An Interview with Katrin Salem

London-based menswear designer Katrin Salem talks to STYLEFAN.NET’s fashion writer Nicola Rothery about the challenges of being a new designer in London and what it’s like to realise a dream with the debut of her label No. 44.

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‘Everything I do is a mixture of how I can represent masculinity and toughness of authority in a different way.'

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Katrin Salem appears at home in the dimly lit space that is No. 44’s Shoreditch studio. Since the debut of her first collection for her menswear label, Salem and the No. 44 team have been hard at work.

Salem is classically trained in bespoke tailoring, having attended the London College of Fashion. She describes No. 44 as an experimentation of her idea of mixing tailoring and streetwear.

But Salem is still finding herself as a young menswear designer in London. 'I'm literally testing out my idea and seeing how it evolves.' No. 44 combines tailored cuts and shapes, tough streetwear attitude and expresses Salem's vision of how menswear and the idea of masculinity have changed.

Salem originally started out designing womenswear, but it was during her foundation year at Central Saint Martins and placements with a shirt maker and tailor that she realised menswear allowed her to play with limitations that are often associated with it such as structured silhouettes and cuts as well as making them appealing to the modern customer.

For Salem, the ideas of power and masculinity drove her to research how man has been represented over time. Salem noticed that masculinity has been lost in modern menswear - 'you see a lot of skinny jeans now. I think men have become less masculine over time. If you look back at the Greeks, they were huge, henched men. It was all about building a shape - that's what I like about bespoke tailoring.'

Juxtaposing tailoring techniques with streetwear came from Salem's interest in power - not just authoritarian power in the traditional sense i,e, military or political - but power on the streets. 'To express power, street gangs go against military-type dress, which is obviously quite sharp and tight. Gang members wear oversized t-shirts with their boxers hanging out. But it's still powerful. Everything I do is a mixture of how I can represent masculinity and toughness of authority in a different way.'

Salem jokes that as a new designer, she doesn't get a lot of sleep. 'It's hard work. As a graduate, I think you tend to feel lost. It is a lot of trial and error and deciding if you want to work for someone else or pursue your own ideas is another important consideration when deciding to become a designer - you have to figure out what your way is.' Salem still worries whether or not people will like what No. 44 is doing, but she firmly believes in the brand. 

What can we expect from No. 44 going forward during this wave of creativity within the menswear industry? Salem smiles and says it's 'hush hush,' but does share that for Spring/Summer 2014, we can expect a continuation of reinterpreted fabrics, sizes, silhouettes and layers and very clean cuts. Accessories and jewellery collaborations are also in the pipeline, together with continuing to define the No. 44 customer. 'I want No. 44 to eventually become a number one shopping experience, providing everything from bespoke tailoring, to off the peg suits, to weekend attire, to men's accessories.'

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Photography: Eva Huang