Ali Forbes (London, UK)

Fresh from her victory at ITS#EIGHT, RCA graduate Ali Forbes creates interactive jewellery with a hint of nostalgia, bicycle culture and America’s Southern States.

Fashion Rise
Photography by Yael Fachler
Ali Forbes’ clip together jewellery reminisces of childhoods spent playing with Meccano sets, creating, dismantling and rebuilding with all the miss-matched order of creation. Having recently won accolades in the form of a prestigious ITS#EIGHT award Forbes’ interactive style of jewellery brings a new dimension to the art of accessorizing. In vivid colours and strong shapes, Forbes’ work is somewhat mechanical and at the same time fanciful, a vibrant collection of youthful imagination…

Dazed Digital: How old are you?
Ali Forbes: I am 28.

DD: How long have you been designing?
Ali Forbes: Formally, since I was 18 when I started my first art based course. But I guess I have been designing all my life. Making things and drawing has always taken up a big chunk of time, ever since I was little.

DD: Where are you based?
Ali Forbes: I am based in London, and my studio is in Manor House.

DD: How would you describe your own style?
Ali Forbes: My jewellery is unisex, modular and mechanical, with a touch of rock and roll.

DD: Why did you choose jewellery design?
Ali Forbes: I fell into it by accident. I was going to do a portfolio prep course at Cardonald
College in Glasgow, but the class was full. Instead, they offered me a place on both the Industrial Design and Jewellery Design courses, and I decided to give Jewellery Design a shot. I always knew that I wanted to study art, I just wasn’t sure at that point what area. And it turned out that I loved designing jewellery.

DD: What kinds of materials do you work with?
Ali Forbes: I am drawn to very industrial materials and processes, like steel, powder coating and chemical etching. I have used precious metals in the past, but I don’t find they excite me in the same way.
 
DD: What gave you the idea for your lego-like, clippable jewellery, and how does it work?
Ali Forbes: I am really into customisation and modular design. I love kits such as the Airfix kits and Meccano. There is something nice about the idea of building your own creations from a box of bits and a little instruction manual. The ‘Alabama Flatpack’ jewellery kits come as a set of steel sheets sandwiched between card and a manual. The sheets are held together by rubber bands that you would normally use for model aeroplanes. Each steel sheet is painted with Humbrol enamel paint, and you pop out the pieces to form different brooches. The manual shows you how to assemble the brooches, and all the different variations. And all the different kits can be combined to give you even more variation. The leather neckpieces are a series of different shapes that can be popped together using YKK Flex-Fit snaps. This system allows the user to change the look of the neckpieces depending on their mood.

DD: How does your childhood and background influence your designs?
Ali Forbes: It has had a massive influence on my current collection. When I was 17 I moved away from my family in Glasgow and went to live with a family called the McGowin’s in Andalusia, Alabama. I was a senior in American high school, so I was properly immersed in that culture. I think that being in the U.S.A at such an impressionable age has influenced a lot of my tastes. I visited Alabama last summer for the first time in 10 years, so it’s influence was very fresh in my mind when I started designing my Royal College of Art Masters collection.

DD: What has winning at ITS meant for you and your label?
Ali Forbes: It has been a massive boost, not just financially. It really is a great thing to take part in. It is so supportive, and it creates the kind of environment that encourages you to bond with the other finalists. I met so many inspiring people while I was in Trieste, even if I had not won I still would have gained so much from it. It has been great meeting the industry and finding out that my work makes sense.

DD: Who would you like to collaborate with?
Ali Forbes: I actually have a couple of collaborations in the pipeline with two other finalists in ITS 8, a jewellery designer and a shoe designer. And I have been designing cycling related products for a small bicycle messenger run label, House of Pistard. They include a set of printed handlebar tapes that wrap around the handlebars and spell out the words HOLD and FAST in a tattoo font. They are inspired by old sailor and punk tattoos, and the phrase Hold Fast is also part of the family crest of my mum’s side of the family, the Macleods.

If I could design for anyone it would be for John Reis, who used to be the singer in the band Rocket From The Crypt and is now in the Night Marchers, and for the band the Supersuckers. Music plays a big part in my life, so I would love for my favourite bands to wear my work.

DD: Who do you have in mind when you design?
Ali Forbes: I think subconsciously when I design I often have myself in mind. I use my own tastes in my designs, and I think about what I would like to wear. In more general terms, my jewellery is unisex and I like it to be ambiguous. My biggest market so far with the brooches has actually been men which I was surprised at initially. I think the photo of my friend Tim wearing my brooch played a big part in that. Tim has shown that it is okay for guys to wear brooches!

DD: What inspires you at the moment?
Ali Forbes: It’s not directly linked to my work, but I am inspired by a New Jersey band called The Gaslight Anthem. I saw them in the Glastonbury highlights playing with Bruce Springsteen. Amazing. I’m listening to them a lot at the moment, so who knows, maybe they will creep into my next collection. Otherwise, I am building my website at the moment, that is a big focus and I think that will be exciting. My photographer Yael Fachler is very inspiring. She shot the images of my friend Tim sitting on the roof of the club I work in, in Soho. We are going to be extending that image concept into a series of other photos.

DD: Who are your favorite designers and why?
Ali Forbes: Fashion wise, I love Hussein Chalayan and Aitor Throup. I just think they are very, very clever. Their work is art. Influence-wise the person who I have learned the most from while studying at the RCA is the furniture designer Carl Clerkin. He taught me on a Production Course, and through that I learned how to out-source my designs and approach manufacturers. He really opened up another area of the industry for me.

DD: Were you interested in fashion while growing up?
Ali Forbes: I don’t think I have been hugely interested in the fashion industry until recently.
Although when I was a child I used to make paper dolls based on the clothes models I saw in my mothers Grattan catalogue, and I would make their clothes from images I cut out of magazines. As a teenager I was more influenced by bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana. And Gwen Stefani. I think I was a little bit obsessed with Gwen Stefani.  That glam punk retro look she had in the mid-90s is something that I still like today.

DD: What are the difficulties faced being a designer today?
Ali Forbes: I think starting out as a designer straight from college is always going to be a bit tough. You want to focus all your energy on your work, but there are the bills to pay and student debt hanging over you. You are also clamoring against so many other talented designers to be heard. The state of our economy at the moment is also, obviously, a concern in terms of being able to make a living. But I think that now people have less disposable income, they may be more willing to invest their money on more durable, long-lasting design.

DD: If you weren't designing, what would you be doing?
Ali Forbes: I can’t imagine having a life in which I cannot design or use art in some form. But if that was the case, I imagine I would be working outdoors. I have worked as a bicycle messenger in Glasgow and London for the last 5 years, so I guess I would be doing that full-time to pay the bills.

DD: What are your plans for the future?
Ali Forbes: Well, I’m going to give this design malarkey my best shot. I’m going to finish setting up my studio and building the website. As part of my RCA show I made an installation of two bicycles being devoured by a swarm of small aeroplanes that I had cast from 25 kilos of lead, and I want to extend that concept to something on a larger scale. I love designing jewellery, but I can see myself moving into other areas of the industry. It would be amazing to see my work on a large scale.

DD: Can we buy your collection?
Ali Forbes: Of course you can! I am currently building my website which is going to act as an online handbook for the flat-pack and leather jewellery kits. People will be able to look at this hand-book and choose which kits and colour combinations they would like before ordering. They will be able to see how the different colour combinations of kits look once assembled.
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