Strange and obscure things inspire me: anything with an ugly yet beautiful aesthetic
The intricate, sophisticated graduate collection of textile designer Oliver Thomas Lipp is something to behold. Or rather, ‘Extending the Body, Hair and Skin’ is a collection everyone wants to hold. Inspired by the largest human organ, Oliver’s fabrics incorporate a plethora of techniques to create an unusual, tactile representation of skin.
Designed for the luxury market, Oliver’s fabrics are of the highest quality. The designer utilised an extensive range of materials; he investigated every technique learnt over his three years at Central Saint Martins.
As a result, Oliver’s textural innovation enabled his confidence as a young textile designer to blossom. Despite working with visuals generally considered unpleasant, Oliver Thomas Lipp creates a beautiful aesthetic made with great skill. He offers the industry a unique collection and an expertise in high demand.
Oliver, can you describe your work to us?
I design and produce tactile and innovative fabrics that are knitted, although they may not appear so at first glance. Skin inspired my degree collection, with all its folds, cells and hair follicles. I investigated the way in which thease shapes and textures move and interact alongside the body.
My work developed through extensive material testing, experimenting with intricate techniques and hand manipulation on and off the knitting machine. I then explored finishing processes, such as fusing, heating and melting.
Textiles are primarily used to cover the body, to hide skin; skin is rarely used as inspiration to design fabrics. I developed, abstracted and reapplied my skin-like materials back onto the human form, and designed garments that transform both the body’s silhouette and its surface structures.
What did you aim to achieve with your collection?
The purpose of my project was to develop unique fabrics that are suitable for the luxury knitwear market. I wanted to experiment as much as possible during this process and show what I can do as a designer. I maintained the concept to dramatically rethink knit throughout my project.
This aim is my springboard to further develop techniques and fabric ideas in the future.
How would you describe your fabrics?
My fabrics mix tradition with a modern edge. I use lace transfer techniques and manipulation alongside traditional ribbing and trims. Combining this with unconventional materials such as fuse plastic, beads and coated yarns.
The relationship between yarns is important within my work. I combine specialist, fancy and elastomeric yarns as well as including silks, viscose and fluffy eye lash like yarns, to create one-off fabrics that stand-alone. These fabrics are intricate but can also be realised and elevated into garment form.
How do you design fabrics to suit a luxury market?
My fabrics are of a bespoke nature; they are time consuming to make, with complex designs. I tied each hair into the fabric with a crochet hook to add more depth and texture, which creates more movement and adds to the look and tactility of the fabric. My fabrics transform when worn or moved; their texture, drape and weight react in different ways to what you might expect.
Are your textiles for a menswear or womenswear market?
My collection has an androgynous aesthetic. Simple classic garment shapes would help draw the eye to the textiles, but also ensures suitability for both womenswear and, subversively, menswear.
Whilst developing garment ideas, it’s important to research different markets. I wanted to express and challenge myself but also understand the various knitwear markets.
However, my work isn’t entirely market led; it is also an expression of my aesthetic and my technical ability. I wanted to have fun with materials during research and development.
Do you have specific sources of inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere, whether on the tube, walking through London, online, reading magazines or books, looking through old magazine or image archives as well as online blogs and trend prediction magazines/presentations.
Generally, strange and obscure things inspire me: anything with an ugly but beautiful aesthetic.
How do you translate this inspiration into your designs?
From my primary research, I may develop 3D models or begin experimenting with materials. I document the process through photography. I develop this on to choose a colour palette and then yarns, developing small-scale fabric samples and later larger fabrics that can be transformed into garment ideas.
Are there any specific trends you are paying special attention to?
An emerging trend, ‘censored’, informed my collection. It works on the idea of masking, concealing and slicing through the silhouette with black. I contrasted agenised (bleached) skin tone hues and grey. This trend is translatable across both commercial and high fashion.
What is the most important part of your creative process?
For me, designing is about process and vision. The initial spark is inspiration. After that, the process takes over. I create my own visuals to enable originality in my designs.
I surround myself with inspiring yarns and then I get on the knitting machine straight away. I play with small samples and collages, trying different proportions, trim ideas or yarn mixing. I experiment with texture and structure and further manipulate my samples. Finally, I might dye them or add treatments or coatings.
Was there a significant moment during the design of your project?
Probably when I began to think of my fabrics as garments. I produced a swatch base collection but hadn’t considered how it would sit on the skin. I loved my beadwork technique but next to the skin, some samples felt hard and scratchy.
Along side my more experimental collection; I developed another smaller collection of fine gauge knitted linings to wear under the fabric to soften the texture. The lining is unattached so as not to affect the drape and tactile qualities.
