Monday, 9 January 2017

Chapter 12 : Research Three Artists

Zandra Rhodes

There are so many things to admire about and learn from Zandra Rhodes, her practice and designs. She is enormously hard-working and committed.  She transformed her love of colour and pattern into clothing designs which have become successful in the world of international high fashion.Through her teaching and later her Digital Study Collection she has made her knowledge and understanding of garment making available to those keen to learn from her expertise.

Zandra Rhodes was born in Chatham in Kent in 1940, during the Second World War.  She was introduced to the world of fashion by her mother who was a fitter for the Paris fashion House of Worth.  Zandra Rhodes trained as a textile designer, studying first at Medway College of Art in Kent, later at The Royal College of Art in London.  Her early textile designs were considered to be too outrageous to traditional British manufacturers so she decided to make dresses from her own fabrics.  She pioneered the untapped potential of printed patterns to accentuate and define the silhouette of garments.  She opened The Fulham Road Clothes Shop in 1967 with Sylvia Ayton setting up on her own and taking her collection to New York two years later.  American Vogue featured her garments and she began selling in New York and Britain winning Designer of the Year in 1972 and Royal Designer for Industry in 1974.  Throughout the 1970s and 1980s "her fashion shows were one of the highlights of London's fashion week.

In 2003 Zandra Rhodes opened the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street to to promote British design talent.  Her career has spanned over fifty years.  She was made a Dame in 2015.
What is it then I've learned from Zandra Rhodes?  The first thing is where she looks for inspiration: she talks about inspiration being "things at hand", whether it's a collection of buttons or the tulips in a vase on her table, or those she finds when travelling: a skyline in New York, a field of lilies in Japan, or a trip to Ayers Rock in Australia.

Zandra Rhodes: 1

Zandra Rhodes: 2

It is Zandra Rhodes' sketches which are her leaping off point.  She comments too that it's important not to throw any sketch away, even when it doesn't work out well, but to live with the mistakes and learn from them.  She also uses photographs to support her sketches.Her accumulation of sketchbooks is vast: a great archive of material which can inspire again and again.

Ideas are not necessarily used only once.  Zandra Rhodes talks about the cross fertilisation of ideas, how a sketchbook note or drawing can link with another elsewhere, or be sought out when it connects with a new observation or experience.  A good example of this is her re-use of the feather motif.

Zandra Rhodes: 3

Image 3 also illustrates how some of her fabric designs broke with convention.  Rather than an allover pattern covering the length of a piece of cloth her fabric design might  marry several interrelated patterns inspired by her research, patterns which differ in any number of ways, such as scale or density or tone. Some of her prints are designed on a quarter circle. This method of designing requires a wholly different approach to garment making and enables her complex designs to be used to best effect to enhance the body shape.

Zandra Rhodes is noted for her use of colour.  Take a look at its vibrancy in these two colour versions of her feather fabric: one softer hued, the other eye-poppingly vivid, both equally successful.

Zandra Rhodes: 4

Zandra Rhodes: 5

Colour is important too in the early phases of printing a new Zandra Rhodes fabric.  After the background colour is chosen work is carried out by the screen printer to check the proportions of the printed colours  used to ensure that they not only work together but also with the background.  

Further attention to detail can be found in the finish of garments such as the complex use of techniques in image 6.  Pleated frills may have a zigzag edge giving a colour accent picked up from elsewhere in the garment.  Other hems are finished by enclosing fishing line in the rolled hem.  This creates movement and drama.

Zandra Rhodes: 6

The drama of Zandra Rhodes' designs comes from an experimental approach to her work, an inclination that rules nothing out.  For example her treatment of the seams in the Dinosaur Coat, a design feature which she again uses down the front of the coat.  

Zandra Rhodes: 7

Embellishments too are part of the Zandra Rhodes' story.  The embroidered flowers on the Dragon Coat create a colour accent. whilst other garments may be lightly beaded along an edge or densely sequinned and beaded as in image 8.

Zandra Rhodes: 8
Seeing the drama created in Zandra Rhodes' designs it is not surprising that her career has turned towards the theatre where she has designed costumes and sets for operas.  Nor has she allowed her ideas to become stale, as in this punk-inspired evening dress below. 

Zandra Rhodes: 9

Zandra Rhodes has a strong business sense; her catwalk shows are innovative and crowd pleasing and she is will abandon a range (such as the one in denim) when it proves too labour intensive to be commercially viable.  She has talked about needing space to find inspiration for her work and the need to feel conviction in her designs.  In an interview she commented that if you were looking at someone else's clothes and thinking they were better than your own you were not answering your own questions.

