If it wasn’t for his talent as a writer, one could reason that Mitchell Oakley Smith would have made a marvellous circus performer. When we first speak, his most recent book has just arrived at the printers, the latest issue of his exceptionally popular magazine Manuscript has just hit the shelves, and a recently announced online partnership with blogger network Fellt has just started. It appears that juggling is something that the 25 year-old Oakley Smith does exceptionally well.
Growing up along the beaches of the New South Wales Central Coast, Oakley Smith developed an enduring love for theatrics and stage personas early on in life, attending a local performing arts school and studying briefly as a dancer. After stints in Melbourne and New York and time behind the desks of GQ and GQ Style, Oakley Smith launched Manuscript; a magazine which both recognises and celebrates the style, artistic sensibilities and intelligence of gentlemen.
Oakley Smith admits that when first starting Manuscript, “There wasn’t really a business direction or goal; but we wanted to be everything that was not being offered in the Australian men’s publishing market. There are men here [in Australia] who are doing fantastic things and they should be celebrated.” Once released, the response was, in Oakley Smith’s own words, “overwhelmingly positive”.
“I love print and I still consume a lot of media via printed newspapers and magazines. The number of times that I try and find a website I was looking at yesterday or last week,” he laughs. “There is something so decadent about layout designs in print, and that’s something that could never translate on a Kindle."
Upon meeting artist Alison Kubler a few years ago and discovering a mutual appreciation for the relationship between art and fashion, the seed for Oakley Smith’s next foray into print was sown. Fast forward two years later and a new book, Art / Fashion in the 21st Century has arrived.
Exploring the inimitable creations from some of the greatest designers over the past 10 years through a series of profiles, critiques, interviews and essays, the book serves as one of the most succinct critiques of recent fashion movements. “The relationship between fashion and art is nothing new,” says Oakley Smith, “Elsa Schiaparelli collaborated with surrealists in the ‘30s and Yves Saint Laurent used his dresses as a canvas for Piet Mondrian-style prints in 1964, but the connection between fashion and art has exploded in the 21st century. The book touches on the ongoing relationship but focuses specifically on the projects that have defined the past decade.” One only has to look at recent collections from Australian duo Romance Was Born or the earlier work of Alexander McQueen to appreciate exactly what Kubler and Oakley Smith are talking about.
While the finished project now appears as an idyllic gleaming tome, reaching the point of completion took close to two years for the duo. “It’s a beast of a project, and at points you do wonder what you’ve got yourself in for, particularly when it’s not a money-making venture,” admits Oakley Smith. “You’re working on the book late at night, early in the morning and on weekends in between day-to-day work. But then the box arrives from the printer and you pull out a sparkling copy and it’s incredibly exciting, even a little emotional. Two years does sound like a really long time but oddly it seemed to go pretty quickly.”
Though at this point, no one would begrudge Oakley Smith an extended break, the show, as they say, will go on. The transition from print to online in collaboration with Fellt is one that Oakley Smith has found to be “really interesting. I was at a point in my career where 100 per cent of my income was from print media, and that’s a precarious position in which to be in this quickly changing media landscape. This helps differentiate me from the magazine, from just a byline in a magazine. I have complete freedom with this project,” he says happily.
Further down the line, there's the promise of many more tangible printed delights to come. “This book raises so many further questions and ideas it would be silly not to begin another one.”
Art / Fashion in the 21st Century (Thames & Hudson) is available at all major book stores.