What kind of creative background do you have?
I guess I have always been creative and had creative outputs. I danced quite seriously from a young age and loved fine art and textiles at school. Also, I loved History and English and approached these subjects creatively, using them to explore my own understanding of things and the world in relation to others, which I guess is the process of how ‘Art’ and ‘Fashion’ is created too. Looking back I think my creativity at school was quite stiff, although my teachers championed individuality I think the school system does a lot to stop us believing in our own convictions. I think most of us grow up thinking popular or mainstream ideas are right or apply to everybody, I just don’t think thats true. Creative subjects are sidelined in favour of stem subjects but thinking creatively should be at the core of education, in reality we get taught very little and in a single-minded way. I did well because I understood the system but I think that's quite sad. Thinking about it now, I don’t come from a massively creative family or school so I think it all grew from being quite a deep thinker and trying to find ways to get the things going on in my head ‘onto paper.’ I actually get quite overwhelmed about how much there is to think about and making things seems to make me feel better.
I think I knew I wanted to do fashion from the age of about 14 and specifically menswear from 16/17. My Art Foundation at Kingston was a changing point for me. I had never been surrounded by creative people and it was amazing and eye opening. I think it changed who I am, I look at everything more carefully now and withhold judgment, I was more brash and took things as they came before this. Now I try and see the world and situations from different points of view which I think is kind of at the core of being creative. Badly paraphrasing Vivienne Westwood - looking at art and fashion is like seeing the world through someone else’s eyes which can only make you a ‘better’ person. I love this idea. Now I am studying at Westminster and about to go into a year in industry.
Ok so this is an interesting one because for me the difference between Menswear and Womenswear isn’t who wears it at the end because thats interchangeable now (and so it should be,) but its a different design process. Historically, men worked, were in the military and participated in more sports than women. Women’s clothing has historically been about show and trophy and didn’t need to be practical. Mens clothing, how it is made and designed derives from functionality. This means that within menswear there are categories and rules, tailoring rules, sportswear rules, workwear rules etc prewritten within history and into people’s subconscious minds. I like the idea that you have this big rule book that you have to master, but then you can totally rip apart, re-appropriate, or juxtapose it. For me the design process for menswear is more like product design, it is fundamentally about merging existing rules of function with new ideas and process, or reshaping those functions. A piece of womenswear can be plucked from the left hand corner of a designers brain and still exist as an authentic piece of fashion, with menswear if you don’t reference properly, garments look weird and inauthentic. Having said all this, I am beginning to look at my work and feel like if I did a collection it would feel one-sided to just have menswear. I will always design from a menswear perspective, I am obsessed with details and references but I would apply this to womenswear too. I think this will be an interesting pursuit for me because as a girl designing menswear I can be quite subjective, I never really think would I wear that, I can have some detachment. Designing for women it would become more a projection of what I want to wear personally.
How would you describe your style of design?
This is a hard question to answer because I feel like I am still figuring that out myself. I would say that I am a 100% designer, in that I like being in control or involved in the whole process, the research, the design, the making, printing, styling, photography etc. I really admire designers who put the effort in to understand and master all areas of the process because ultimately this is going to make you a better designer. Dries Van Noten and Rei Kawakubo are two designer I love that say they are in the ‘100% club’ some of the only designers to be in control of all sectors of their worldwide companies.
I would say my process is very 3D, I can’t draw things until I worked on a mannequin and in fabric to check it ‘works’ as a thing if this makes sense. I also love fabrication and print, I find it really empowering to be able to create from scratch, its a sense of self-sufficiency as a designer.
At the moment my work’s aesthetic is, I hope, fresh, with challenging silhouettes, authentic details, and interesting fabrications. It's a lot of workwear and sportswear at the moment. I reference sportswear a lot because I think the idea of, and how sportswear came about is really interesting. It ‘trickled up’ from the popularity of basketball and underdog sports heroes, rather than a couture trend trickling down. It's a great equaliser in that sense, it is classless. I think its representative of our time, it has always represented ‘nowness’ in fashion.
