Being playful with Gabrielle Stiles

Gabrielle has just graduated with a BAF in Fashion Design from the California College of Arts and her collection was showed on the runway only a few days ago. She grew up in Eastern Washington; ah … and she has an older sister. Yes, this must be mentioned.
Gabrielle admits to visiting religiously two blogs: Love Aesthetics and Luxirare. She finds their style authentic and inspiring; she shares their aesthetics. She also shares Luxirare’s love for food. If Gabrielle did not design fashion, she would become a pastry chef: she loves to bake. When you see Gabrielle’s collection, all this makes sense. It also made us glad she became a fashion designer.
Gabrielle Stiles describes her degree collection as playful, futuristic, graphic, and aspirational. This does summarise it rather well. It is also a good description of Gabrielle’s style (sorry;~). Here is what she told us.

Gabrielle you collection is called Flatland. What does its name refer to?
When refining my collection, I found myself wanting my designs simpler and more graphic. I reduced them to the point where they almost felt two-dimensional in their simplicity. The name Flatland seemed fitting.

Can you explain in more detail what you intended with your collection?
I aimed for bold contrasts between heavy and light, sheer and opaque, matte and reflective, and nuanced and exaggerated. I worked on proportion and choice of materials. I don’t think I truly understood the ideas of proportion and silhouette until my last year of design training. It was a great feeling when I began to confidently recognize these elements in my own and others’ designs.

What is your inspiration for Flatland?
I was inspired by 90s minimalism, the rebellious, playful aesthetic of rave culture, and also by music videos from artists like Fiona Apple. My personal history is central to this inspiration. At the research stage I found myself reflecting on my experiences as a 7-8 year old, towards the end of the millennium.

My older sister was becoming a teenager. As a child, I observed her transition and I was in awe and longing for her fun and free lifestyle. The clothes, hair, make-up, and music of the late 1990s made an indelible impression on my sense of style. Been too young then, to fully experience that culture, it has remained something I wanted to revisit and interpret. It is about nostalgia for my youth, and for the late 90s style.

Gabrielle Stiles

How did you choose to translate this inspiration?
I chose to emphasize bold contrasts to express the paradox of adolescence: simultaneously longing for the freedom and wisdom of adulthood, while fearing the unknown and a loss of youthful simplicity. Oversized closures and rugged materials like denim and vinyl represent playfulness and youth, while refined silhouettes and fabrics like silk and velvet convey a more mature sense of restraint.

Was there any stage in the design of your collection you found challenging?
I was very careful not to design a collection that was too derivative of my influences; basically I had to step far away enough from the actual 1990s. The other difficulty was my use of unconventional materials like vinyl and oversized plastic zippers. I worked hard to make sure they didn’t come off looking too kitschy. I had to trade this line between fun and kitsch carefully.

How do you define kitsch?
I think a word better than kitsch for what I meant is gimmicky. I wanted my designs to be able to stand on their own; I wanted the oversized closures and strange materials to enhance the collection, as opposed to them becoming focal points.

What did designing this degree collection taught you?
I learned to look within myself for inspiration, to trust my instincts, but I also learned to be realistic about my own limitations.

What are you planning to do now you have graduated?
I hope to obtain either an internship or even better a job. My dream job would be working someplace like Alexander Wang, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Acne or Calvin Klein. Ideally I would also like to be able to carry on developing my style.

Credits & References

Fiona Apple Criminal, 1997

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