Graduate Profile: Alice James, SS15 Menswear
British AUB fashion design graduate, Alice James, unleashed her SS15 menswear collection at the 2014 London Graduate Fashion Week, delivering a subtle rawness to an audacious subject. Fascinated by the intricate workings of plastic surgery and its likeness to sewing technique, the Hampshire native channelled this similitude into the construction of her garments.
Alice James’ SS15 menswear collection, “Tech Nique,” is as wearable as it is original. Her prints of photocopied banana peels with medical stitches, are the love child of an Andy Warhol print and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Indeed, her sutured linens and leathers do clearly evoke the imagery of reconstructive surgery. The Art University Bournemouth honours grad, had found a sisterly mind in Rhian Solomon, a visual artist who explored the “parallels between skin and cloth, the body and dress.” James derives much of the collection’s inspiration from Solomon’s work, and in turn, asks: “Can we cut cloth in the same way we cut skin?”
Modeconnect sought the answer. An interview with James furthered our insight on suturing and sewing, and proved that the two can actually coexist quite beautifully in fashion.
Alice, let’s talk about the purpose driving this collection.
This collection grew into a sort of creative exhibition. I saw it as the last opportunity to be truly creative and individual before entering the industry. More than anything else, I chose to make it for myself.
The mix of lightweight materials, such as the gabardine and linen, gives the collection a summer feel. But the collection also reflects the increasingly varied ‘summer’ climate we are experiencing in the UK. These variations invite us to assess and re-adjust our wardrobes according to the weather. I also think that having key pieces to wear any time of year is appealing to the modern consumer.
What kind of reactions did the collection get?
I was so pleased with the feedback on the collection. Initially, when I explained my concept and influences on plastic surgery and suturing, people thought I was a little strange. The banana print made people laugh, though. I had worried that the print wouldn’t come across on the catwalk but it seemed to have translated well.
You have a very unique source of for your inspiration: can you tell us about that?
Last September, when visiting an exhibition held at AUB, ‘Block Party: The modern Art of the Tailor’, I came across the work of Rhian Solomon. She combines science and art. Her work Bodycloth was so interesting; it encouraged me to explore the cross over between plastic surgery and creative pattern cutting.
I was lucky to know a few doctors and have a consultant plastic surgeon in the family who explained the different flap techniques and geometry that was involved in the surgical process to me.This surgeon even sent some sutures for practice… she couldn’t work out how I would apply it to fashion, though!
I love your use of suturing in this collection. Can you walk us through the process of applying that technique to your collection?
The hand suturing is one of a couple of key elements of my collection. I researched the different techniques and stitches, doing a few tests, equipped with surgical scissors and all!
One YouTube video mentioned that if Doctors could not get hold of a pigs trotter or whatnot, they would use a banana. So after breakfast one morning, I sutured my banana skin and photocopied it.
I sewed the stitched banana and a small sample of sutured leather as the basis for my prints. I like to experiment with the abstract by playing with scale: blowing things up or cropping in on a particular detail. I really like clothes that have a sense of humour, so a sutured banana seemed like it would lighten the mood and provide an interesting talking point.
Having practiced my hand suturing, I thought it would be a good idea to hand stitch a leather jacket using that technique. Several hours and few hundred stitches later, this jacket became my ‘precious.’ I feel I’m close to qualifying as a surgeon!
Was there any aspect of designing the collection that gave you particular grief?
This collection kept throwing me little challenges and my designs were not fully finalised until I began the manufacturing process. But it is interesting to experience those challenges during the creative process; it’s fun to work through them and overcome them.
One of the biggest challenges was designing the outerwear. The places where the ‘flap’ techniques were being applied could have completely changed the outcome of the silhouette…
Also a couple of garments that had the z-plasty or Limberg flaps, once it was constructed, you then had to re-stitch areas on a zero seam allowance.
Did you experience any ‘ah-ha’ moments during the design process? Can you offer any advice to fashion students still designing their final collections?
I learned how to be flexible, how to keep testing out ideas and to always be open to possibilities.
When you design your final collection, you have an idea in your head, but you have to hold it loosely. When you begin creating shape, toiles, and even sampling fabric, ideas can develop and improve. An idea may look fantastic on paper but it may not be possible to manufacture. Also, stock up on caffeine! Even the most organised person has to put in the hours.
So much happens during the time spent in design school … do you remember how it started? What were your first six months at AUB like?
The first year at AUB is all about the ‘fun and fundamentals’ of fashion. The very first thing we made was a white shirt and I was so worried about how I would make this one garment in the seven weeks we were allocated. Little did I know that for our Final Major we would have to produce around twenty-four garments in ten weeks.
You’ve probably been asked this question many times, but what’s the next step for you, career-wise? Where do you see yourself headed?
So far, I have just been recovering from hand-in and had to return to work to earn some money. As I am just graduating, my plan is to keep working full time at home and apply for fashion jobs at the same time. Hopefully when the opportunity comes, I can afford to go to London.