Obscure Couture: Introverted extroverts

Ten years on from their first meeting at Heriot Watt university, Scottish design duo Obscure Couture talk inspiration, fantasy and Old Firm-inspired fashion

Feature by Rena Niamh Smith | 30 Jul 2012

Jenn Coyle and Lyndsay Pagan of Obscure Couture are the kind of girls I, and possibly you, really want to be, but probably never will. Glamorous to an almost defiant degree, they have a ballsy sense of
style, all loud prints and in-your-face accessories. They are also warm, witty and know how to party. The rhinestone studs of Glasgow’s cosy fashion micro-scene, they are the kind of chicks who light up a
room upon arrival with a fizzy energy that is entirely their own. Fearless, independent and original, it’s the kind of cool that takes no prisoners.

The ethic that they live out in real life is more than reflected in their design. Clashing tartan, glitter and sweeping, dramatic shapes are all part of the nine to five of Obscure design that has won them
nominations for the Scottish Fashion Awards two years running. Their work has been picked up by top stylists, such as those from the X Factor working with Little Mix and Amelia Lily, and more recently on
Kreayshawn, Aggro Santos and Usain Bolt in FHM.

But apparently it didn’t start out all slick teamwork, and they too suffered pangs of something akin to insecurity. “We met in 2002 in first year Heriot Watt Uni in Galashiels, for the first three days we kind of hated each other, eyeing each other with total suspicion and disdain,” explains Jenn. “Then one night I was out smoking and Lynds came out and asked me for share-sies. We bonded closely after, living in one tiny room in the halls together, and causing a two woman hell for everyone else for the next ten years.”

Their combined creativity, along with a dash of raw honesty and bona fide edge, makes their designs some of the best of what Scotland has to offer right now. Described as 'stage and streetwear for the introverted extrovert', they offer both bespoke couture and a ready-to-wear line full of unique pieces. “We were both
lucky enough to do year long placements with insanely creative and inspiring people”, says Jenn. “Lyndsay spent time working with Dr Noki in Brighton and I was with Fee Jones of Mrs Jones in London. Both
were true creatives who refused to conform or bow to any kind of social pressures, wonderful people to be inspired and influenced by.”

Their Autumn 2012 couture collection, which they showed during London Fashion Week, was themed around the idea of a 24 hour binge, titled The Lithium Party. Models showed pastel brocade mini-dresses with
maxi-studs, colour-popping furs, sheer blouses with nought but a cheeky sequin love-heart to protect their modesty and a sweeping dress coat with layers of frills on a sculptural proportion over a tiny
leather body. Pink wigs under headpieces by Jennivieve Berlin Millinery, like a huge glitzy pink heart pierced with a needle emblazoned 'Love Is The Drug', were the perfect icing on the cake.

It’s a show-stopping aesthetic. They describe the Obscure girl as “the woman you want to be. Your secret fantasy. As long as there is a vision and a dream we will go for it.  We prefer it when someone turns
up at our studio crazed and bleary eyed demanding a mermaid tail and a unicorn horn.” Lovers of all things glitzy, they look to the likes of Alice Dellal and Yo Landi Vi$$er as ideal spokespeople for the brand. “We are inspired by everything and anything, from pure unadulterated beauty to disgusting slag heaps, in essence there is beauty everywhere!”

But don’t be fooled by their punk glam exterior. As bespoke artists, they are at the antithesis of fast, disposable fashion. “Our motto is more is more, but we are not cheap,” they say. “We want it all, we
want drama AND we want elegance!” Their couture work features secret details only the client will appreciate and they have a penchant for expensive fabrics, which perhaps explains the division between the
one-off and more commercial lines. ”We use a lot of Kobe leather, these bad boy cows are from Japan and they get massaged every day with beer. The leather they produce is butter soft.”  For them, Obscure is
about “taking a stance against mass-produced, faceless fashion” and with a high street awash with carbon copies, it is a bold but necessary statement to make.

The ready-to-wear line, available on ASOS Marketplace, offers a bit of that crazy Obscure philosophy at a much more accessible price-tag, which they describe as “more fun and street,” while the couture
creations are “design based and intricate.” But each is generated from the same place. “The two have a symbiotic relationship. Our ready-to-wear ranges fund our couture habits.” They also offer a range
of jewellery designed in conjunction with Glaswegian designer Bonnie Bling. Something for extroverts of all budgets, then.

They were nominees for Scottish Young Designer of the Year at the Scottish Fashion Awards for the second year running and were thrilled. “How else could you feel? The awards are such a huge part of Scotland,
they bring so much to our country right now. Tessa Hartmann is actually leading the way single-handedly, she gets very little help from the government at the moment, hopefully that will change.” They
also took part in Scotland Re: Designed, a part government, part privately sponsored project this year. A spotlight for up-and-coming Scottish designers, Obscure Couture made a fabulous orange gown that they entered for the fabric store Mandors' competition. They believe platforms like this offer designers like themselves a “mindblowing” opportunity.

Scotland plays an important role in their brand identity, “Scotland is our home – there is all this breathtaking scenery, our amazing history and our coveted textiles.  One of the oldest trades and we are lucky to have it backing us up, really.  The new wool tartans we used in our latest collection were a complete joy to work with. Thinking about tartan and what it meant, what it represented to the clans is something very magical in itself.”

Having said that, it is an influence rather than the sum of their raison d’être. Instead, they can be said to represent a Scottish take on streetwear and the international urban experience. They riff on the Scottish thing, but not with too much pomp and ceremony.  After re-locating to a new Barras studio, their Spring Summer 2011 collection was a product of their Glasgow East End environment. “Our two 'opposing' tartans were there to represent gangs! The two gangs who fight every weekend even though they are, essentially, from the same seed.  Clashing colours and styles.” It is a tongue-in-cheek take on perhaps the seedier international image of Scotland, but it definitely works.

It was with some surprise, then, that they were invited to take part in the the Royal Highland Show, one of the most conservative and typically 'Scottish' dates on the calendar, but they were flattered. “Being associated with the 'Sheep Association' at the Royal Highland Show was a highlight for us.  We don't 'fit' that kind of scene but we are almost being accepted – accepted to shock.  It's a dream.” And with two inspired and brilliant creative minds at stake, the Scottish establishment are wise to embrace the likes of Obscure Couture and nurture upcoming talent as best they can.

Their combined creativity is proving an unstoppable force. An ideal partnership, they prove that two heads really are better than one. “We work so well together, sometimes we say we have half a brain each.”
Their creative process involves discussing ideas, starting with the grandiose, and ending with the finer details. “Then we head off individually and draw.  Nine times out of ten when we reunite our sketches are identical.” It is a symmetry many creative types would kill for, and the symbiosis doesn’t end there, and when asked “What keeps you going when the going gets tough?” their immediate response was “each other.” They joke that “we take turns at being complete psychos and emotional wrecks. We are what the other needs; mother, father, sister, brother, angel and demon. We also have really supportive families.”

It seems a good emotional grounding is a golden ticket in the current economic climes, when young designers face an unglamorous and largely unpaid start. They have big ambitions for the future, including a
menswear line, expanding their ready-to-wear goods and even an Obscure Couture app which will allow fans to stay abreast of news, shop the collection or pre-order our newest pieces and  post pictures of themselves in Obscure Couture pieces. It certainly is a long way from the two young freshers in Heriot Watt who first bristled at the thought of another introverted extrovert on the scene. You know when these girls describe their work as “a labour of love,” they mean it.