I think I always wanted to design. When I graduated, I was offered my dream job as a design assistant with one of the great Belgian designers. Sadly, due to circumstance, I was unable to go. That restriction led to styling as it was a quick release for creativity. Later on, I realised that creative styling is like design in that they feed into each other, you can reimagine garments and show them differently than intended. This is like the developmental stage of design, which helped me form my way of seeing, almost developing a signature in my work.
Absolutely. Sustainability is probably the greatest challenge facing all designers and creators right now. I have always strived to create pieces which people would desire and love, and want to re-wear, reuse and even exhibit. When you have an emotional attachment, you look after your possessions and they last. Trying to design longevity into a piece is probably not a very good business practice, but it’s important to me. Limiting waste in the production process is also hugely important to me. To date, I have kept all offcuts to reuse differently later on – perhaps as sculpture or furniture. Lately, I have also designed pieces that fit perfectly within the collection and use up the majority of offcuts – launching soon. I am now working with the material manufacturer who can recycle back to the raw material, which is comforting and necessary for all our futures. Some may have noticed that I reuse older damaged pieces to reimagine new shapes, which started with my headpieces in collection V.
Sometimes samples would come back damaged from editorial shoots because of the shipping process or people not caring enough about the labour, time, cost and materials that go into the creation of every piece. Of course, this hurts me very much, but I realised as they were no longer perfect if I re-shape them into completely new pieces they could live on. One of my favourites started as a dress and became a headpiece. This way of thinking followed through now with the ‘Onna-Bugeisha” collection. Recently, I decided to source garments in bulk from mainstream retail to prevent high-street overstock from being burnt and wastefully disposed of. These will become custom one-off pieces, reimagined in my silhouettes and available as part of the new collection. I hope this will allow me peace of mind and hopefully inspire others to do the same.
I start with an image in my head, which develops as I start to shape the material around the mannequin. Even though it doesn’t drape, it’s more like old-school dressmaking where you are enveloping the body in a new way – starting with the bust then working around the forms of the body. I’m obsessed with balance, both symmetrically and asymmetrically, so I keep complicated designs on the mannequin and stare at them sometimes for a few days, and adjust until I’m happy that every angle and side work together.
You take inspiration from modern architecture, sculpture and art with your designs. What is your relationship with art, and why is it such a strong influence for you?
I love self-expression, and I admire people that express themselves confidently in whatever form they choose. This is essential as we are here to create, inspire and show others that everything is possible, and without this, I cannot breathe. Even now during this lockdown, we are finding new ways to express ourselves, because we don’t have a choice. When appreciating art, I like to absorb as much as possible without too much judgment, you can be inspired by anything, and observing allows me to see things differently.
Having been raised in London, has the fashion scene in London influenced your design aesthetic in any way?
London has always been more carefree and less judgmental in how you chose to express yourself. No one would blink an eyelid when we used to experiment with dress and self-image, and even the people that judged us we ignored. My education came at the tail end of the Hyper Hyper and Kinky Gerlinky days, where everyone wanted something new and ridiculous each week to go out raving. We were not being judged by big established design houses as such, instead, we just had to fight to out-do each other to be noticed. You could wear a bin liner as long as you were not part of the norm, and this is the freedom I realised quickly that we should never lose. Also, when surrounded by that kind of self-expression, the only fear is that it will all just become normal, so I would always strive to find something new. In my early days as a stylist, I would go out of my way to support young designers, recognising that they were the future and needed the most nurturing - but also enjoying being surrounded by their vision and design aesthetic. London is a melting pot of all cultures, that’s where its value is, in that we could touch so many different people and experiences.
Have you faced obstacles as a designer, especially considering that all of your items are handcrafted?
As a business model, it’s perhaps not very clever because it doesn’t allow for huge scaling up, but I'm not currently after this. I take pride in how much care and effort goes into the making of every single piece. Handcrafted and well-designed pieces are what I aspire to when I shop, and I should create nothing less. I generally think that people who are consumers of design appreciate this extra effort. At this stage, the sculpture dresses and showpieces are fully custom, so I do them myself. The accessories have patterns, so I have trained up some amazing assistants that help make these when orders come in. All of my pieces are custom made to order to save on making unwanted overstock. Luckily, as it’s a small brand we are constantly busy working endless hours a day, but the main challenge comes from the great expense of running an independent business. We are competing with the biggest brands in the world, and the fame game is a double-edged sword. People approach me every day wanting my pieces for free, disregarding the cost, time and effort in doing what I do. Yet, we also need press and are constantly fighting to have our work seen amongst the backdrop of an oversaturated visual world with so many imitators. I try to only work with people I like or inspire me, and not simply because they are famous.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have been lucky enough to work on a lot of custom work lately, for both private collectors and recording artists – much of which will hopefully be visible soon. I have also collaborated with a TV show, which will hopefully come out soon, it’s very exciting that my work is becoming understood enough to enter popular culture. In these unprecedented times with all of us scared for the future, working on several formats and different projects is essential for survival. Since the change to the world over the last few days, I have been working with my NY family: Agency Nomadic creative agency, collaborating on T-shirts that support freelance creatives who are struggling with the economic situation we now all face. Also a Charity project in the UK to support our wonderful frontline workers. Finishing off the new collection... Developing a new way of exhibiting. Watch this space....