, and well-known looks from brands like Pash and Homeboy. The most relevant inspiration, I think, came from all those Salt’n’Pepa, TLC, Tupac, Wu-Tang stuff.
It seems then that a large portion of your visual influences come from mainstream American pop culture–this is not a critique–I grew up immersed in this culture and I still squeal with joy if a Wu-tang or Tupac song comes on in a club or shop. However, I am American so that is expected. Is there something distinctly “German” that you bring to your designs?
Katrin: Well you know growing up in Germany in the 80s and 90s was possibly the most American lifestyle or entertainment influenced thing you could have. So naturally this whole pop culture was the thing to consume in the 80s. I think what mainly influenced or created a diversity in inspirations and cultures was and continues to be the fact that living in Europe gives you the opportunity to see so many different cultures, languages, etc. Given the fact that I’m partially Russian and my husband’s family is half British, it was never relevant for me to design something distinctly “German”. Designers I adore or who have inspired me throughout the years are from all over the planet and this international idea is what it’s all about for me. By the way, ETHEL VAUGHN is a name taken from my husband’s 80 year old aunt living in Shropshire, UK.
How would you describe your personal style? Would you dress yourself in Ethel Vaughn?
Katrin: I totally do. Basically Ethel Vaughn is exactly what I wear and usually look like. If you see somebody in a plain, classic cut, high quality black coat combined with white track pants and an over-sized knitted sweater, that would be me. Oh, and don’t forget worn out sneakers.
With outspoken prints as well? I think anyone who saw your first collection, immediately noticed the over-sized sweater with the prints of the public region dyed in various bright colors. There is humor, which makes it less vulgar. Can you tell us a bit more about that sweater and how you got the idea to create it?
Katrin: Oh yes. THE MARTINI. That sweater has gained some attention, of course. We are very good friends with Melanie and Uwe – the guys behind TISSUE magazine. They were telling us about a story being printed in the latest issue featuring the pussies photographed by Fee Romero. Since Fee has done hair & make-up for some of our lookbooks, we directly chatted with her and decided to transform ideas from that shoot into a sweater. I think everybody knows Bill Cosby and his crush on amazingly ugly and sometimes nearly artsy sweaters. We were planning to design such a piece at that time and creating an all-over pussy print was an exciting thing for us, especially because the execution is so tasteful. We wouldn’t have been into any porn stuff. Remove the pubic hair and you would have nothing interesting or funny anymore. So it happened.
Yes, speaking of Cosby sweaters, I have two of them with the most awful prints, which I took from my dad’s closet ages ago. I can’t seem to throw these things away and in fact, each winter, I find myself drawn back to my usual repertoire of ‘hideous’ over-sized sweaters that I’ve taken from my father, brothers, or ex boyfriends. What is the most hideous thing that you’re attached to?
Katrin: Easy. That’s a Le Frog Tracksuit from early 90s. Turquoise / Yellow with Max Headroom-ish figures printed on.
What is the most exciting thing in fashion for you these days (which designers, what trend, what style)?
Katrin: What I obviously like is the fact that streetwear has found it’s way into so many collections, bringing back a freshness I’ve missed for some time. I’m totally into combining well-known streetwear elements with very technical, modern stuff. Using high-tech fabrics for kinda classic pieces is something I love. For example, 90s techno style transformed into modern high fashion with clear artsy elements has the biggest potential for me right now. Given that there’s no surprise, I really dig the collections of Astrid Andersen or Kokon To Zai, Henrik Vibskov and Etudes.
Yes, I was thinking about this some time ago. Given the state of our technology, why are we still so limited to what is on offer for winter wear? You would think it would be possible to use some high-tech fabric to create a and “affordable” sleek winter coat that is actually warm and doesn’t leave you looking like a fashion victim. If you were charged with the task to create a winter coat that would optimize function and fashion, what would it look like and what would it be made from?
Katrin: We’re right at it for AW14/15. Not too sure if that will be decent though, you know.
Ah okay. So no secrets revealed until the unveiling of AW 14/15?
Katrin: Not too much, but it’s gonna be pretty simplistic in terms of cuts and colors and also technically oriented. You won’t miss the outspoken pieces I promise.
Check out Ethel Vaughn’s SS 14 collection:
Photography: Heiner Lüpke
Creative Direction: Nic Diedrich
Styling: Adelaida Cue Bär
Hair & Make-Up: Fee Romero
Models: Leslie & Lukas – The Special