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Vivienne Westwood SS20
Photography Hugo Yanguela/BLEACH London

Alex Brownsell and Isamaya Ffrench team up for Vivienne Westwood SS20

TextAlex Peters

Go behind the beauty scenes of the designer’s new lookbook

Following on from Vivienne Westwood’s politically-charged show last season, where models took to the runway with prosthetic Pinocchio noses shouting messages like “Brexit is a crime,” this season the British designer decided to skip the catwalk and showcase her SS20 collection digitally through an online lookbook and short film.

With her crusade against the establishment showing no signs of slowing down, in a one-minute campaign video directed by Hugo Comte, Westwood expounds to a group of models how “Rot$” (Rotten Financial System) is the cause of poverty and climate change. 

Inspiring the collection is Commedia dell’Arte, an improvised comedy popular in 16th-18th century Italy based on stock characters including Pierrot, a sad clown, Harlequin, a comic servant and Pantalone, a wealthy older man. It was these theatrical conventions which also informed the beauty looks masterminded by Isamaya Ffrench for MAC Cosmetics and Alex Brownsell for Bleach London, who took the traditional masks as their starting point. 

We caught up with the two to find out more about the process and final looks, and give you an exclusive look behind the scenes of the shot.

What was the starting point for the lookbook? How did you collaborate with Vivienne to bring the collection to life? 

Isamaya Ffrench: It’s always very organic when working with Vivienne. We look at some references and inspiration images together and then use them to create a look for the models. The wider team is very much involved in bringing Vivienne’s image to life. I spent time with stylist Sabina Schreda to understand the idea this season.

Alex Brownsell: I went over to the studio to meet Andreas and we looked at the references for the collection. When we had a prep day, we were able to see the clothes, with the models and decide on a clear direction with Sabina. 

What were some of the inspirations that inspired the looks? 

Alex Brownsell: The entire collection was based on the ‘Commedia dell’Arte’ so there were some strong stock characters and theatrical visuals to play with. We took some inspiration from the key characters but wanted to give it more of a modern Westwood feeling. 

Isamaya Ffrench: I also drew inspiration from this – namely in the use of masks, but we also looked mainly at the portraits of Cindy Sherman and some old photographs from the 70s.

How do you work together to make the hair and make-up cohesive? 

Isamaya Ffrench: Alex and I usually just talk about our horoscopes and in the process come up with something that feels connected to the whole project. It seems to work!

Alex Brownsell: Haha, that’s true. We always trial the looks and think about how they can come together with the clothes. I love working with Isamaya. She is very collaborative and not afraid to experiment and change things. 

What do enjoy most about working with Vivienne?

Isamaya Ffrench: Her team are amazing, and she is so straightforward. We test and we experiment, but Vivienne is always very direct and knowing of what she wants. It’s an artistic process that we are all able to share in.

Alex Brownsell: I have huge respect for Vivienne and what she's achieved in her career, she is a legend and it’s an amazing opportunity to have worked with her. I was surprised to see how involved she is with every little aspect of the collection and the shoot. She paved the way in fashion for female British designers and I also admire her focus on world issues. I try to make that a priority with my brand BLEACH London as well.

What was the idea/process behind the masks? And the wigs?  

Isamaya Ffrench: With the first inspiration point being Commedia dell’Arte, we couldn’t not have a mask. It really worked as a theatrical nod to the vibe of the collection.

Alex Brownsell: Similarly with the wigs, I bought a selection with me after the test and knowing the inspiration. It felt like we had to have some theatrical placements of colour and styles of wig to bring to life that fantastical, theatrical element.

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