ARIES fever is sweeping the nation, attaining cult status with skaters, design enthusiasts and normal people too. More Or Less sits down with SOFIA PRANTERA, the brand’s creator, to talk about her unique take on unisex streetwear
Photography by Kuba Ryniewicz Styling by Julian Ganio
Text by Lauren Cochrane
Ask the average person on the street to describe a fashion designer and Sofia Prantera – with her T-shirt and jeans, infectious giggle and tendency to disarming honesty – is unlikely to fit the profile. But no matter. Prantera – the founder of London label Aries, and the woman behind 1990s label Silas – has spent her entire career avoiding the obvious and doing her own thing instead. In fact, it’s the only way she can function. “When I freelanced, it was a disaster,” she says. “I couldn’t offer people what would work for them, because I was only interested in what would be interesting to me. Working for other people was very hard and very unsuccessful.”
Instead, she made Aries. The label celebrates its 10th anniversary at the end of this year, having been founded in 2009 when Prantera came back to work after taking time off to have two children. Rather than being an instant success, it’s been a slow burn, gaining a dedicated following through a very specific combination of fun – and funny – graphic images, wearable shapes, unusual textures and an innate understanding of what makes a great tiger print. Not quite streetwear in a Stüssy way, Aries – which has unisex pieces as well as womenswear – sits at the point in the Venn diagram where cool, arty and slightly weird converge. See, for spring, deconstructed wonky blazers, 3-D roses on boxer shirts, T-shirts featuring the word Neuromancer and that tiger print on bowling shirts worthy of the Dude from The Big Lebowski.
Aries has a collage approach when it comes to references – Super Mario Brothers share space with wood pyres in the wilderness, Roman sculpture with sensible hiking gear. These were all posts on the brand’s Instagram but, arguably, Prantera has been pushing this idea for decades. The rest of us are finally catching up. The flotsam and jetsam of a social-media feed now dictates how we look at the world – not to mention how we dress. No wonder, then, that Aries is growing; the team tripled in size over 2018. The brand is now stocked globally; there are collaborations with brands including New Balance and Vans; and, in December, Aries was nominated for a British Emerging Talent award at the British Fashion Awards.
Prantera being Prantera, she didn’t attend the ceremony or see the much-shared Meghan moment, when the Duchess of Sussex made a surprise appearance. “My mum called me because she had seen all the press and she was like ‘Oh my god, did you go to the Fashion Awards?’” she says. “I didn’t, because it’s not my thing. She said ‘Who would have imagined, when you were at home making your clothes, you would be up for a Fashion Award?’”
Growing up in Rome, the daughter of an Italian doctor father and a British novelist mother, Prantera, 49, first got into fashion when i-D and The Face magazines were brought back from a trip to London. At the age of 10 or 11, Prantera was hooked on the images of young people on the street and in clubs, dressed in outlandish outfits. “My world opened up. I wanted that,” she says. “I remember asking my mum when we were on holiday in London if she would buy me some creepers, and we had this one pair of creepers that we shared with four of our friends.”
She finally arrived in London to study fashion in 1988, just as rave hit the capital. “I walked into one of the first Shrooms and I just looked around and thought, what is this? People were so kind and sweet, everyone was coming up to you saying ‘You look so beautiful, I love you’.” This felt like a huge shift. “Up till then it had all been elite,” she says. “When I came the year before on way to get in.”
These new beginnings were formative for Prantera– as was the following decade, the 1990s, when she became part of the skate community in London, working at Slam City Skates and later setting up Silas, a pioneering streetwear label for women. If the 1990s is now associated with the slacker chic of Kate Moss and friends, Prantera has a theory that the 1980s post-punk era – the background to her generation’s childhoods – was actually more influential. “We were kids then and that made us look at approaching things in a less structured way,” she says. “Structured ways of socialising and working started to disintegrate and our generation was the first that really got rid of formality. That is something that is really happening now – there are very, very few rules now for success.”
One example of the barriers is breaking down is the acceptance of streetwear labels like Aries into the world of high fashion. Prantera is thoughtful on the subject. “Young people are more inclined towards what me or Palace will do over more formal wear, but I don’t know. It could be a phase,” she says. “Virgil Abloh’s appointment to Louis Vuitton is a sign things are changing. I think people relate less to fashion as it was: excessive and formal.” Lulu Kennedy, the woman behind London’s Fashion East (who has has made a career out of her nose for talent), says that Prantera’s USP comes from her integrity. “She is super-focused on product rather than hype, which I love her for,” says Kennedy. “Aries is very specific, small but beautifully done. Its expanded but stayed true to itself.”
Indeed, rather than be overly impressed with princesses and glitzy award ceremonies, though, Prantera still gets her creative kick from “processes and the way things develop when you do them,” she says. That and collaboration. The most recent of these was just shown at London venue 180 The Strand – a year-in-the- making project about Stonehenge that Prantera worked on with artist Jeremy Deller, photographer David Sims and stylist Jane How. Deller, who has known Prantera since they were both in “pubs and clubs” in their early twenties, says there’s an ease to working together. “I would just cycle over to her studio and sit with her for a bit and talk about what we could do,” he says. “She’s pretty easygoing, quite open to ideas. She doesn’t tell me what to do – which is good, because I don’t like that.” The hodgepodge of product that the duo made together reflect this free-spirited point of view – socks, T-shirts, a blanket and more, all to commemorate the exhibition. “It’s merch for ideas,” says Deller.
Prantera is committed to projects like this, to represent the weirder side of the Aries universe, but she also wants to quietly run her business in a responsible way. “We are extremely sustainable as a brand, but I don’t necessarily like to make it a manifesto,” she says. “We produce in Italy in factories we have been to. Our supply chain is well paid; we don’t screw people.” Prantera is well aware that we are, as a society, affecting the climate with consumerism – and believes the very least we can do is try to limit this impact. “The human dilemma is that you want to produce and better yourself all the time but we are also filling the world with rubbish and unfortunately fashion is one of the biggest culprits,” she says. “But I think if you are giving people work and you’re paying them well and you’re not overproducing, you can be fairly sustainable.” She also believes this will come through in the brand, even without flagging it up to customers directly. “For me, that is just as important as having a good design. It’s what your brand stands for.”