You know a big break is coming when Daphne Guinness, the avant-heiress and fashion fanatic, decides she wants to make your sketches a reality. It may sound as out-there as Guinness’s towering footwear, but that’s exactly what happened to Hogan McLaughlin, a former dancer from Chicago who had never sewn a stitch in his 22 years. And it all started on Twitter.
This past summer, the upstart designer was able to turn his somewhat macabre, Edward Gorey-esque drawings into a mini-collection of eight romantically gothic pieces and present them during New York Fashion Week. Among them was a sequined sheath with the look of modern-day armor that Guinness wore to the opening of a self-curated exhibition of her clothing at the Museum at FIT, placing the first-timer alongside the likes of Alexander McQueen, Rick Owens, and Gareth Pugh.
From his parents’ house in Chicago, McLaughlin talked to Hint about his Twitter adventure, his upcoming move to Brooklyn and his plans to follow up on a stellar first act…
You’re about to move back to New York. How are things different than when you first came in 2010?
It was hard when I first moved because I didn’t go to college, and all of my really close friends from high school ended up at NYU or Pace or any of the colleges in the New York area. During the day they were in classes or working, so I was on my own, exploring the city, really with no schedule. I was just wandering aimlessly for a good six months—or actually a good year. I was really set to move back to Chicago, because I had a career here and I knew I could figure something out. Then all of this Twitter stuff with Daphne Guinness happened and I decided, well, I might as well stay.
Tell us about the Twitter stuff. How did you two connect?
I had found her on Twitter. Prior to that I had always really respected her fashion choices and her entire style and everything, even her art choices. I wasn’t sure if it was really her or not, but I started following her and then after a couple months I realized this is the real deal, it’s her. So I started sending her a few images of sketches I had done and she said we had to make this happen. Our friendship just spiraled from there. I met her a few months after and I brought some more sketches and she said, “Let’s do this and this and this”—and we did. A friendship happened, not only a collaboration, but an actual friendship. That was the catalyst for me to turn it into a collection. I had done illustrated things every season, just for fun—so I have a lot of archival things to draw on, but I had never put them into production. After making the things with Daphne, I thought now’s the best time to do it.
So the work with Daphne is the first time you actually made garments?
I’ve had no formal training in fashion, construction or anything. I never sewed in my life prior to this summer. The woman who I’m working with, Branimira Ivanova, was working at the costume shop at the dance company I was dancing for. So she’s really responsible for translating all of these into patterns and simultaneously teaching me all the ins and outs of things. She’s become a great friend of mine, and she’s brilliant in her knowledge of how to do all these weird fantastical things. It’s been cool to learn. I bought my first sewing machine.
What did you learn from Daphne through this process?
I’ve really grown to respect her even more than I did prior to ever meeting her. She has this mindset where it’s do it well or don’t do it at all. Do exactly what you want or don’t do it. I think some part of me wanted to scale back and make my designs a little more accessible. And while they’re accessible, I don’t think I skimped on any of my vision. She really solidified that mindset in me, of being true to yourself and not apologizing for anything.
Was there anything that surprised you about her?
One of the things that we connected over was the fact that she’s a classically trained opera singer, which I didn’t know. And I danced in a good number operas at Chicago’s Lyric Opera. Aside from that, nothing terribly surprising. She’s as brilliant as you think she’d be.
Does your dance background play into your work?
Oh, yeah. I guess they concentrate a lot with lines within my fashion pieces, and seams and just different ways to cut things. And I think that comes from partnering with women my whole life in dance. I really got to know the contours and stuff, because of lifting and turning every woman. It’s really cool to draw on that experience and this heightened sense of the body and the form and the musculature and the bones and the skeleton.
What can we expect from your next collection?
Every time I talk to friends or family about it they’re kind of put off, but I’m liking this kind of classic Japanese silhouette—definitely more stylized and updated—with punk plaid stuff instead of silk. And then there’s always some kind of medieval aspect to it. It’s taking shape right now. I’m starting the sketches and when I get back to New York I’ll start fabric shopping.
You’ve gotten a lot of media attention recently. Anything you’d like to clear up?
I think it’s kind of funny that some press has been calling me Australian or British. I’m from the Midwest. That’s the biggest thing.