Half of Hell and Half of Dreams: Richard Sorger

The Middlesex-trained designer has always had a childhood fascination with birds, a motif which surfaces each season.

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Half of hell and half of dreams, the work of Richard Sorger is in parts decadent in its dark colours but sublime in its sequined embellishment. Drawing in both the linear sense, but also in terms of personal inspiration, he creates something that to him could be spiritual and to us bears great beauty.

It's always refreshing to see work from those who dare to design outside trends and sheepish scenes. But what do you expect from one who works in academia? We met first in 1999 at Middlesex university, where he taught and still teaches.

Today as I learn about his love of fiction I can understand more of the poetry to his work – sequined vultures, wooden effects made from silks and chiffon-covered spiders. Here he spins for Dazed readers details on his own label, which like all good art reflects a deeply personal story and inner desires.

Dazed Digital: What's your work history?
Richard Sorger: There was a long period when I didn’t want to do fashion and I was content to teach and write fiction for pleasure. Then I had a womenswear label with Benjamin Kirchhoff of Meadham Kirchhoff for a couple of years which got me into the idea of being a designer again.

DD: This isn't the first time we met – you teach at Middlesex University – do you still take a more “fine art” approach to design with your students?
RS: When we first met I was teaching the first year which was about encouraging unconstrained creativity within the parameters of ‘fashion’. I now teach the final year students and I still believe in the students being as creative as possible, but I also believe that the students need to think much more ‘commercially’.  They can make dresses out of metal, but they also need to be able to design something desirable and wearable if they're to survive as designers.

DD: And there's a kind of double art to your pieces too – the art of cut, and then the art of decoration. Is there one that you prefer over the other?
RS: Definitely the art of the decoration. My work stems from my love of drawing and the clothes are a vehicle for these drawings.

DD: Your SS09 collection depicts birds in sequins and in luxurious fabrics. Can you tell us a bit about this?
RS: I was obsessed by birds and fish as a child and there is generally a bird in each collection. Last season it was parrots and vultures. For AW there will be owls and each garment will feature a feather as a reference to the character Fevvers from Angela Carter’s book ‘Nights at the Circus’ which the collection is based upon. Fevvers is a fictitious Victorian trapeze artiste rumoured to have been born with wings.

DD: Are trends and scenes important to your work? 
RS: I go out a lot and I feel quite engaged with (design) culture in London and I must process it subconsciously. But worrying about trends is counter productive - as a designer you have to be instinctive about your work and to learn to trust those instincts.

DD: How come you exhibited your most recent collection in Paris and not London?
RS: The only point of exhibiting in London would be if I was doing a show, otherwise Paris is where my sales take place. London is better for press, but the press are generally only interested in a designer if they’re doing catwalk.

DD: You were involved in Oxfam Relaunch, when did that happen and how did you find it?
RS: It happened May 2008. I love doing ‘one-offs’ - projects that are unconnected to my main line - and I’m always happy to do something for charity. It was great to take a style of dress that I wouldn’t normally choose, alter it, and embellish it without worrying about how it fitted into the scheme of things.

DD: Is sustainability important to you? Do you use sustainable fabrics?
RS: It’s something that I’m starting to explore with the factory that produces my samples - we are looking into sustainable silk and alternative methods of dying fabric.
My clothes are expensive and not trend-led, so someone who buys one of my dresses isn’t buying it for one season and then throwing it away. They're the type of clothes that a woman will keep in her wardrobe for years. This is also sustainable clothing.

DD: If you didn't work in fashion what would you be doing now?
RS: Education. But I'd have loved to have been a writer. Failing that, working in a zoo has a romantic appeal.

DD: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
RS: At some point soon I would like to start doing catwalk presentations, but only when I feel the time is right. I want to experiment with forms of embellishment and pattern, such as different ways of applying texture and decoration with unexpected materials, and also further explore the symbolic potential of decorative devices like birds and animals.
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