Workwear is coming up in my design a lot at the moment because I find it interesting to research different ‘categories’ of man, or the categories we like to put people in, particularly classes and the working class. It's really interesting to see how people behave within or without of these made up constructions. I recently based a project on Kit from the movie Badlands, which more widely became about people who were marginalised by the ‘American Dream’ and how they subsequently behaved. (Normally the results aren’t positive, see Larry Clark's Tulsa photo series.)
I am working really hard currently to get the nuances of my research to show through in my work. Reflecting on the last year or so I think the sheer pace of my course sometimes disallows enough time to get the subtleties right, so this is something I am working on, how you get the little cross cultural connections and huge string of references through as a feeling.
Do you feel as if Karl Lagerfeld has lost his mind with his most recent comments or do you think he’s just pulling a Kanye esk publicity stunt. Afterall “I am a machine.” does sound like something Kanye would say.
I find Karl Lagerfeld thoroughly unimpressive. Someone who can host a ‘feminist march’ with a cast of white-washed size 0 models and then suggest that models who don’t want to be sexually harassed should join a nunnery has a very misconceived view of the world, it just highlights how shallow minded he is. I don’t doubt he has become merely the face of the fashion industry; his controversy, and the character he portrays to the world is just a good seller, without the brilliant teams at Chanel, Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld he wouldn’t be a great designer. He’s become a face that sells. I actually agree that he is a machine in terms of his work load, currently he works on 17 shows a year which is mind-blowing. I do think however he represents the ‘pale, male and stale’ aspect of the industry, he’s backward, and he’s the epitome of misused privilege. I do think that designers and creatives do tend to have controversial views of the world and I don’t think you should have to be liked to be a great designer. It's actually probably more interesting to be disliked. However when you have a worldwide voice as powerful as Lagerfeld, the privilege comes with responsibility, so to degrade people and make sweeping statements about beauty, stupidity, class and race becomes a problem. People are too slapdash with their words and comments and actions today. I think it's a really huge society-wide problem that no one stops to think about the repercussions of their actions. I think Karl and Kanye are both in the same category, they sit on thrones, making myopic premonitions and presumptions about things in a detrimental way.
Talking of Kanye West... What are your thoughts on Virgil Abloh new role as creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton - a desperate move to keep up with Gucci and Balenciaga or a cleaver tactic from the historic fashion house?
Virgil is a really interesting designer. I think he has a very poignant and important place in the contemporary design world but I am not sure that his place is head designer of Louis Vuitton. I worry that his design strategy which repurposes and appropriates pieces of already iconic design will mean he will just pastiche and mock Louis Vuitton’s and other brands history. He needs to be careful to not create a parody of Kim Jones (and others) legacy. Virgil is the epitome of post-modernism. He is a master of semiotics and Off-White is a really interesting brand so maybe I am being pessimistic. My other worry is that maybe he doesn’t have enough interest in the importance of craftsmanship in fashion. He will only be exploiting young consumers if the craftsmanship of his design doesn’t match the price and the contemporary relevance that makes him so desirable. His willingness to give equal attention to couture methods of craft I think will determine his ability to stand the test of time in the industry. I think, however, his appointment goes to highlight an air of nepotism in the industry right now, a great friend of Jones and Kanye’s creative director already, it feels like the pool of choice for jobs is very small, companies should look for hard working designers in their peripheral vision to keep the industry fresh and diverse.
Bring it back to you Polly. With a world going so crazy, where do you draw inspiration for your work? What’s the story that you want to be telling…
The world really is going crazy right now, I wish people would just listen to more podcasts and be kinder. Anyway I think the essence of why I do fashion is important to the story I want to tell. Without sounding like a prophet; life is made up of mundane and menial tasks like sleeping, eating, getting dressed etc, and if we can inject some passion, creativity and self expression into these we can find more fulfilment in the simple things. Being interested in fashion and art and being self expressive is like being mindful, how do I feel today, how do I want to feel today, how do I make myself feel like that person etc. I also think we need to give a lot more time and energy into our own thoughts and feelings and opinions and I think what we wear and what we like to look at is quite a nice and easy way to start. So giving people the tools to think more is my inspiration in a way.