What would you say are the specific strengths of your project?
My greatest strength is material exploration. I work with materials you wouldn’t necessarily associate with knit, which I then develop into yarn choice and knitted structures or that create interesting tactile qualities.
For this project, I made small-scale models with silicon, wax, plaster, and human and synthetic hair, for example. I could have used plastic yarn but I wanted to develop a texture that looked similar to thick silicon, but with greater tactile and drape qualities.
How would you take this collection forward?
I’d create my own beads, using laser cut plastic or 3D printing. It would be interesting to have complete control over every element within my work.
What was the most challenging aspect when designing your final project?
Attaching different beads into the knit! I attached them by hand, which was much slower but allowed for more control.
The beads also looked a bit ‘cheap’ so I used an iron and heat press to melt them. This created an entirely different texture and fabric weight, ultimately making a more interesting fabric. The fabric has solid visual traits but retains the fragility I identified in my primary visuals.
How did you manage to counter the weight of the beads with the fabric?
I had to calculate the shaping by planning it with graph paper and reducing stitches to form the pattern pieces. I worked out the number of beads per row and per stitch. Thousands of beads make up my final garment. The joins and elasticated piping along the cuffs, neckline and waistband also counter the weight.
Where do you source your materials?
I live in East London, which has lots of places to buy materials, from small independent arts shops like Cowling and Wilcox and to the pound stores tucked way in Hoxton and weave shops in Dalston. For yarn, I would recommend Knit Works London in Bethnal Green, started by a UAL tutor Timothy James Andrews who teaches courses in machine knitting. I would also recommend The Hand Weavers Studio in Finsbury Park; they have a whole selection of standard and specialist yarns in every colour and texture you can imagine
How do people react to your work?
The delicacy and construction of the fabrics impress many. At my degree show and New Designers 2015, people would first feel the fabric, pick it up and move it around.
This is exactly what I set out to do. I wanted people to question how it was designed and what it felt like.
The Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters also examined my work, awarding me a £2500 scholarship to use for my degree collection and after graduation. It was great to have experienced industry professionals appreciate my work.
Texprint also interviewed me, choosing me as one of the top 50 Texprint finalists.
How did your time at Central Saint Martins aid your final project?
On a technical level, I took full advantage of the available resources, such as a Stoll machine (industrial knitting machine), dubied knitting machines as well as the domestic knitting machines, and a heat press.
As a designer, I was surprised at how much I learnt over my three years. I can also now work on very little sleep, lots of coffee and knit into the night!
I learnt a lot about myself and my process, which gave me the confidence to develop a technical and sophisticated collection. I am comfortable with the choices I made as a designer.
Since graduating, what have you been working on?
I am working in a consultancy role for an Asian knitwear manufacturer. They are developing knitted fabric ideas for a limited edition collection, using a concept of sports luxe in association with 2016 trend prediction.
I have created some knitted swatches for SPINEXPO, to be shown in New York and Shanghai. I have also recently been in talks with WGSN – an invaluable resource for emerging trends whom I have also worked with in the past during my time at St Martins.
A well-known Italian knitwear company approached me to develop a new range of men’s or women’s knitwear. Launching my own brand however is my long-term goal. I want to create contemporary, fresh looks with creative flair, using traditional techniques with a playful twist. I will also be exhibiting my collection at the London Design Festival Later on this year
What advice would you give someone entering the final year of a Textile Design course?
Do your research, do it early and continue it through the whole project.
Be original – you don’t have to re-invent the wheel but stamp your own personality on your designs. It is through this that you can become more innovative.
Do your dissertation and keep up to date with drafts – it’s hell but it’s worse when you leave it to the last minute.
Source your materials cheap – you don’t need to spend a lot to make great textiles.
Look for scholarships and bursaries. These are invaluable
Eat well, experiment, prepare not to sleep and have fun!
And finally Oliver, what are your advice to someone about to start studying textile design?
You must be passionate.
Know what you like and don’t like be critical and analyse
Question everything – critique yourself and evaluate the choices you make.
Look everywhere for materials, you don’t just have to go to an arts supply shop; you can find so many great materials in pound shops.
Always note great material shops.
Always experiment, consider all of the options possible for what it is that you what to create.
Remember – it’s okay to make mistakes. This is how we learn. In my experience, mistakes lead to great things.
Oliver Thomas Lipp graduated from Central Saint Martins in July 2015 with First Cass Honours, BA (Hons) in Textile Design. He is currently working as a Knitwear Consultant and Freelance Knitwear Designer. Visit Oliver Thomas Lipp’s website to view his graduate work.