“I aimed to re-energise our perception of vintage clothing”
Sophie Pittom masters textile surface design. Her exquisite lace-based collection ‘Faded Grandeur’ takes inspiration from interiors and 1920s style. Each garment epitomises delicacy in contrasts: patches of bright colour flash out beneath exquisite webs of lace.
Together the garments re-define vintage chic and create an emporium of textures and colours. Sophie’s collection is a wonder to behold.
Having grown up in Warwickshire, Sophie recently graduated from Liverpool John Moores University with a Fashion BA. The GFW 2015 David Band Textiles Award nominee and YourView14 finalist talks to Modeconnect about graduating as a designer and her final collection.
Sophie, can you describe your collection to us?
‘Faded Grandeur’ is an Autumn/Winter 16 womenswear collection with a fresh yet couture approach to surface embellishment. The collection includes classic white shirts paired with slip dresses, as well as separates such as high-waisted trousers, a skirt, a long sleeve jumper and a slip vest top.
I predominantly used lace for my garments, sometimes paired with bright silk linings and satin-backed crêpe. The colours form an exciting mix when layered, from classic vintage to neon tones. Neon lining may show through a cream lace overlay for example. Then, it could be embellished with lace, bright embroidery details and metallic beading.
What inspired the design of your collection?
The inspiration for ‘Faded Grandeur’ came from mixing interior decoration and 1920s fashion. I looked first at art deco and vintage interiors dating back to the 1910s. I then explored contemporary interior designs such as old warehouses plagued by youth culture. They were often re-decorated with neon lights and graphic posters.
I felt the combination of these elements would produce exciting design ideas and an original colour palette. Then I considered garment construction. I looked at relaxed feminine silhouettes inspired by 1920s slip dresses and masculine details such as shirt collars and cuffs. I have always been inspired by 1920s fashion and the detailed embellishment of garments popular at the time.
What sparked off the design process for your collection?
Without a doubt it was my visit to Brodsworth Hall in Yorkshire at the start of the summer in 2014. The stately home, once grand and elaborate, is under protection to preserve its decaying interiors. I found the fading wallpaper, frayed upholstery and ornate cornicing made the hall all the more endearing.
What did you intend to achieve when designing your collection?
I aimed to revamp the way lace is used in garments by applying a variety of different techniques to manipulate it. I equally wanted to re-energise our perception of vintage clothing by taking elements such as colour, fabric, silhouette and details, then adding contrasting, contemporary touches. I combined delicate lace fabrics with bold plastics for example.
Do you have a typical client in mind, perhaps one that already has an interest in vintage clothing?
Yes, my client would be a fashion-conscious woman who likes to experiment with clothes and appreciates detail. I believe my client would mix interesting vintage finds with high-end designer or classic pieces to achieve a unique and eclectic style. Imagine a woman wearing a contemporary clean white shirt worn beneath a beautifully detailed slip dress.
Would you say your collection is an expression of your artistic identity or market led?
The collection is a balance between both. The intense textile elements allowed me to express my passion for designing beautiful details. However, I paired these one-off pieces with more classic garments, such as a white shirt, to give the look a commercial appeal. I wanted my collection to translate on to the market. By combining these two aspects I aimed to bring a new style to the high-end market that is both fashion led and wearable.
What would you say is the defining feature of your collection?
The amount of surface decoration in each design. When people discover my collection they want to see the garments up close to acknowledge the decorative details. It’s nice to see people appreciate the many hours of work that have gone into creating such detailed textile surfaces.
Tell us a little more about how you used lace in your collection.
I entered the Sophie Hallette University Design Challenge 2014 and was given a box of different lace designs to use. The competition challenged me to work innovatively with this material. Within my collection I carried out a total of eight techniques: overlay, appliqué, deconstruction, felting, painting, stiffening, embroidery and beadwork.
The felting of lace was a particularly important process for my final designs as it was used for every garment. For smaller samples I used wet felting by placing a wool top over the lace and adding hot water, detergent and friction to allow the wool fibres to bond together. For larger lace pieces, I used a felting machine as an additional process to ensure the wool was securely bonded to my pattern pieces. This machine had five needles that repeatedly stabbed the fabric as I moved it through the machine to bond the wool fibres tightly together.
Do you feel your collection is complete? … Considering decay is a prominent theme throughout your work!
I will always want to add more beading, embroidery and thread work to the surface decoration. While each piece can be viewed individually, the recurrent theme of lace unites the collection adding a sense of completeness. Relating back to my original concept ‘Faded Grandeur’ however, the garments are not meant to look complete; the embellishment in particular is meant to have an air of decay and incompleteness.
Who had the pleasure of viewing your collection?
In addition to the LJMU GFW15 show, my collection was shown at my Art and Design Building in Liverpool John Moores University along with all the other graduate collections on my course. This included two shows, one being a VIP show for industry members and another was a show for friends and family. The show was covered by local Liverpool press, which gave exposure to all the graduate collections rather than just the students selected for GFW such as myself. It also provided the opportunity to network with local industry members and celebrate my achievements with friends and family.
What have you been doing fashion wise since graduation?
I have won a place on the George at ASDA Design placement advertised at GFW in womenswear starting in September for two months. I am excited to begin this! I am also continuing a textile project, following on from my graduate collection, to develop my skills further.
Where do you go to find inspiration in Liverpool?
The Liverpool Dock is a peaceful and tranquil location in the morning and a glamorous place to people-watch and soak up the culture at night. The Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral would also be a fantastic location for a photoshoot, due to the dramatic high ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to start studying fashion or beginning a fashion related project?
Take inspiration from non-fashion sources at first. Consider all eras and aim to create something new and exciting. Try to focus on a particular element that you enjoy – it was lace in my case – and try to push the boundaries of whichever technique, fabric or style usually associated with it. Work placements have also been important to me, not only to gain more industry knowledge, but to boost my confidence. Take on as much advice as possible and be open.