When the gentleman rider met the urban cowboy
So far London Graduate Fashion Week 2013 remains the highlight of Shauni Douglas fashion design career: the Edinburgh College of Art graduate was awarded the GFW Best Menswear Award for her collection entitled: When the gentleman rider met the urban cowboy.
Sayuri Standing described Shauni’s collection in her coverage of GFW. Reminiscent of folk styles, Douglas’ heavily layered outfits in dark, rustic colours consisted of Kaftans, tailcoats and tartan prints that combined global influences from the Highlands through to the Balkan regions and Central Asia. A heady mix of simple prints and proportions… Shauni explains her inspiration: The collection pays homage to ‘street gangs’ and gentlemen’s clubs, to brotherhoods built on beliefs, shared memories and social class.
Certainly Shauni’s collaboration with jewellery designer Olivia Creber – we’ll profile Olivia later – and the collection’s strong styling had its effect.
But Shauni presents honest menswear that shows an appreciation of traditional tailoring while finding the freedom to play with fabrics and proportion. Six month after GFW, the slightly exaggerated silhouettes championed by Shauni for menwear AW14 were seen on many professional catwalks.
Fellow Edinburgh College of Art fashion design student Rhys McKenna interviews Shauni Douglas.
Shauni, can you tell us about the inspiration behind your collection.
The concept behind “when the gentleman rider met the urban cowboy” stemmed from my discovery of the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club in Philadelphia. This voluntary horse-riding organisation offers riding activities to the local, often black, youth. The club’s stables are on abandoned city land, in the projects of Strawberry Mansion.
I like how this organisation contradicts the traditional stereotypes of horse riding, an upper class sport.
So my concept is about class and how, in some ways each class may adopt the others’ styles. If I may quote myself and read extract of my concept statement?
Tradition, community and youth culture… The feeling you get when you’re part of something… of a culture… a feeling of pride, togetherness and self-worth. Clothes for a proud man who stays grounded, carrying with him traditions and a memory of boyhood…
Of course nested in all this, are references to my own experiences.
So with this inspiration as a starting point, what did you want your collection to achieve? Who did you design it for?
I tried to recreate a feeling. I wanted the men wearing the collection to get the feeling they were a part of something.
Basically as I developed my work it became less about the urban-riding club and more about the men wearing it. I tried to imagine how dress may give these completely different people an over-riding sense of togetherness. The same feeling a uniform may give you, whether it is football colours or traditional folk dress.
My collection was designed to cater for all different types of men. I never really design with one man in mind. There are classic pieces, as well as the casual variations and an element of bravery there if you want it.
In general where do you look for inspiration? What is your creative research like?
My first point of call in the research process is always the library. I love archives and the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh is fantastic. A lot of my research starts with written text; my concepts usually stem from ideas or some facts that I have read.
Keeping up-to-date with the news as well as what’s happening in art is also important. It helps gage your market and trend informations are easily accessible on the net.
Remember however, especially if you are just starting fashion to keep thinking ahead. Sites such as style.com and other fashion blogs keep you up to date with what’s happening now. In fashion design this means it’s done. As a designer you must always be looking forward, plan ahead to create new trends.
I am curious, what was the experience of designing your final collection like?
I think the most challenging aspect of designing a final collection is determining who you are a designer. With no brief to stick to, no company aesthetic to follow … yet, the final collection is the first chance – and could be the last – you have to find out who you are as a designer.
This leads to heavy soul searching. This constant questioning of my choices and decisions and of myself as a designer is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.
Was there any particular aspect of the design process itself, you found especially difficult?
Choices of fabrics and colours seemed too me a crucial element in the design process. The way I approach it evolved dramatically.
Initially I tried to match colours and fabrics and work them into the collection as a whole before assigning them to individual garments. I wanted to narrow down my choices instead of relying on chance and my natural sense for colour and texture.
This approach was over complicated. Instead I managed the coherence and variety of the collection simply by organising the outfits themselves. Styling and layering were crucial here.
One thing I would do differently though is to select toiling material more similar to the fabrics used for the final pieces. Clearly this can be costly; in the long run however, it would have helped me early on, identify and tackle problems that occurred latter during production.
What did you learn about creativity in the process of designing your collection?
I came to realise that bad days – days when you feel you’ve achieved nothing – aren’t necessarily bad.
You may feel you’ve achieved nothing, when in fact you are working through issues. These hurdles make you think harder and be more creative. Now, I believe that a creative process that is too smooth probably means you are not pushing yourself enough. I would almost say: it shouldn’t be easy.
Ok … let’s try to be optimistic here! What advice could you give to me, a fashion student just starting?
Stay true to yourself. Don’t forget what you like. If pale colours and simple cuts are your things, then do pale colours and simple cuts.
It is very easy to get pushed into a position where you feel you need to make a statement, to go out all guns blazing. I believe controlled creativity is equally as powerful.
Above all remember to enjoy the process.
What are your plans now you have graduated?
I haven’t been fortunate to do any internship throughout my study at Edinburgh.
To survive financially during my course in Edinburgh, I’ve had to work full time during any free time and earn money. This means that unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to do an internship.
I feel should now get some experience, working in the industry in next few years before perhaps considering a masters course.
Shauni Douglas, it was great talking to you and thank you for your time.