Every year trend-spotters turn to the University of Westminster’s graduate fashion show. From Burberry’s Christopher Bailey to the eponymous Liam Hodges, the unique alumni has cultivated a valuable reputation for the school’s emerging designers. Constance Blackaller opened the show and her deconstructed draping ultimately remains the most memorable collection. With hand-sewn silk silhouettes, aquatic turquoise paired with rusted gold, and using the lining from a vintage army jacket as the quilted exterior on a modern mack, Blackaller is set out to reverse the face of fashion. Coming from a Fine Art based practice, her incredible skill translates into her fashion illustration and her manipulation of stiff textiles into dynamic shapes. Wildabout has interviewed her to look back at her inspiration and her fine art based practice, and to look forward to her next steps.
Wildabout: Can you tell us what you are working on now?
Constance: I am currently building on my portfolio and continuing research from my collection, as there are number of ideas that I haven’t yet explored. I am really interested in combining themes between contrasting cultures and eras and making links between them, for example traditional Tibetan clothing, the construction of 17th and 18th century garments. I am looking to do a Masters as a means of expressing and developing these ideas into another collection.
Wildabout: Tell us about your studio.
Constance: My studio is my flat in London. The walls are covered in original artwork; prints, drawings and sculpture by family and different artists and my own illustrations. I collect vintage both to wear and for personal research, which is intermingled with my BA collection. I have five foot stacks of fashion and art magazines and photography books lining the room, as well as an archive of research and drawings.
Wildabout: What are your must have tools for your creative process?
Constance: When I’m pattern cutting or draping, I like to have a lot of space, and ideally an excess of materials. I hate feeling restricted by lack of materials, so I make sure I always have a large selection, and ideally a whole roll of calico. I draw primarily in pencil, sometimes adding colour with ink, paint or collage, which I keep a wide range of.
Wildabout: Your graduate collection had an amazing dialogue between traditional and avant-garde looks. What was your favourite piece?
Constance: My favourite garment is the reverse appliquéd trousers from the third look. The embody the spirit of the collection, the haphazard, nonchalant styling, and combine intricate fabrication techniques with the Japanese reference that is a key theme throughout.
Wildabout: You work with both fashion and illustration, but when it comes to designing what comes first, the sketch or the silhouette idea?
Constance: The idea for an illustration tends to be sparked by an arresting gaze or expression of a face. I want my muses to portray an emotion, whether its a tranquility or surprise, to give life to a drawing. The pose, and any colours or textures that I add evolve from that initial emotion. With draping being my main method of design, silhouette is massively important to me, and often when I’m designing, it is that that is the first idea.
Wildabout: If you could choose a city to show your collection in, which one would it be?
Constance: I am most excited by the shows at Paris Fashion Week; I think houses such as Céline, Maison Margiela and Givenchy create the most stimulating and beautiful designs. I would love to present work in a location a world away from the fashion industry in the style of the Louis Vuitton resort shows, like in the streets of a Greek village, or Spanish mountains, to either contrast with the collection, or as a comment on a theme.
Wildabout: What do you think is missing from the fashion industry?
Constance: Largely due to social media, fashion has become so commercialised. I think it’s interesting to isolate a garment, like a white t-shirt, or basic jeans and change the context to elevate its’ meaning, as Jacquemus or Vetements do, but it’s been exhausted now. It’d be great to see the same theatricality and rebellion that designers such as Galliano exhibited in the 90’s, worn by the figures and celebrities that currently only seem to sexualise clothes.
Wildabout: You have worked with female suits this season, can we ever expect a men’s collection?
Constance: I will always be a womenswear designer. Desirability is incredibly important in design, and as a consumer of fashion myself, I am perhaps drawn to design clothes that I in an ideal world would wear. I find menswear design fascinating but I feel that generally womenswear allows for dramatic silhouettes, colours and texture that mens’ fashion, in the present is more lacking. However, the recent shows at LCM have been really exciting and adventurous.
Wildabout: What is your favourite season to design for?
Constance: My work is often about the layering of fabrics and garments, which is much better suited to Autumn/Winter season, although the colour palette of my BA collection could fall into either.
[Wildabout: We would wear that pink quilted kimono any day of the year!]
Wildabout: And who would you like to collaborate with the most?
Constance: In an ideal world, Robbie Spencer would style my collection and it would be shot by a mixture between Jackie Nickerson, Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. My work was recently shot by Tim Walker and styled by Kate Phelan, so it’d would be fantastic to see how another team would portray my ideas.
Wildabout: Now imagine you’re in the Victoria & Albert Museum, which exhibition room can we find you in? Fashion or Art?
Constance: I come from a fine art background, so my instant reaction is to look there for ideas. I like to look for inspiration in non-fashion related sources, so I am drawn firstly to the cultural collections; Japan, China and Europe for the archives of traditional dress, materials and artwork. It’s wonderful to find value and interest in in something that you have not noticed before, so I would then explore a new area, maybe the Medieval Collection, before moving to Fashion.
Wildabout: Which artists would you say have inspired you?
Constance: The work of photographers Viviane Sassen and Jackie Nickerson had a lot of influence on my final collection, as they still are in my research today. Their use of colour, texture, composition and subject, as well as subtle detailing in the clothing that their muses wore inspired design detailing and my colour palette. I am greatly influenced by fine artists, sculpture, drawing as painting; Dexter Dalwood’s trompe l’oeil collaged paintings and vintage jewellery by Alexander Calder for example.
Wildabout: Very good answer. Finally, what would you tell your younger self today?
Constance: I would tell myself to be patient and, despite the cliché, to stay motivated and to believe in my vision. I am very lucky to have achieved what I wanted to by my age and to have been pleasantly surprised by things along the way, and for what I have done to be recognised. I’d also say to enjoy not knowing what will happen next; I have an ultimate goal but I welcome changes and paths that leads me to other things along the way.
THANK YOU CONSTANCE.
Check out Constance’s amazing work at www.constanceblackaller.com
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