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!

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Karishma Shahani

Brightly coloured designs marked Karishma Shahani’s award-winning catwalk collection for the London College of Fashion’s Graduate Runway Show 2010. She came away with an award for “Best Surface Textiles” to add to her CV alongside the “Nina De York Fashion Illustration” award and “Fashion Graduate of the Year award.

It’s no surprise her eye-catching work has caught the attention of staff at Vogue, Grazia, Elle and ID magazine alongside quite a few others around the world from France to Russia to Hong King and Japan.

Her values of longevity in clothing, ethical fair trade and using “upcycled” and organic materials match the values of the forward-thinking audience she will reach with her vibrant collections.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Karishma tells us how life in her native India plays a massive part in her work, shows off some photos of latest stunning collection and lets us in on the details of her collaboration with American artist Amy Sol.

LLO: Give us an overview of your latest collection, Yatra.
KS: The collection draws inspiration and elements from the multiple layers of India’s vibrant culture that continuously create colourful, vivid and eclectic experiences for the onlooker. The colours are picked from traditional paintings of Indian Gods, and recreated through natural methods of dyeing. The surface texture adds to the multi-dimensional feel enhancing the use of natural fabrics alongside upcyled packaging materials.

In its essence this collection is a reflection of the Indian lifestyle of re-interpretation of materials and their function at every step; always re-using and recycling; creating heirlooms that are passed down through generations. Each garment is made with beauty, simplicity and versatility as its core which lends it a multi-layered and personality-driven charm. The designs combine a fusion of two extremes, making the collection experimental and unconventional, while being hinged on modern functionality.

LLO: Which aspects of life in your native India most inspire your work? What about aspects of London life?
KS: A lot of aspects ranging from the people on the road, to our vast history, culture, architecture, crafts, travel, the list is endless. London’s cosmopolitan nature is very appealing. Being a melting pot for people from all around the world is quite inspiring. UK too has a comprehensive history and its ties with India are aspects I like exploring.

LLO: Tell us about some of the materials that have gone into your latest collection – the bright colours, the recycled concept, etc. What’s the most unusual material you used or the most difficult to obtain?
KS: The materials in the collection range from calico and cotton to pure silk and silk tulle and then over to High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). The last being a material used extensively in packaging in India hence lending to the upcycled nature of this collection as the patterns were cut from previously used sacks. All the material in the collection barring the HDPE have been hand dyed to suit the colour requirements that give enough homage to their source of inspiration. The accessories include secondhand hand-painted shoes and piece from chandeliers, cut away sneakers and blankets. The toughest material to obtain was the HDPE due to its varied sizes and quality control it required to obtain large pieces to create the garments.

LLO: Do you remember a precise moment that made you decide you wanted to have a career in fashion?
KS: Just the simple fact of creating new things. Consciously or without realising, clothing plays an important part in defining a person’s personality for the onlooker and I’ve always found this aspect really interesting. So I can’t pinpoint a precise moment.

LLO:Which signature elements of your designs make them unique to you?
KS: Colour, texture, contrast

LLO: Not only have you won some impressive awards (including “Best Surface Textiles 2010 LCF BA Graduate Show”, “Nina De York Illustration Award 2010” and “Fashion Graduate of the Year 2010 British Graduate 100 Award”) but you also started your own label. What has been your proudest moment so far in your fashion career?
KS: Receiving the “Best Surface Textile Award” at the London College of Fashion Graduate show 2010 was a great way to graduate, a fulfilling pat of encouragement.

LLO: Your bio includes a degree in economics, experience in at an NGO and a stint as a production manager. Does your career background have an impact on the way you approach fashion?
KS: Yes it does. I do think that one needs to know all the aspects of the industry they are a part of; it’s not about mastering all aspects but just simply about knowing how things work, because everything works hand-in-hand. All my previous work experiences have shaped my outlook towards design and its end result. The work has made me travel and live in various cities, that in itself is an enriching experience.


LLO: Where’s your favourite place in London to gather fashion inspiration – both in the shops and on the streets?
KS: Camden Town. One of my absolute favourites. I love how you can find ‘anything’ in the market and see ‘anyone’ on the streets. It always puts me in awe at the diversity that is around us.

LLO: Any other up-and-coming London-based designers we should keep an eye on?
KS: Felicity Brown, Manjit Deu, David Longshaw to name just a few.

LLO: What’s next for you?
KS: I am currently working on developing an AW 11 collection, alongside a brand that further promotes social responsibility and traditional techniques for a sustainable future of products and fashion; that continues to become more aware of its power to change and assist changes in lives of all those involved. Alongside this, I am working on a collaboration project with American artist Amy Sol, whose phantasmagorical paintings always depict girls in flowing dresses wandering through luscious landscapes. This project for a social eco-fashion enterprise called “Jhoole”, a non-profit business, designed to uplift female artisans based in a weaver’s village in rural Madhya Pradesh, India which will culminate in exhibitions and fashion shows in the summer of 2011. Another, being a textile development project for a textile producer based on recyclability and sustainability of fabrics combined with a base to provide further work for craftspeople in different regions of India.

