How do you combine different design ideas without turning them into mere pastiche? Holly Jayne Smith, who spent a month in Morocco after winning the British Council's Graduate Fashion Week International Residency Award, explains how you can incorporate different influences into your work.
What was the concept behind your collection?
During my time in Morocco, my most interesting and inspiring observation was the friction between traditional and contemporary life. There's a strong, almost unbreakable sense of culture and tradition, but there's also the influence of modern globalisation and Western ideals, and that creates a tension between the two. The easiest way to explain this is by describing a moment when I saw two market stalls next to each other in a souk: one was selling hand-crafted artisanal goods, the other knock-off sportswear. Another time, I saw a Moroccan woman wearing a traditional djellaba with a Hello Kitty all-over print. There were moments like this throughout my time in Morocco, so I was able to do plenty of primary research.
What do the pieces in your collection look like?
My collection has a strong combination of loose-fitted tailoring and sportswear. I was directly influenced by men's street style for some pieces, and designed oversized polo t-shirts, popper pants and batwing tops. During my residency, I commissioned an artisan from Fez to handcraft 120 large golden charms that I sewed into garments covered in geometric colour-blocked panels. These elements represent the traditional and contemporary ideas that I want to communicate.
What was your favourite part of the residency?
My happiest times were walking through the markets, both the traditional and tourist-friendly ones. I respond well to chaos and visual stimulus, and the souks are exactly that. I am a bit of a sponge for social atmosphere, and with so much life and energy going on, I couldn't help but feel elated whenever I was there. People and motorbikes weave and bob past, the occasional donkey wanders by, and you can soak in all the market-traders' wares and watch artisans at work.
There seemed to be such a sense of optimism for the future, and joy in being creative. Morocco has huge textile manufacturing and traditional fashion industries, but contemporary, global fashion is also steadily growing.
You visited a fashion school during your residency. What did the students ask you?
When I was in Morocco, I visited a fashion school and spoke to some of the students there. They were most interested in my design process and how I get from concept to final product, and asked me how I managed to get such a varied silhouette between the looks of my final collection. The students were in the design stages of their own collections, so this was a very current topic for them.
I answered their questions with a lot of imagery. When I work on a new concept, I like to push two if not three main themes, ideas or view points together, as this means that my visual research will be broad and varied. I work in a sketchbook and make each page of design work completely differently to the next: for example, I might do one page on working with plastic as a material and designing very structured technical pieces, and then the next would be loose-fitted tailoring, and so on. When I feel that I have explored enough options, I take the best two to three designs from each page and start to plan the collection by moving, swapping and duplicating design features, silhouettes fabrics, and details. This is where the consistency in a seemingly chaotic range starts to appear.
The students wanted to get a sense of what lay ahead for them, so there were a lot of logistical questions. My method for producing the collection was to work in chunks, so I did all of my design work first, then developed all my looks in three dimensions, and finally produced the final garments.
I was also asked whether I would actually wear my collection, to which I said no. I went on to explain the importance of the collection as a tool to show what I could do, but not as a product to sell. Although there were very wearable pieces in the line-up, I feel that the collection was at the loudest, most exaggerated aesthetic of myself as a designer. What I am working on now is way more refined, with a lot of attention to detail, while still keeping within my style of working.
How did you come up with original ways to incorporate Moroccan design into your collection, without creating a pastiche?
One of my main concerns before even starting the collection was how to avoid stereotypes. Morocco has such a vibrant culture, with strong visual connotations such as mosaic tiles and artisan crafts, so it's very easy to be directly influenced and quite literal with your own work.
To combat this, I let myself be inspired by the action and atmosphere within my immediate surroundings, paying most attention to human interactions and consumerism. This method of thinking took me away from just focusing on Morocco's cultural treasures, and helped me create an honest portrayal of my experience.
I also chose a concept that couldn't be represented by just one image, theme or viewpoint. This gave me a much wider range of influence and stimulus to work from, and created really interesting combinations between the designs and textiles.
What was the process of sourcing your materials like? Do you have any tips for other people who want to shop in Morocco?
I would definitely advise to go with a clear idea of what you want beforehand, as it is very easy to go off on a tangent with so much choice. Sourcing in Morocco is incredible! I don't think that it has ever been so easy to find what I need. I am very big on colour, and the fabric stores were packed from floor to celling with a full spectrum of tones and shades. Fabric is sold in 2.5 metre lengths, enough to produce a traditional djellaba, so that was something to get used to when figuring out how much it would cost. I found this to be a small but very interesting cultural difference to sourcing material in the UK, so in response to this, I brought most of my fabrics in these smaller-sized pieces and ‘patched’ them all together within the collection.
Do you have any advice for other designers on residencies abroad?
Get involved to understand the culture and environment of your surroundings. Ultimately, this will improve the final work you produce, as there will be a deeper thought process behind it.
Holly Jayne Smith went to Morocco after winning the British Council's inaugural Graduate Fashion Week International Residency Award in June 2014. She will present her collection at Fashion Scout’s Emerging Designer Showcase at Freemasons' Hall in London on Monday, 23 February. You can also see Holly present at the International Fashion Showcase at Brewer Street Car Park in London on Tuesday, 24 February, at 17.00 – 18.00. To attend, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.