Deidre Hawken

Deidre Hawken 

Deidre Hawken is a designer maker specialising in couture millinery headpieces.  Originally she trained as a stage designer at Central School of Art and Design, later in 1998 QEST awarded her a scholarship to study couture millinery.  Her work is exhibited and sold widely, both here and abroad.  Her work is also held in many permanent collections in such places as the Victoria and Albert, the Kyoto Costume Institute and The Metropolitan Arts Museum in New York .  She is a Fellow of the Society of Designer Craftsmen and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.  She has also worked for the Royal Opera House and Ballet as well as film and television.

Broad Bean Hat

The Broad Bean Hat is part of a V&A Permanent Collection.  The museum's website gives a really clear idea of the materials and techniques Deidre Hawken uses.  The headpiece has a blocked canvas base covered in dyed silk organza, the edges wired and bound in the same fabric.  The assorted salads are cut to pattern using dyed silk taffeta and silk velvet some of which are wired.  To create the lettuce leaves' crinkled effect the dyed silk organza was scrunched into a tight ball, tied with string and left to dry. The pecorino shavings were made from dyed silk taffeta and organza; the peas and beans from epoxy resin which was handpainted and attached to wire; the pea shoots were created from pieces of wire covered in florists tape.  All of the components were handsewn to the base.

To finish the headpiece was lined in dyed silk taffeta.  It was designed to be worn on the side of the head and has an integral hair comb inside to keep it on the head.

It would be really interesting to have some insight into the early creative processes of headpiece design -- the inspiration material, the drawing and experimentation that happen to ensure that the materials and texture reflect the salads and vegetables Deidre Hawken is trying to recreate.  Of course there are very particular considerations when making a  headpiece: its weight, size and shape and whether it will be in proportion to the wearer. These factors will also affect the way in which the headpiece is attached to the head and the way in which it can be worn.  The balance between aesthetics and practicalities is always in the mind of a designer-maker especially when the designs are also aiming to create drama and impact.

Nasturtium Hat

So where do Deirdre Hawken's ideas come from?  Her work is described as delicate and whimsical. Flowers as an adornment for a headpiece are unsurprising, fruit and vegetables have been tried before though not in this way, but patisserie, is attention grabbing, intriguing and thought provoking to say nothing of a tin of tuna.

Deidre Hawken

 It is suggested that Deidre Hawken's current work explores the often ambiguous relationship women have with food, and that her ideas are influenced by Surrealism.  Her work is curiously beautiful and inventive not only drawing admiration for those exciting qualities but also for its exquisite craftsmanship.

Shuna Rendel

Beauty is found in many forms and created from many different materials.  Shuna Rendel's art works are beautiful and strong with the power to draw the viewer in and captivate them, sensing some of the tension and excitement inherent in their making.

Shuna Rendel trained as a  a sculptor and her work is informed by research, analysis, experiment and manipulation using basketry and textile techniques from all over the world.  Disciplines as diverse as architecture and textiles provide the context for her creation of stable forms from flexible materials. She holds a large collection of baskets from all over the world.  These have been made using a variety of techniques such as weaving, coiling, netting, linking, looping and lashing and she uses them for research and analysis. 

Shuna Rendel's three dimensional flexible sculptures use natural materials and traditional techniques.  Her manipulation of forms challenges materials and their natural qualities.  She takes a simple line and form and gives it life by exploiting the materials' flexibility by twisting, pulling, turning and stretching.  Her research and sampling ensures the appropriate choice of materials and technique so that she creates a manipulated material light or dense enough to convey the continual pounding of the sea on stones or the protective encasing ribs give vital organs.

Break, break,  break on thy cold gray stones, O Sea

Ribbed Form

"Break, break, break on thy cold grey stones, O Sea" and "Ribbed Form" illustrate the challenge of creating such structures from the natural materials Shuna Rendel favours.  She describes the act of creation as "drawing in space" and when successful she overcomes the flexibility of the material's natural movement and harnesses it to make forms which  reveal movement of line within the surface structure of the piece.  "Each piece is a a search for that essential tension between flexibility and fracture, stability and collapse."

Dark Form

In the making of Dark Form Shuna Rendel combines the use of wire with natural materials such as hemp and chair cane, both of which have been dyed.  The harmonious tonal range she uses ensures that the eye is drawn to the rhythms and movement within the piece and looking at Shuna Rendell's work has helped me to understand more clearly these aspects of design and making.

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