Thanks Karishma!

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Alisa Bieniek

A Polish-Dutch designer, Alisa studied design and styling at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. When she graduated, she had the unique opportunity of undertaking an internship with Alexander McQueen in London about five years ago. She learned a lot from him and her experience with his perfectionism has shaped her collections today. A recent graduate of the London College of Fashion, Alisa uses laser cutting and digital print to build a 3-D look with layers, transparency and movement.

For this week’s London Art Spot, she talks about the unusual inspiration behind her latest collections, the differences in approach to fashion in London and Amsterdam and, of course, a bit about her experience working with Alexander McQueen. 

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
A lot. I am surrounded by many individuals, people who are fashion aware, but at the same time dress in the way that reflects their personality and backgrounds. I meet people from different parts of the world who happen to have some sort of an impact on my design. It makes me look at the clothing from a different perspective. There are so many interesting places to see, galleries to visit, events to attend. All of this has an impact on my work. After all London is the Metropolitan city that never sleeps. I also have a lot more respect for traditional English tailoring. I put more attention to detail and the finishing of the garment.

LLO: Which piece in any of your collections are you most proud of and why?
The layered printed dresses as they are very wearable. The wearer can put his own order of the layers depending on the mood. It also reflects well the idea behind my concept. I like to translate 3D illusion through layering and transparency. Each layer of the prints presents a different stage of an opening flower. While wearing all the layers on top of each other, the illusion of 3D occurs.

LLO: When you moved to London in 2005, you had the privilege of participating in an internship with Alexander McQueen. What was he like as a person and how has this experience influenced the way you approach your own work today?
AB: Alexander McQueen was a perfectionist in every way. I was involved with the Autumn/Winter 2005 collection and I worked on the embroidery. Lee is pushing people forward; all of us worked on each piece of the collection. I was overwhelmed with the amount of time that each of us worked, sometimes even till early morning. Everything had to look perfect. Lee could notice every little detail. If the skirt was a couple mms too short, it had to be done again. His professionalism motivated me to work harder and maintain focus.

LLO: Tell us a bit about the techniques used to create your “Eclipse” collection where two identical models are then used to show off each piece.
AB: My work is also influenced by a movie director and musical choreographer Busby Berkley. His choreography performances involved complex geometric patterns which made the trademark in Busby’s career. The stage held hundreds of showgirls lined up in circles performing interesting patterns which gave an impression of looking through a kaleidoscope.

I wanted to reflect that effect in my presentation and so I have worked with Marta Tomecka, my colleague from Digital Fashion course who edited the pictures in the After Effects program. She has worked on the Eclipse movies which were shown during an exhibition at Mall Gallery.

LLO: Your collection “Future Circulation” is completely different from “Eclipse”. Tell us about your inspiration for this collection and your muse, Rachel.
I used to be very much into Sci-fi films like Star Wars or Matrix. The collection is inspired by cult movie Blade Runner from 1982. It represents the cyberpunk vision of the future where the man has developed the technology to create replicants, which are essentially humans who are designed for labour and entertainment purposes.

One of these replicants is Rachel. Although she had real emotions, everything else was too perfect about her look and behavior and the way she walked which was artificially improvised, as she was programmed. Her structured clothing influenced her straight posture and attitude.

In the 80s, the designers were inspired by the 30s and I have tried to find the balance between these two centuries and translate it into my design. The jackets are the statement pieces of this collection; it is made for powerful women who like to be in control. With the Eclipse collection, I have finally found myself with my designs. It is a conceptual more mature and wearable collection.

LLO: Having studied on fashion courses in both Amsterdam and London, have you noticed any specific differences in the way each city has inspired a unique sense of fashion – both in the shops and on the streets?
AMFI collage is focused on the commercial market, while the Digital Fashion Course at LCF offers a new approach on fashion and an artistic view on design. It has a lot of great workshops that support creativity.

I see a lot more individuals in London than Amsterdam. It is a city of mixed cultures and styles. Even if you wear something absolutely ridiculous, people won’t judge you; you can be yourself here. 

There are so many boutiques stocking independent and young designers. It is a great spot for fashion students. You can see the quality of the clothes better and places like Dover Street Market challenge you to work harder.

LLO: What new techniques and skills have you acquired throughout your MA course at the London College of Fashion that you plan to continue to develop in your future career?
AB: I will definitely continue working with digital print and laser cutter. I also discovered interesting 3D software programs which I am willing to develop, such as OptiTex 3D cloth stimulation and 3D Studio Max for modeling, animations and rendering package. As I have used very delicate and difficult-to-sew fabrics for this collection such as leather and all sort of silks, I have improved my pattern skills and learned new sewing techniques. 

