London Art Spot: Holly Somers

If you walk down Carnaby Street right now, you’ll see a wintery scene in the windows of the Deisel shop called “Paper vs. Scissors” with delicate paper cut-out trees and mannequins with blank faces and big white hair. This is the work of Holly Somers, a recent graduate of London College of Fashion and joint winner of the Nina De York Illustration Award 2010.

Her debut collection takes the simple practices of folding, pleating and layering to the next level with inspiration from Japanese origami in rich, earthy tones perfect for this time of year. There’s a selection of images below for this week’s London Art Spot and for a more expansive look at the origami collection, there’s a great blog post here.

Read on to hear about Holly’s favourite gold blazer, where her love of a great fabric leads her on days out in the shops around here and her thoughts that went into the design of the Deisel shop window display.

LLO: Give us an overview of your latest Japanese origami-inspired collection.
HS: Throughout my design career, I have always had an interest in and an admiration for Japanese design and in particular Japanese fashion. Working with initial origami maquettes, I was able to experiment with unusual shape construction on a small scale before transferring it on to the body. This quickly led to the development of manipulating a two dimensional form to create a three dimensional object, both in paper, but then more naturally in fabric and garment construction. I was fascinated with the juxtaposition of woven fabrics with stretch fabrics and the intrinsic properties of these opposing materials. This concept became integral to the design and success of the garments as fabric manipulation extended beyond simple folding, pleating and layering. Much of the silk was transformed through interfusing before the fabrics were even cut altering the nature of the fabric to suit the needs of each garment. This collection became an exploration.

LLO: You created the lovely Paper vs. Scissors display in the Female Diesel shop windows on Carnaby Street. What was your thought process when given the brief through deciding on your final designs?
HS: The Window Installation was a fantastic opportunity to step into the world of visual merchandising and with the paper theme I could build on ideas from my previous collection but move it away from the body.  Diesel wanted a white paper forest to appeal to the Christmas season, however, it had to keep the edge that the Diesel brand upholds. I researched back over many artists who had manipulated paper for art installations with a focus on paper cutting rather than folding as before. I began experimenting drawing over tree designs using Adobe Illustrator to create intricate, ambiguous tree stencils that could be laser cut for the window. Design ideas went from broken chairs to be stacked up like tree trunks, rotating lights casting stencil silhouettes on the walls to importing large quantities of branches and logs from the Cotswolds to act as support and structure for the installation; from 8ft wooden trees attached to the store facing to laser cut paper creepers pasted to the woodwork like vines encompassing the store in a tangled forest. The concept also had to translate to the Male Diesel store so we attached hundreds of laser cut scissors to trees there to convey the idea that the boy’s trees had cut up the paper girl’s trees. Despite a great deal of design development there was still an aspect of improvisation on the installation nights, especially to deal with the restraints that come from the location being first and foremost a working shop. Working alongside the team at StudioXag was a great: logistically, technically and creatively.

LLO: Where’s your favourite place in London for fashion inspiration – both in the shops and on the streets?
HS: London as a city is a fantastic source of inspiration in itself with the endless resources available to anyone who lives here. The markets, libraries and museums are  perfect places to contemplate design ideas; especially the Design Bookshop in the V&A. However, since  moving here, I find walking along the South Bank at night when the city is alight one of the most inspiring places to be.LLO: Give us a hint at some of the upcoming fashions in London for next season?
HS: London’s fashion strives to be new and exciting playing to a more youthful clientele where the idea of design and creativity is pushed to the limit when the factor of wearability often comes into play. I feel that next season London designers will continue in this way, however there is definitely starting to be a move to more accessible collections as individual designers’ stylistic tastes are becoming more refined and therefore subtler in their portrayal.

LLO: Which aspects of your designs make them uniquely yours?
HS: Detail. In everything that attracts me, inspires me or interests me it is always the detail that captures my attention. The cleverness of an idea or the way something has been cut. It does not have to be complex but it provokes thought. I want my work to engage people in this way; for them to see and to appreciate the detail and depth of an idea.

LLO: Who is the target audience for your work? Do your designs transfer easily from the catwalk to the streets?
HS: My work is aimed at women aged from mid-twenties to mid-thirties with an understanding and appreciation of fashion, fabric and cut who will find innovative creations in my work that augments their style and femininity. I feel my designs could be diffused from the catwalk to the streets especially as jersey is a very popular fabric to work with at the moment. However, my collection relied on using high end fabrics to create the desired effect. Replacements can be found to cater to the high street market and price-point though the results would still be different. The joy in designing for the catwalk is there is not always a mass market and a low cost budget to consider. As a designer you have more manoeuvrability.

LLO:  Which piece are you most proud of so far and why?
HS: The gold blazer from my collection. It was ironically one of the easier pieces to design as it seemed to design itself on the stand. After working on something for so many months I am often too close to my work to appreciate it, however for some reason I could still relate to this piece and enjoy wearing it myself. It is an example of an idea that remained strong from the initial sketch to its final fruition and therefore I am proud that it is mine.