I draw inspiration from everywhere, I am an observer. Mainly my research begins in quite socio-political areas, at the moment I am really interested by famous artists that had to ‘enter through the back door’ I.e people who came to success from the margins of mainstream society, an idea I read about in the amazing book Widow Basquiat, so people like Black Jazz musicians, Basquiat himself, drag queens etc. I went to see an exhibition called ‘Another kind of Life’ at the Barbican the other day and I feel like it was an amalgamation of everything I am interested in, subcultures, suppressed societies, people with an individual view of the world and how they express it. I also really think I find inspiration in linking things together, if you're designing a collection you can’t reference just one thing that's copying. The magic comes in those tenuous little threads that joins lots of ideas, artists and concepts in your mind. I imagine it like a vanity cabinet full of things that seem totally random on the surface but all have an overarching connection to each other, that's where an original concept lies. At the end of the day though none of this really matters, as soon as you put something into the world its out of your control in how people react and take it, it's not your possession anymore, if the world swallows it, doesn’t get it and spits in back out then you can’t care. Design can’t be egocentric.
I’ve seen a few photos of you at festivals, pretty magical stuff, how would you describe your personal style?
Haha, well my festival style is miles away from my design work, but I guess its my old performer side gagging for some attention. I think maybe in everyday life I spend so much time in the studio I almost don’t have the energy to ‘curate’ myself, I don’t give enough time to my personal style or myself I don’t think. I'd love to have more time to pour over my muses, old books and garments, exhibitions etc, one day i'll reclaim some of that time. When I am Uber-chilled at a festival I have the energy to create a persona or character for the weekend which is fun, I think being self-indulgent is important. It's also nice to make things for festivals because there is no pressure, no one is going to mark or judge what I make so its an output. Also in a world that really likes to make you put yourself down it's fun to say ‘up yours’ look how epic I am once in a while. I like feeling like an artist and looking like someone with a bit of revolutionary spirit.
Who do you see as modern day style icons?
To be honest there aren’t many people that I look to as modern style icons, I think we give way too many average celebrities this iconoclastic status that just doesn’t apply or we let them become famous it fields that aren’t their own. Kanye West / Rihanna / Beyonce why don't they stick to singing because their clothes make me feel sick. Also, I have heard Beyonce’s clothes are made in sweatshop environments, which is disgusting baring in mind the amount of money she has. I really like film characters as style icons, and bands. Five of my friends are in a band called White Room and they are super cool, I love that the music they make will be probably be the soundtrack I hear when I look back on growing up. Music and fashion are so interconnected. I am quite obsessed with glam rock vibe of the New York Dolls at the moment but that is just because I found a cool picture of them, I really know nothing about them. I think the people around me, my friends are my style icons, I can think of no famous person cooler than any of them.
A lot of your work are pretty bold and daring, pieces of art. As a designer how much thought do you put into your consumer or do you prefer to lead the market instead of letting it lead you?
No I do actually put a lot of thought into who I want my ‘consumer’ to be, although at the moment I do tend to create show pieces because of how fashion schools work. I guess how I see it is that I am creating or exploring my ‘world’ now, and eventually Ill create those wearable pieces for that world. Until then it's almost like installation type fashion pieces that display something really evocative that will hopefully speak to people. Having said this I don’t just want to go into the industry and run around on the hamster wheel. I think everyone realises the industry needs to change but I don’t think many people have the courage to actually do something. Take designers complaining about the amount of shows a year, just don’t show at fashion week. It's not hard to work out, it just takes some creativity to figure out how to brand yourself and make money in a different way.
What’s the dream then Polly, big fashion house or build something completely new?
I do hope to run my own company one day, I am not rushing into it though. I think establishing a name for yourself and getting experience in the world is important if you want to be your own boss or the boss of other people. Having had experience in the industry from some good and some horrendous internships I’ve seen people getting it so wrong and learn on the job, so I am not scared to jump out and do my own thing when the time is right. I actually think, somewhere, fashion is missing a trick in that exhibitions of clothes are so outrageously popular and often catwalk pieces get seen once or twice and then go into an archive. I have ideas about how to change how clothes are seen and sold but it's a secret…
… and lastly is there anything you’ve learnt recently you’d like to share with us and the readers…
I did learn something actually because I listened to an Adam Curtis podcast about his documentary HyperNormalisation, then I watched it. I can’t explain it but its mind-blowing like all of his work so get watching people.