LLO: Favorite place to shop for clothes in London?
I like the mix of high fashion with some designer pieces. Selfridges is good because it has a bit of both. Dover Street Market and Liberty for window shopping.

LLO: Which other up-and-coming London-based designers should we keep our eyes on?
AB: For 3D animations, Marta Tomecka. Kelley Kim for her combination of different techniques with knitwear, laser cutter and digital prints and Katarzyna Roguszczak for the accessories.

LLO: What’s next on the agenda for you?
I would like to work for a company to gain more experience and better skills with production. In the future I would like to set up my own label.

Thanks Alisa!

For more of Alisa’s work, check her website:

London Art Spot: Eliana Dimitrakopoulou

With an MA in Fashion Design and Technology under her (probably fur) belt, Greek designer Eliana Dimitrakopoulou has big plans to revolutionise the use of fur in fashion as the world knows it. Her latest collection shown in the photos throughout her interview has been influenced by different types of monkeys, staying in touch with nature and the idea of evolution.

Eliana was born in Thessaloniki in 1984 and completed a BA at the Institute of Fashion Design and Technology there before moving to Kastoria for three years. There, she worked for a company called Vito Ponti as a fur designer. Second prize winner in the MIFUR Remix design contest in 2005 for Greece, she currently represents the UK for this year’s contest in Milan. Eliana has just completed her studies at the London College of Fashion.

She talks to us for this week’s London Art Spot about her ideas behind this collection, gives us her answer to activists who fight against the use of fur in fashion and tells us which (non-fur) trends will be hitting London’s streets for summer.

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
In London there are no fashion limits or a special style followed – like in Italy. It’s the place that all different styles can evolve and any designer can express their ideas.

Photographer: Michael Addison
Stylist: Anna Szanto
Stylist assistant: Sinead Isabella Iqbal
Model: Cyan Cheung
Hair and Make-Up Artist: Monica Rossi

LLO: Tell us a bit about your collection “The Origins of Fur”. I hear it’s influenced by monkeys and the theory of evolution?
Based on both natural and sexual selection, my collection of reversible fur garments represents evolution, the adaption to the environment. By selecting different types of monkeys, I created a link between them and the contemporary fur design applied to my market needs. Inspired by the monkey’s shapes, colours, lines and acting, I was driven into connections with design and fashion. Man has come a long way over the last few millennia, but we’re definitely still part of nature; a monkey. My collection was sponsored by Kopenhagen Furs in Denmark and British Fur Federation.

Photographer: Michael Addison
Stylist: Anna Szanto
Stylist assistant: Sinead Isabella Iqbal
Model: Cyan Cheung
Hair and Make-Up Artist: Monica Rossi

LLO: Colour plays a large role in your fur pieces and they are also reversible. What sort of working process do you go through until you feel you’ve got the look that you want?
 Before making fur garments we send most of the pieces to CIPEL, a professional fur tannery in France. After I received samples of its colour, we proceed to the rest of them.

LLO: Who is your target customer for these pieces?
 My client is every woman who loves fur, feels unique and is aware that the only way to feel happy and content is to accept herself as is. She is a woman who doesn’t feel any complex to express her beauty or sexuality. Women who are usually dressed by the Italian fashion houses of Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Roberto Cavalli. They love garments that reflect power, luxury, beauty, elegance, sexuality, and a fresh new fashion style. Russia and Italy are the major markets that this collection is designed for.

Photographer: Ana Barreira
Hair&Make-up: Nelson Catarino

LLO: How do you respond to the viewpoint that wearing real fur is wrong or controversial?
 Fur is beautiful, sustainable, warm, soft, elegant, glamorous and sexy; in other words everything a woman wants. There is nothing wrong in using fur. Animals are farmed under international regulations and there is no cruelty involved. Many videos are made on purpose by activists. It’s true that an animal should be farmed and have a good life so that the fur of it is healthy and rich.

LLO: What other London-based designers do you admire?
I used to be a great fan of McQueen. He always was an inspiration for me as for many other designers as well.

Photographer: Ana Barreira
Hair&Make-up: Nelson Catarino

LLO: How do you ideally see your future in fashion unfolding over the next five years or so?
My future plan is to dedicate in fur and work in the fur industry as I did the past three years, but my mind is set on revolutionising fur design as we know it today.

LLO: Coming from Greece, where in London do you go to get the best taste of home?
In my friends hearts! It was a great surprise for me to meet people from other countries, having so common interests.

LLO: What other London-based designers do you admire?
I used to be a great fan of McQueen. He always was an inspiration for me as for many other designers as well.

LLO: What fashion trends should we keep an eye open for in London this summer?
Jeans over jeans and there’s a cowboy influence as well coming up.

LLO: Where can we see more of your work?
In Russia! I used to work for three years in a fur company. All my fur pieces are exported there.

Thanks Eliana!

For more of Eliana’s work:

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