Tormented Beauty:University of Wales,Newport Rachel Williams’ Beata Beatrix
For her Final Collection: Beata Beatrix, Rachel Williams was inspired by the Victorian bohemian lifestyle. Rachel is fascinated in particular by the unusual beauty, passion, strength and tragedy of Elizabeth Siddal (1829 – 1862). Siddal was engaged to Victorian painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti who in his early career, only ever used her as a model. Although a muse to the Aesthetic Movement – she famously posed in cold water for Millais’ 1852 painting Ophelia – Siddal was also a poet and visual artist in her own right. Her tragic death at 33 has been attributed to a long list of possible causes including tuberculosis, anorexia and arsenic poisoning.
The collection Beata Beatrix is a modern take on a tragic Victorian tale of beauty, talent and self-destruction. Through contrasting textures and exaggerated silhouettes it tries to capture Siddal’s tormented beauty, to express her emotional fragility as well as the passion of her fight to be recognised as an artist.
Modeconnect met Rachel at London GFW.
Rachel you are from Milton Keynes. How did you come to study Fashion at Newport?
When I left college I decided to tackle my career head on. I wanted to work in graphics and joined the advertising production department of a publishing house. After one year I was made redundant and found productive employment in a call centre. This environment was really not for me but it allowed me to save some money to enter higher education. I joined the Fashion Design BA course at Newport because Fashion Design has always fascinated me and because I fell in love with the natural beauty and history of the South Wales. Also the course is great, the lecturers are fantastic and the campus with its new facilities is wonderful. It was a big and welcome culture change after Milton Keynes!
What did you intend to achieve when designing your final collection Beata Beatrix?
Beata Beatrix takes inspiration from traditional British icons and styles of dress, but adapts them to suit the modern consumer. I tried to bring a contemporary flavour to a traditional British style. My approach to design fully embraces contemporary technology but it also respects traditional skills and techniques in drawing and in garment construction.
How did you use the pre-Raphaelite influence in your collection?
Colours in my collection are taken directly from a wallpaper design by William Morris (an artist member of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood). They are muted and suit the A/W season.
But the inspiration for the collection is also a certain idea of Englishness. It was important for me to use fabrics that were authentic and produced in the UK. The leather and sheepskin I used are reminiscent of the Victorian era, of hand-made garments using quality fabrics and design to last.
Would you say Beata Beatrix is a commercial or a conceptual collection?
Although Beata Beatrix is somewhat conceptual, I wanted to design wearable and versatile garments. I want to create garments that can be marketed. My final collection was also an outlet to experiment with materials and techniques.
In which respects did you experiment?
Digital technology plays an important role in my work, I find it an efficient tool for design and expression. With Beata Beatrix I experimented a lot in this area and was able to explore my strengths as well my weaknesses, helping me to develop and improve my style further.
I also experimented with fabrics and material.
Tell us about those materials you used?
I used leather and longhaired sheepskin. They are challenging materials and I had never worked with them before. They are also very expensive! During the first semester I had to work 25 hours a week back in a call centre to be able to pay for them! This made for some rather busy weeks. The upside was that I learned to work faster; in fact it was a very useful experience.
My colour palette was challenging to find in retail. But I discovered Pittards (a top UK based leather manufacturer) who created leather in the right colour and kindly sponsored this leather in my collection.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to begin designing their final collection?
I expected the final collection to be demanding, but I was completely unprepared for the workload involved. My advice to anyone starting their final year would be to think about their time management. Create schedules and work to your own deadlines. Give adequate time to research and develop your collection, as well as to produce your garments.
How do you feel your fashion course has been useful?
I have gained a number of very valuable skills; skills that I want to continue developing. In this last year, I have been heavily involved in the organisation of the graduate lookbook photo-shoot and the graduate fashion show. These experiences have improved my confidence and my communication and organisational skills. I believe that university has allowed me to become a stronger individual.
I also believe work experience has been very important. It is in fact the only way to gain knowledge of the fashion industry. During my summer 2011 internship at Antipodium I got involved in a number of roles within the studio and at London Fashion Week. This experience has made me aware of the level of dedication and hard work required by this industry. It has also confirmed my choice.
What about your experience of LGFW?
Newport does not show on the catwalk at GFW. But my garments have been shown here on the Newport stand alongside my portfolio. I have received extremely valuable feedback on my work and have now better ideas on how to progress further in terms of style and skills.
I would like to do an MA in the future and I have been able to meet at GFW, leaders of programmes I want to apply to. Talking with them has helped me understand what they expect and how to be admitted. GFW has been incredibly rewarding and I recommend a visit to all fashion students and graduates.
So you are considering doing an MA?
Yes I would like to continue my studies in a few years. I would like the opportunity not only my explore my style further but also to expand my knowledge on the various digital technologies which will play a role in the fashion industry.
I am particularly interested by 3D CAD, digital printing and fashion film. I feel it would wise to embrace those technologies the fashion industry will increasingly use such as films and videos, live streaming of shows, interactive online stores, and social media.
Longer term, I have the ambition to launch my own label. I imagine unusual, stylish and contemporary womenswear which would rely on revolutionary technologies in their manufacture and presentation. But before I get there I understand that it is essentiual I gain insight into the best ways of both founding and running a successful fashion brand.