Named after a formidable queen of ancient Britain who led a revolt against the Roman army two thousand years ago, the Boudicca label of latter-day London defies the fashion powers-that-be with equal tenacity and aplomb, wielding weapons of ideology and tailoring in their fight against conformity. Here, the duo behind the cutting-edge women's line open up to LEE CARTER about their motivations, including a passion for film, a distaste for the English press, the top secret launch of a perfume that isn't, and, above all, the importance of being independent.
As we throw back a few at Matsuri restaurant in New York's newest hotel, the Maritime, Zowie Broach remembers precisely the circumstances that brought her together with her partnerbusiness and otherwiseBrian Kirkby. "We met on a business trip to this weird seaside town in Italy," she recalls, batting big blue manga-like eyes. "It was really windy like tonight and raining cats and dogs. Everything was closed up except for some bars. There was nothing really to do so we'd drink all day long. It was great. You can quickly cut through a lot of superficiality that wayyou can have a whole relationship in a week." She tugs at her red locks, another shared trait with the label's namesake, only here they take on an unnatural, punk-perfect shade of pink.
"I think that's when we set down the foundations, the manifesto of what we wanted to do," Kirkby interjects, as couples have license to do. His longish hair and keen articulation suggest that "manifesto" is a word he uses often. At 37, Kirkby is slightly younger than his cohort, but reading either one's age would be a fruitless exercise. "We knew we were meant to be when, on the night we got back from that trip, after I had gone out to a bar, Zowie called to say Saturday Night Fever was on TV..." Trailing off, he turns to his partner, who takes the baton. "Right, we had had a big conversation in Italy about the suicide scene. When I got back and it was on, I thought this is really freeaakyy." Her voice rises and explodes into laughter. "The rest of it too bizarre and would make no sense if I tried to explain it."
Boudicca's breakthrough collection took place three years ago in an old run-down building far in London's outskirts. Inside, expressionless models nearly levitated across the stage in teetering pieces rendered architecturally, having the shape of some primordial exoskeleton. The obsessive rigidity of form and adherence to a minimal color palette would solidify their aesthetic from then on.
For Boudicca, it was memorable for another reason. Says Kirkby, "That was the season when the four of us (including Roland Mouret and Sophia Kokosalaki), who'd previously shown off-schedule, were invited by the British Fashion Council to show on-schedule. It was a turning point for Zowie and me in that it was completely anticlimactic. We wondered why they felt the need to wait for the media to say these guys are good. It's sad, really."
"We're not controlled by anyone," Broach summarizes. Loquacious, spirited, but above all serious, she speaks with the heart of an artist. "Creatively, it means we don't think about putting across themes. Our collections are defined by us, by the friends we have, and by the conversations we have." Without a speck of celebrity interest, they might be flattered but are certainly not interested that Scarlett Johansson counts them among her favorite labels or that Claudia Schiffer claims to be a fan because, she says, the clothes are "edgy."
While no one is an island, Boudicca comes closer than most. Espousing concept over cash, they shun the larger fashion world, measuring success in a small but fiercely loyal clientele attracted to the inordinate amount of personal attention that goes into every garment. "We often do everything ourselves, staying up until 4:00 in the morning because we want it to be better, so what leaves the door is super professional," says Broach. "When you believe in something, that's how you do it."
Personally meaningful, each design is named after its origin. A dress called "I Wanna Be Adored" is cut with tunnels in the neck so the wearer can be held; a "Trip to the Moon" jacket is inspired by the 1902 Georges Méliès film; and "The Night Hunter" dress is covered in black sequins, inspired by the Stealth fighter. "We're very nuts and bolts. But in a way, there's something really beautiful about that, to be the manufacturer of your own idea."
Broach and Kirkby are nothing if not their own creators, inhabiting a universe of their own making. Cold and cerebral, it's a space full of Boudicca trademarks: tailoring so sharp it could kill, leather jackets, breath-restricting dresses, men's shirting, stiff military collars, hoods resembling veils, bondage-like straps around the exterior of coats, and layers of intricate and idiosyncratic geometry.
Existing somewhere between Japanese experimentalism and Victorian perversion, the collections are at once sexless and female-fixated, played out predominantly in a color palette of black and white, with the occasional flash of blue or gold. Rounding out the eccentric look are leather appliqués, feather headdresses, belted sheepskin, knee-high boots with metal shields, accordion pleating, raccoon and rabbit pelts, the occasional breastplate, and, for those familiar with the history of the name, a crystal-encrusted Roman-style helmet.