Designing Alternate Histories: Lowri Ann Jones, University of Wales,Newport
You may be forgiven to think you do not know what Steampunk is; it is most likely that you do. It certainly made an impact on University of Wales Newport student, Lowri Ann Jones and on her degree collection: Alternate Histories.
Steampunk appeared in the late 1980s. Its name is an ironic variation on the better known expression Cyberpunk. It is a fantasy genre which remixes history, often the Victorian Era or the Conquest of the Wild West, incorporating mainly technological anachronism. It resets machines, narratives or characters imagined since, to an anterior past. Think The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes or Wild Wild West. Steampunk as a genre borrows heavily from the 19th-century scientific novel, in particular from the works of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley.
Lowri’s collection, Alternate Histories features full sized, waist high skirts, full length dresses, leather jackets, leather jumpers, vests, leggings and shirts. While the silhouettes vary, each outfit emphasises the waist. Overall it produces a strong industrial atmosphere. The fabrics are recycled leathers, organdie, brown stretch fabric and chain mail like fabric in a palette of black, greys, browns, bronzes and gunmetal. Each outfit is worn with Steampunk inspired accessories: goggles, necklaces and bracelets.
Modeconnect met and interviewed Lowri at LGFW.
Lowri, can you explain the influence of your collection?
I am a little bit obsessed with the 1950s and this is where I started my research. I looked into the Hot Rods – cars, often from the 1930’s, whose engines have been modified for speed – which naturally led me into engines, cogs and tyres and eventually to Steampunk.
My collection started to come together with the industrial and technological feel of the engines and cogs. I limited my colour palette to a range of black and browns and decided early on a Steampunk styling.
I do not generally draw inspiration from existing garments but instead begin the creative process drawing really anything that I think might be relevant. In this case I drew a lot of car engines, gears, tyre treads until I saw shapes I could use in my collection, which I then developed into garments.
It sounds as if you put a lot of work in your research.
Yes. I knew when I started working on my final collection that it needed to be based on a subject that really held my interest. I had to be confident that I would be able to draw inspiration from it during the whole of my last year in university.
Where did you go from there?
As my collection takes influences from the industrial revolution I wanted to use some kind of metal fabric; this was really difficult though as I couldn’t figure out how to cut or sew metal into a garment. I decided instead to use mesh material that I sprayed with metallic car paint and layered up to get a chainmail like fabric. I think it is quite effective. It certainly draws people’s attention as they want to touch and feel the fabric.
What other material did you use?
I used organdie that I made my own by distressing it with bleach. It gives it a kind of dip dyed effect. I think it makes the oversized skirt look like it has been dragged through mud and dirt, recalling the grittiness of the industrial revolution.
All the leather I have used, that of the little jackets and the leather cropped jumper, was up-cycled. It came from second-hand men’s leather jackets I found in charity shops. I wanted to incorporate recycling into my collection and the distressed nature of an already worn leather jacket worked perfectly.
I think taking ownership of your fabric can make a collection. Anyone can go out and buy material to make a garment; you need to find ways to make it your own.
You make it sounds as if the design process of your collection unfolded easily and in a coherent manner?
Not at all! My creative personality changed a great deal during the course of this final academic year. This is definitely reflected in my work, especially my illustrations.
My collection started out completely different to what it is. At the beginning of the year we had to produce 6 basic designs for the final collection; not one of my end pieces even resembles my original ideas.
I think that during the second half this year I finally had the courage to show my personality in my work. If anything I wish I had done this earlier and if I was to give someone starting the course some advice, it would be to not be afraid to let your personality come through in your work. It gives it that little something extra that draws people.
But was there a specific moment when you thought: Ok I have to start afresh?
I was very aware when I started designing my final collection that I wanted to keep myself marketable. I like to think outside the box but I was also aware that my final collection would help me sell myself and my talents and ultimately get a job.
I wanted one garment of the collection to make a statement. This came with the oversized, gunmetal, distressed, organdie skirt which shows off a small waist. It stands out but it is still wearable.
This design was a turning point for me. It was my fourth design and I realised then that I wanted all my collection to be organised around this piece. The 3 designs I had previously done didn’t sit right with it, so I started again, at this late point, to design a more sophisticated range to go with the full sized skirt.
I realised that as a designer you must constantly strive for new ideas and to improve your design, no matter how close to the deadline you are. It is a fluid process.