Ronan Mckenzie explores intimacy, desire, and connection through Selasi
The photographer, director, and rising designer debuted second collection ‘I Close My Eyes and Taste Desire’ at an East London church
Everything Ronan Mckenzie touches turns to gold. As a photographer, stylist, art curator, and now designer, she is a leading example of how creatives can exist beyond the box they are instructed to place themselves in. Throughout her creative endeavours, Mckenzie has time and time again proved the beauty in authentic connections within communities.
In 2020, she launched Home by Ronan Mckenzie, a Black-owned multi-functional creative space which provides both exhibitions and community spaces for artists. Then came her beautifully intimate clothing line Selasi, which translates from the Ghanian language Ewe as “God hears me”. Birthed during lockdown and officially launched last year, Selasi strips away the superficial and instead offers a genuine take on design that centres human emotion and intimacy.
At the tail end of the SS23 fashion season last month, Mckenzie debuted her second collection during her very first runway show. With the help of those in her closest circle – including Alva Claire and Dazed’s former editor-in-chief Isabella Burley – Mckenzie presented a delicate line-up of second-skin dresses, sensual loungewear, and louche tailoring, all in a palette of washed out lilacs, browns, and nudes, shot through with striking flashes of passionate scarlet.
Entitled I Close My Eyes and Taste Desire, “the title is the truth,” explains Mckenzie. “[It’s about] the desire to be held, and to hold. I’m aiming to use my personal experiences to open up a conversation that I feel is often shied away from,: she adds. “The collection is a wearable presentation of my own desires, and I hope the wearer feels empowered to be confident about their own, even if that conversation is difficult.”
Hi Ronan! What was your main source of inspiration for the collection this time around?
Ronan Mckenzie: The collection is inspired by the personal exploration of knowing and communicating the nuanced experience of sharing emotional and physical intimacy with oneself and others.
Should I be afraid to vocalise what I want… Should I know, can I know, can I ask, when I know, and I want to know more about how I want it to feel, who I want to fill. I want to be held, I want to hold and be held, I want to excite and be excited. I want my red to leap out of my chest and meet your blue. And I want my blue too. I want to fill the disparity between what I have, and what slips delicately around my mind.
Could you talk us through the process of designing the collection?
Ronan Mckenzie: The collection is a mixture of progressions of shapes from the first collection, and new styles developed through drawings and draping. As I make garments based on intuition and play, the majority of the shapes are cut either directly from my mind, or from a drawing by myself or my assistant Courtney. I already had a strong sense of fabrications and knit fabrics that I wanted to develop, and built out through the addition of the colour story and new textures.
The animal prints were inspired by a trip to Nairobi and the peace and headspace I felt from observing the harmony of nature. The giraffe print is borrowed from a painting by my dear friend Joy Yamusangie, and I was excited to work with more leathers within this collection due to the softness to touch, yet the firm structure they possess. I also continued to explore ruching and draping techniques which have become part of Selasi’s identity.
“Selasi is my fun – it’s where I can uncompromisingly express whatever I want to. I can walk into a beautiful church in Hackney scented with Responsibility of Intimacy – a delicately sensual yet empowered fragrance by Ezra-Lloyd Jackson that makes my mouth water and my lungs lift – to the sound of “Everything Together”, a score by Melo-Zed, which takes us on a journey through the complexities of what it means to long for, and be longed for” – Ronan Mckenzie
You created the first Selasi collection during lockdown, what has been the most noticeable difference in your design process and approach?
Ronan Mckenzie: The biggest difference for me is that I have learned and continue to learn more about garment construction which allows me to expand my capabilities and what I’m able to make. My process and approach continue to be hugely intuitive and informed by how I feel within my body.
Community has always remained an integral part of your work, how important was it for you to channel that in this collection and show?
Ronan Mckenzie: Through the show I wanted to create a shared experience for the cast and the viewers; a slow, performative piece which allowed both myself and the viewers to take their time in stepping into the world of the collection to have a foundation for a conversation. The cast was made up of close friends, family, models I have worked with previously within my career in photography, to artists and musicians who I’m inspired by, and personalities who personify and embody parts of my intentions and feelings around certain pieces.
The cast, although so incredibly varied, are all part of my world, people who have helped shape my perspective, and it was so special and important to open up the conversation around intimacy in a space where I felt held, and like the cast carried their own stories, as well as parts of mine as they moved within the space.
How did you come up with the title I Close My Eyes and Taste Desire?
Ronan Mckenzie: The title is the truth; I desire to be held, and to hold. My imagination is alive, and I can taste the possibilities that slip through my mind.
Do you have a favourite piece from the collection, and if so, which one?
Ronan Mckenzie: Every look is my favourite look. I think that’s what’s so special about the collection – I genuinely can’t choose a favourite or even top three because they all mean so much in different ways. My beautiful and dear friend Alva Claire who closed the show said that she would wear the whole collection on different days and in different moods, and I think there is a time and place for every piece. All of those moments and versions of myself are equally important to me.
What have you enjoyed the most about working on Selasi?
Ronan Mckenzie: Selasi is my fun – it’s where I can uncompromisingly express whatever I want to. I can walk into a beautiful church in Hackney scented with Responsibility of Intimacy – which is a delicately sensual yet empowered fragrance by Ezra-Lloyd Jackson that makes my mouth water and my lungs lift – to the sound of “Everything Together”, a score by Melo-Zed, which takes us on a journey through the complexities of what it means to long for, and be longed for. I can stride into the middle of the space to demonstrate what it would feel to me to be held with my angel, artist, curator and dear friend Ibby, on a sculptural seat which I made with good friend and collaborator Jobe Burns, designed to hold me while I hold someone. It’s rare to find a creative practice where one can explore and expand so broadly, and Selasi creates space for me to do that.
What are your hopes for the future of Selasi?
Ronan Mckenzie: I hope that Selasi remains my place to play as long as I need it, and it creates room for others to feel how I do too.