Ocotur up & coming roundup: four designers who highlight the future of fashion in the Capital and beyond
Newly emerging designers often bring a unique perspective to the fashion industry, as they blend their past experiences into a more professional setting. In this article, you will get to know four young designers whose global footprint, eye for the future, and engaging and novel approaches to fashion and design make them names to watch in the coming years.
First, we sat down with Bethan Smith, who graduated from Leeds College of Art in 2017 after studying Fashion Concepts and Communication. Her first micro-collection focuses on free hand drawing and mark making and how these are communicated through design. Her concept examines the relationship between art and fashion, by using fine art processes to inspire design such as sculpture. Her first collection features a set of laser cut, acrylic pieces inspired by the texture of paint. Smith has interned with designers such as Julien MacDonald and Mary Katrantzou. Her previous work has been awarded the Confucius Institute award, appeared in multiple catwalks and has been shown on the SHOWstudio website.
Describe a typical Bethan Smith girl?
Someone who doesn’t want to wear something that’s been worn before or someone else may have. My aim is to create pieces no one will see again and that not everyone is wearing. My pieces are like show pieces - all unique and differentiated from one another.
You won a competition brief with the Confucius Institute, which allowed you to travel to China. Tell me about how you applied and what winning this award meant?
It was during my 1st year and it was actually a live brief. It was required as part of a module, we had to design a dress that had Chinese and English influence. Since I went to university in Leeds I looked at what was relevant in the Leeds fashion space and since a lot of mills use contemporary tweed, I though it could be used to emulate authentic Chinese lining.
When I went to China, I had to present it to a brand called Lalla Bobo and had to give them a presentation on British fashion and its relevance to China. I also took them through the production of my dress and how I designed it. Quite an interesting pitch altogether because of the strong language barrier between us - but that’s what’s so interesting about fashion, it literally doesn’t require a particular language to be understood!
What advice would you give aspiring students regarding the first steps to starting a label?
Don't be afraid of drawing! I was so nervous of my illustrations not being perfect. But I learned that the imperfections make them interesting, imperfections can actually be really inspiring. I learned you can’t be good or bad at drawing, I used to be way too focused on that, and that’s just really stressful. However, if I could go back, I would've probably done something more specialised as a lot of the jobs now want you to be an expert in pattern or design, whereas I’m much more of an all rounder. So yeah, I’d say go for more of the technical stuff!
Next, we wanted to delve deeper into the question: what inspires fashion? From the enclaves of Bond Street to the rolling hills of the countryside there are a lot of landscapes and contemporary settings designers take inspiration from. However, for one up-and-coming designer, Harriet Couch, inspiration can be found in photography. Not just any photography, war photography.
In her collaborative work with Adidas and the London College of Fashion, Couch designed a knitwear piece which interprets the birds eye view of a battlefield. The juxtaposition of the solid rows with the more exposed sections, captures the layout of a battlefield when viewed from above.
How would you describe the purpose of fashion?
The purpose of fashion is similar to that of art in that it can be used to educate people, to bring to light issues and topics that need to be highlighted. This is, therefore not only exhibits an interpretation of war photography, but also pushes the entire issue of war to the forefront of the viewers mind - an issue more often than not ignored because of its frequent occurrence.
This unique and intriguing piece is surely the start of a promising career for Couch.
Another question that often arises in contemporary fashion discourse is sustainability. In order to find out more about her sustainable collection, we asked designer Claudia Sentosa to tell us more about her most recent graduate collection, Utopia.
What was the inspiration behind Utopia?
I’m always inspired by florals, I just really like drawing florals. But the collection was inspired because during my second year of university my school was promoting sustainable materials and design, but it was all superficial. In briefs given by the school, you would get points if you made your designs sustainable. But all the processes such as acid dyes, involved certain chemicals which pollute the environment. It did not feel genuine, it felt very much like a trend.
That frustrated me, so I tried hard to avoid the normal printing techniques because all the common printing techniques are very unsustainable. My teachers were not very supportive. But it got me thinking… why can’t people make an effort to be more sustainable? What if the world was a utopia?
I wanted to show people that print can be interesting and can look like its floating – it very much goes along with my idea of utopia. Florals have so much meaning; feminine and properties of healing. Flowers have the gift of making everything better.
Now I’m in the R&D section of Marc Jacobs and I'm better understanding the system of production and how to best incorporate sustainability into the production process.
Given Sentosa’s experience and passion for sustainable fashion, her name should definitely be one to watch moving forward.
Finally, we sat down with vibrant Phedre Calvados to learn more about her, as she is currently making waves in South London with her shoe designs.
Your MA shoe collection was inspired by the experience and idea of pain. How did you get the idea to do this and why did you use this as the theme of your collection?
As with a lot of art, the idea came from a personal story. As I child in France, I grew up in a household with a strong focus on etiquette and posture, it’s this memory which shaped me collection. You see, with each design, the wearer is forced to stand in a particular or ‘proper’ way - reminiscent of my mother poking me at the dinner table to make me sit up straight.
But, the critical part of the collection is that pain is only the aesthetic - the shoes themselves are in fact really comfortable to wear. Essentially, there is the appearance of pain but not necessarily the feeling of pain.
This is captured best in the Superego (above). Here we have a shoe that looks unbelievably painful with the nails and solid soles, but it is in fact a very comfortable shoe. The nails are designed to perfectly disperse the wearer’s weight across the surface area of the show, so it’s actually the most comfortable kind of shoe because it’s moulded to fit your foot - even if it looks horrendously painful.
What’s your favorite pair of shoes from your collection right now and why?
So I’ve got two. Sanctum (left) and Superego (right).
Sanctum is the most personal one for me. It encompasses the themes of love, sexuality and self identity. This is captured in the shoe’s structuring; the base is same as all others, represents how I came into life, but the rest, the materials, the color and style are completely unique in the collection. The boot is free in a way, it represents the freedom of having sex the way you want, it’s like an exposed secret; the shape is visible but what’s within is hidden. It’s also the type of shoe I see myself going into in the long term.
And Superego? Well it’s exactly what the project is about; it looks painful but it’s not because it’s shaped to the individual’s foot bed.
How was it working in the shoe division at McQ Alexander McQueen’s studios and what was the most important learning experience from it?
It was crazy, but also really inspirational! I was only meant to stay three months, but stayed for a year and saw a lot of things. I will always remember one shoe designer, she would change one millimeter on the sample, a true perfectionist. It was also a super busy studio, and it was interesting that menswear and womenswear were very linked too; this year was the year for that, with there only being one runway show.
If the designers we spoke with are any indication, the future of fashion in London looks incredibly bright!