LLO:What are your favourite materials to work with and the best places to buy them in London?
HS: For me, fabrics are of the utmost importance in a collection, so I take great pleasure in searching around fabric shops and showrooms to discover what is available. Shepherd’s Bush is a great place for toiling fabrics and there is a particular shop on Goldhawk Road which sells fantastic wools. There are a few showrooms along Great Titchfield Street that act as agents for factories and mills across the world. These places are ideal as you can touch and feel samples and quickly discover the vast range of fabrics that are on offer. I particularly love working with jersey and I actually sourced all of my silk jersey from Japan for my last collection.

LLO: You recently graduated from London College of Fashion and won the highly acclaimed Nina de York Illustration Award wowing people with your designs. What’s next for you?
HS: I want to keep experimenting in a range of Fashion Design disciplines. My loyalty will always remain with garment design and this is where I wish to build my career, however I feel that working in visual merchandising, buying and accessories, etc., all feeds my creativity and I hope to remain as creative a designer as possible. To study in Paris would be a fantastic opportunity and there are MBA courses that appeal to me greatly. However, I intend to gain further experience in the industry over the next few years before I embark on further education.

LLO: Any other up-and-coming London-based designers we should keep an eye on?
HS: Joanna Pritchard. I have known Jo throughout my time at London College of Fashion and she is a very talented, unassuming designer. Her minimalist style has a wide-ranging appeal but her detail attracts a closer scrutiny. Jo has just started an MA Womenswear Design course at Central St Martins and I cannot wait to see her move from strength to strength and produce an astounding collection.

Thanks Holly!

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London Art Spot: Julia Francis

One of few who knew what she wanted to be when she grew up from a young age, Julia Francis not only pursued her ideal career as a make-up artist, but has made a success of it and has accumulated an impressive list of clients. Advertising for Bacardi, Ford, L’Oreal and Pantene. Make up for Michelle Ryan, Nick Cave and Jamie Cullum. Editorial work for Cosmo, Company and Harper’s Bazaar. She’s also worked with directors George Lucas and Tom Hanks. And that’s just a short list.

Despite the big names above, my first discovery of Julia’s work remains my favourite. That is her body-painting. Over 10 years ago, after painting the belly of a pregnant friend, she started Embody – an organisation to recreate this positive experience for many other pregnant women. 

For this week’s London Art Spot, Julia has taken a few minutes out of her busy life to tell us more about Embody, let us in on who her dream clients are and where she shops in London for fashion and beauty essentials.

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
 I spend half my time in London and half my time in brighton so I find creative inspiration from each. There is always somewhere new to discover in London and as there’s always new discoveries, there’s never that sense of boredom. 

LLO: Do you remember the moment you decided to become a make up artist?
 I remember I was about 12-years-old when I decided I wanted to be a make-up artist; it was my dream job. By the age of 14, I’d made enquiries into colleges and visited the one I wanted to go to. Nine years later I began the course. I haven’t a clue where it came from though as my mum wasn’t remotely into make-up and it’s pretty young to become fascinated with something when you’ve not been influenced from someone at home. Guess it was just my calling!

LLO: You’ve got a wide range of talents – beauty, fashion, body-painting, commercial work. Which do you enjoy most and why?
 I love doing close up beauty work. Seeing the detail of the makeup and perfecting every tiny stroke knowing it will be magnified when seen as a photograph. It makes me concentrate more on technique when its close-up.

LLO: There’s some incredibly big names in your list of advertising clients – Bacardi, Herbal Essence, Pantene – Which have been your favourite projects and who is your dream client in the advertising side of your work?
All jobs bring something different. Working on a series of commercials for Bacardi was one of my favourite projects as it was exciting and challenging. Working on Star Wars as a body painter is also pretty high up on the list though. My dream client would have to be one of the big make-up brands such as Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent.

LLO: The same goes for celebrity clients – Jonathan Ross, Julie Delpy, Colin Firth. Who has been your favourite model so far and which celebrity would you most love to work on if given the opportunity?
 Like brands, all the people I have worked with are different too and I couldn’t say who my favourite has been. Given the opportunity, I would love to do Kate Winslets make-up as I think she has a great face and I like her down-to-earth approach to life.

LLO: When I first discovered your work, it was through the Embody website which you created in order to offer body painting designs specifically for pregnant women. Can you tell us about that?
I started Embody 10 years ago when I body painted a pregnant friend. I was so impressed with the impact the body painting had on her and how good she felt about her body when she was painted that I took it from there and approached pregnant women in the street to paint them. I soon built up a portfolio of designs and it went from there. I now get commissioned from individuals to design bespoke ideas for them and present them with a set of photographs of their painted pregnant body. For more info, see

LLO: Best place in London to buy make-up?
Space N K, Selfridges

LLO: Favourite London fashion shops?
 Cop Coppine, Happie Loves it, Diesel.

LLO: What projects have you got on at the moment?
I’ve just finished a couple of shoots for Head & Shoulders and last week was a shoot for Colgate. I constantly look to work on new ideas with photographers and am currently putting together some ideas for the next shoot.

LLO: Favourite London-based artists?
Too many to mention. 

Thanks Julia!

For more of Julia’s work, check out her website:

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