Mon 29th November

Leanne Elliott Young on Digital Fashion and Being The PARC Muse

Text   Dino Bonacic
A quintessential figure of the British fashion scene, Leanne Elliott Young is a renaissance human whose practice goes beyond the easily understandable. She is a solution-led creative thinker who brazenly looks to the future, making her the ultimate ambassador of Parc London.

It’s no news that the fashion industry is (finally) going through a digital revolution. Conversations around the metaverse, NFTs and avatars are extending outside the geek-y circle of tech fanatics, and numerous megabrands are getting in on this wave. And while this might sound totally unexpected to some, it’s no news for Leanne Elliott Young, who has been anticipating this revolution for years. “When I enter a room, [designer] Liam Hodges just starts shouting terms like URL and IRL at me because of how much I’ve talked about it,” laughs Leanne, who is on the forefront of this movement. In 2020, she co-founded the Institute of Digital Fashion (IoDF) with Catty Tay. The two met in 2015, when Leanne reached out to Catty after obsessing over their final project from Chelsea College of Art. Instead of a traditional physical outcome, Catty created moving image snapshots showing bootleg creations of luxury garments in 3-D movement, presented on a virtual body in a realistic form that was otherwise absent in the industry at the time. “I thought – who is this person? I really want to meet them,” remembers Leanne.

Leanne Elliott Young & Catty Tay wearing Parc; shot by Henry Gorse

They connected on a panel for Dazed and began establishing a language that joined the futuristic ideas of where their industry is heading. Some of the key aspects that emerged early on in their collaboration were the values that have since become imperative in their output. “Our company’s backbone is about inclusivity, diversity and sustainability. That’s why we do things that we do,” says Leanne, adding: “it’s self-expression, too. Imagine the potential of what you can do in a digital space, where you don’t have gravity and you can really explore some pretty crazy things.” They launched their joint venture just as the global pandemic was settling in last year. “It proved to be good timing for us. Digital used to be very much the cherry on the cake; when people used to think last-minute to add something beyond the physical. All of a sudden, it became normal to be on Zoom and build projects with teams all over the world,” says Leanne, noting a shift in brands’ perception of priorities. Since then, Catty and Leanne have been working both with digi-native brands on furthering their presence in the mainstream as well helping traditional narratives being translated into the metaverse. And finally, it seems like people are beginning to understand what this actually means – “it’s not some weird sci-fi word or a cocktail name or a club night,” jokes Leanne. 

 

Shutting down haters and technophobes, Leanne urges that the Institute of Digital of Fashion doesn’t want to completely replace the tactile experience. “We aren’t negating the physical, but want to explore both of those in tandem: IRL and URL working together. It’s not about fembots taking over the runway – it’s about building a new model, one that services the designer and their creative flow as much as it does the industry and the audience. There’s room for more profit, room for more creativity.”

The new opportunities created through this channel are there to democratise the process, too. “We make avatars, but also environments. We create fashion shows that don’t have to be built. You can walk through, explore and really feel the brand and their narrative. It’s another way of storytelling,” Leanne explains, noting a recent London Fashion Week partnership with Machine-A as a perfect example. As the cult concept store was closed during lockdown, IoDF imagined a virtual space that allowed designers including Martine Rose, Per Götesson and Richard Quinn to share how they were feeling as well as showcase fabrics and inspirations that were out of reach due to the global limitations. “We’re building a world that actually feels like the collection and speaks more about their influences and the creative energy around the brand. You immerse yourself in the brand, and then consider the clothes after. It’s like a moodboard that no one gets to see otherwise. As a consumer, you don’t get the show notes or the studio view. There’s a beautiful potential to explore wonderful moments of inspiration.”

Institute of Digital Fashion is currently in the process of preparing the launch of their first NFT, which is something that has been in the making for a while. In addition to partnerships with Vogue Singapore (as seen on the red carpet of the most recent Fashion Awards), they are also consulting with LVMH brands on how to ethically step into the metaverse and the responsibility around that. On the topic, Leane shares: “we really believe that if we’re stepping into avatar production and creation, and wearing another person’s skin, it should be about representation and not characterisation. Instead of replicating the existing systems, brands should open up by making special experiences that can reach the other side of the globe and be in the hands and homes of a new audience, as well as the one they have already.” In order to secure the skills of the next generations, IoDF is offering 4-month educational programmes via the IRL/URL Learning Academy, which teaches emerging creatives the tools and the software. it democratises it. They are currently open for applications with 60 spots available on the programme.

But when she’s not shouting from the rooftops on the importance of virtual presence, Leanne also plays muse to Paul Rawson and Anthony Campbell, the fashion duo behind Parc London. Their first encounter dates back to 2006, when she was working as the bar girl at the legendary queer East London venue George & the Dragon. “We were dancing on the table there and, like in Coyote Ugly, pouring Vodka into each other’s mouths,” she reminisces. Leanne and Anthony instantly clicked, and she even admits to being in love with him at first. But instead of a one-night romance, their relationship grew into a strong bond that extends beyond fashion. “They’re godparents to my baby. Anthony and Paul have always been part of the industry, too – they know everyone, they walk it and talk it,” Leanne admits. When asked about his take on their symbiosis, Anthony says: “Leanne is family, and when Paul and I founded Parc she instantly became the muse. She embodies a wild optimism and fearlessness that inspires us, and is a constant champion reflecting the energy and essence of the brand.”

Worn by musician Arlo Parks, model Lila Moss and boxer Martin Foru, Parc’s collections have encapsulated Paul and Anthony’s personalities and past experiences. The garments are considered into detail and are always designed with a practical point-of-view. With its name being an acronym of their initials, Parc is more than just another brand. It’s their expression and representation of who they are as people rather than just a showcase of designs. One of the core aspects of the collections is the jewellery made out of recycled metal, which Leanne is the face of, along with her business partner Catty. “It’s so exquisite and feels like a portrait of all of their sensibilities; quite poetic. Traditional, but also contemporary – especially with the rings with enamel inlays which reference a turning engine… It’s high craft and artisanal, and simply so impactful.”

Follow Leanne @leanneelliottyoung, Catty @cattytay, Institute of Digital Fashion @institute_digital_fashion & Parc @parc_london.

Produced by: Agency Eleven Studio
Styled by: Trinity Tristan
Photography by: Henry Gorse
Makeup by: Ili Mavroidakou
Featuring Leanne Elliott Young and Catty Tay from the Institute of Digital Fashion
Wearing Clothing and Jewellery by PARC