Words by Kushie Amin
Photography by Lorenzo Berni for Kaltblut Magazine
For many, lockdown offered a moment of pause and reflection, but for designer Holly Macleod it was an opportunity to revive her creativity and craft. The Edinburgh native spent her time on furlough designing her latest collection, featuring bright snake imagery printed on semi-transparent materials; her playful use of surrealist graphics and vivid colours serving as the perfect antidote to pandemic gloom. “I want to make fun clothing,” Macleod tells me, “I have noticed people are often scared of colours and don’t know how to wear them. But actually, there aren’t many colours that don’t go together. It's about confidence.”
An eclectic range of influences inform her work, ranging from club culture and burlesque dancers, to contemporary drag culture and mythology. Prints are central to Macleod’s work, acting as a powerful form of visual story-telling. The snake imagery that permeates her latest collection may bring to mind club fashion and psychedelic raves, but its origins are in fact rooted in Macleod’s Scottish ancestry. “I was looking at my family background and I started researching mythology and rituals. I came across a few things and learnt that they put snakes into the fields to produce better harvest for the seasons.”
Yet much of the ingenuity of Macleod’s work lies in the design process itself; when Macleod stumbled across leftover material that had been piling dust since her graduate collection, she immediately saw its creative potential. Keen to avoid fabric waste, she cut the mesh fabric into a tight-fitting mid-length dress, which would soon be named the ‘California Gater’ – one of her best-selling pieces. Mesh might have seemed like an unusual choice, but Macleod found that it offered a fit to the body that felt more fluid than materials like cotton, linen or silk. “Because it's mesh, it's stretchy and blends itself to create forms, allowing for the perfect fit. It was definitely a happy accident” she admits with a smile.
At first the thought of wearing an all-mesh body piece feels daunting, but to wear a Macleod piece is a welcome exercise in body positivity. Just take a look at Macleod’s Instagram to see models of different shapes and sizes writhe around self-assuredly in her Gater dresses and gloves against a myriad of backdrops and settings. In fact sizing for her dresses and tops ranges from UK size 6 to 22 – a rarity amongst start-up fashion designers. We both agree that when it comes to finding fashion-forward and fun pieces, plus-size consumers have been long overlooked by the industry. For Macleod however, brands have a responsibility to cater for all: “Fashion should be something that’s inclusive of everybody,” she says, and it’s clear that this belief informs every level of her process. To wear a Macleod dress is not about altering your silhouette, but rather, about embracing the body in its purest form. Like a second skin, the thin, gauzy texture clings to every crevice and undulation of the body, providing its wearer with a powerful and remarkably liberating feeling of embodiment.
Since the easing of lockdown restrictions, Macleod’s pieces have been worn by a number of rising stars, including British rapper Stefflon Don, RuPaul’s Drag Race finalist Crystal Methyd and LGBTQ activist Lewis G Burton. Amidst the popularity, Macleod remains focused on designing meaningful garments that connect with their wearer. “I want the brand to be something that people can aspire to, with long-lasting garments to be enjoyed for years to come,” she explains. As we reacquaint ourselves with our love for dressing up and night-time escapades, there is no doubt that many will be clambering for one of Macleod’s statement Gater dresses.