The Central Saint Martins graduate on why illustrating is as important to her as designing
For anyone who thinks a Mark Rothko piece too depressing, fashion textiles designer Helen Bullock’s MA collection is like a fresh breath of life. Bold, bright, glittered shapes and blocks of jarring floral, the Central Saint Martins graduate debuted with a collection in February that seemed to evoke the abstract expressionist’s Seagram Murals – on acid. If this is too far-fetched a scenario, it is only because to intellectualise her work would be to miss the point: Bullock’s visceral relationship with her materials is a direct manifestation of the designer’s own self - vivacious, spontaneous and real.
Spotted by Vauxhall Fashion Scouts, the multi-talented creative from Shropshire – who counts fellow colour zealot Julie Verhoeven a fan - was invited not only to showcase her collection and new samples, but also to live-illustrate the shows held at Freemasons Hall this season. We meet the 32-year-old artist and have to admit; her designs would hang just as comfortably on the wall as on the body.
Dazed Digital: How has your day been, Helen?
Helen Bullock: I saw someone today who said she’d seen my MA collection and was really disturbed by it, because the fabric in the front was different to the back – I love that!
DD: Me too. What were you inspired by?
Helen Bullock: It started with a 60s movie, ‘Candy’, I watched it on the train next to an old lady and it was like soft porn… but it wasn’t the porn. There was a festival scene with huge, quite tribal banners; really bold and basic. I wanted to create a similar impact. Also, Gordon Matta Clark’s buildings fascinated me, he’ll pretty much slice it in half or cut a big chunk off, I wanted that feel – I like my prints to have an impact on the fabric.
DD: How would you describe your aesthetic?
Helen Bullock: I enjoy being physical with my work, hopefully people see it as high energy – not attacking! Also, I don’t see a point in overcomplicating things; although my work is quite decorative, it’s simple and basic in what it is. I couldn’t be like, ‘This is a dress with a built-in jacket…’ There are no hidden features, the finishings are raw, but there’s the element of luxury in terms of the handwork.
DD: It’s curious there is little to no digital printing in your work.
Helen Bullock: I don’t hate digital print, but I like the idea that you can see and feel that someone’s been involved in it. Using the computer destroys the human physicality to your work, when that’s what makes it unique and desirable. But then, it might be the exact opposite and horrify someone, like that woman today. I think digital can work if you have done the artwork yourself, otherwise there’s no joy for me. Even while screen-printing, I do it quite crudely. But it’s a dying breed to be printing the way I do now.
DD: Is there a specific way that you work?
Helen Bullock: To move forward, nothing happens until I’ve got the colour palette.
DD: Do you consider how your textiles can be applied before starting the process?
Helen Bullock: No, I view it as a canvas first, and it only comes to life once I’ve draped and collaged it on the stand. The way you place something completely changes the textile; it’s very unpredictable. In womenswear, once the pattern’s cut, the process becomes quite precise. But with this, I like that it can be changing right to the very end.
DD: You did illustrations for the Vauxhall shows – what were you looking out for?
Helen Bullock: I’ve never done moving drawings before. I do a lot of quick poses in my illustrations classes (Helen also teaches on short courses at CSM) and with that I look out for weird poses, so hopefully there’ll be some kind of weird movement in there.
DD: I don’t know if the models are going to give you that Helen.
Helen Bullock: I know! I’ll be looking at the clothes a lot more but just any kind of strong features, bold lines or colour and signature details.
Dazed Digital: Let’s wrap up with your hair, because every time I see you it’s a different colour.
Helen Bullock: My very first colour was henna red, and I’ve been purple, pink magenta, blonde with pink, baby pink, grey, lilac, an amazing peacock combo, blue, silver blonde, once something that I would describe as guinea pig, and today, a mix of tangerine and apricot - that's not me being pretentious, it says so on the pot.