31 August 2014
by Marion Lean
This June the British Council launched its Inaugural Graduate Fashion Week International Residency Award. The opportunity gives one exceptional fashion graduate the chance to take part in an international residency for one month with the chance to engage with local designers, universities and industries overseas. This year’s winner Holly Jayne Smith, graduate of Birmingham City University, will travel to Casablanca from 26th October - 23rd November 2014, where she will be hosted by the Moroccan Association of Fashion Designers and the Casa Moda Academy. She will spend time working with the winners of the New Moroccan Talent Award as well as producing a small capsule collection in response to her experiences in the country.
As Holly gets ready to participate in this season's Graduate Showcase at Fashion Scout during London Fashion Week, we sat down and talked to her about her work and ambitions for the residency in Morocco next month.
Tell us a bit about you – what is your background and areas of interest?
I studied at Birmingham City University for a BA Hons in Fashion Design. The course has been extremely creative and also nurturing which has ultimately aided me in achieving my goals over the last three years of study.
My work is always based around people and human nature. I would say that I am most interested in human psychology in social environments and how the decision making part of our brain is influenced by pre-conceived ideas and immediate surroundings. Previous projects have explored perceptions of reality in a man-made metropolis and God’s view of us on the Earth.
Talk us through your graduate collection – what was the inspiration, what are the special features (techniques, materials, etc), what is the story behind it?
The inspiration and starting point for the collection was social media and its parallels to cults and religion. The church is used for guidance and strength however the same can be said about the instant gratification we receive from our online profiles. With dwindling ideas about religion and family bonds we look to an alternative “family” for belonging. People take solace in ritual whether it be regularly going to their place of worship or checking profiles 4 times a day. This constant connection to the users device draws similarities to the spiritual families and cults who live in communes, separating themselves from the outside world. Through exploring the themes over-connection, ritual and deception it provided a wide visual base that inspired the collection.
It can be argued that social media creates a sense of detachment from the physical world due to continuous uploading, commenting and lack of concentrating in the real world. I wanted to explore this idea through my work by experimenting with shape and fabrication. The use of moulded plastic was to comment on a decrease in physical interaction as the wearer would not be able to be touched whilst wearing it. This idea is then continued through the colour blocked, extremely full skirts and capes that block the sense of touch and any feeling of the outside environment. We could say that we are condensing a human’s multidimensional communication system into a one dimensional technological system and these pieces are designed to comment on it.
My research brought me in touch with the Source and Manson Family who were most active in a similar time to the making of Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky. The film’s use of clear religious iconography and symbolic imagery created strong visual links within my work. This was very impacting on my design process as the psychedelic visual qualities heavily inspired my print design which ultimately brought the collection together. This also dictated my colour palette and aided me to create the “eye print” that is so prominent in many of the key pieces.
What was your experience of Graduate Fashion Week like?
It is such an amazing event to be involved in, especially with such a high standard of talent across all of the universities involved. I really think that it is one of the best platforms that a student from a creative course can hope to have at the end of their university career, as any interaction with industry and press is vital for progression. Personally I don't think I have ever needed to use so much adrenaline in my life; having worked so hard all academic year to initially secure a place in the BCU show and then get to Graduate Fashion Week it makes the event very climatic, especially on the day of the show. To be asked by the judges to be involved in the Gala show was completely unexpected and very exciting to be part of such a strong group of designers.
What do you hope to achieve during your residency in Morocco?
My goal is to move beyond the aesthetic of my graduate collection and start to refine my approach to design. I want to use Morocco’s detailed and exquisite heritage to inspire me in creating a collection that will still be a spectacle of colour, print and shape however one that is also more mature and considered. I am eager to see if I can use traditional craft in innovative ways to enhance my capsule collection. This is something that I was most excited about upon hearing that I had been successful in winning the award so I hope that I am able to achieve this within my work.
What are you hoping this experience in Morocco will bring to you practice? How do you think engaging with a foreign culture and industry will affect your approach to design?
Ultimately I want to begin maturing as a designer. I am completely aware that for some this can take a careers worth of time to achieve however I am ready and extremely willing for the process to start now. I try to learn from all my experiences so having never had the opportunity to work/study abroad I believe that a cultural exchange will provide an education that will have a huge impact on my work and outlook on design. In a country so rich in detail, culture and tradition I feel that I will be in a inspirational environment where I can begin integrate new influences into all areas of my creative process. I love to work with bold colours, so I am looking forward to discovering print, texture and technique in fabrications that will broaden my knowledge and skill. Aside from my peers and university tutors I have had little opportunity to talk to a wider scope of designers to discuss their creative and technical processes. I am hoping to learn from my encounters with Morocco’s creative individuals and apply this knowledge into my own approach to design.
What are your plans for the future after the residency?
My immediate plans will be to move from Birmingham to London as soon as possible so I can begin to make the first steps in my career.
About the International Residency Award
This annual award, changing host countries every year, will include flights, accommodation, necessary travel documents, subsistence and a tailor-made programme for up to a month. The winner will be judged on the quality of their work, the relevance of their practice to the residency and their awareness of the importance of cultural heritage and relations in fashion. Judges include the Graduate Fashion Week Executive Board, Joseph Ouechen of the Moroccan Association of Fashion Designers and the British Council's Architecture, Design and Fashion team.
Morocco is the host country for the inaugural award. The winner will be immersed in the rich visual and craft heritage of Morocco, which has already proven an inspiration to internationally renowned designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Michael Kors and Peter Som. The winner will be hosted by Joseph Ouechen, Director of the Moroccan Association of Fashion designers, with a studio space provided by the Casa Moda Academy. They will be asked to record their journey and upon completion of the residency present a concept for a collection or project in response to their residency with the opportunity to produce and showcase it in Morocco and the UK.