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Holly Russell

Having already dressed Lady Gaga, the RCA student draws inspiration from Hollywood costume designers and the Natural History Museum

It’s quite a coup to have had your design worn by arguably the biggest popstar today, especially if it's just shortly after completing a BA degree. In 2009, the public learnt of Holly Russell when Lady Gaga appeared at the Billboard awards in a fantastical mix of chiffon, hair and beetle-wings, a look from her graduate collection at Manchester School of Art. However, the London-raised designer was discontent to ride on the back of the attention she received, her mind on exploring her potential with an MA in womenswear.

I used materials such as beetlewings and human hair as a way to inject a raw quality to the collection and to emphasise the animal like textures I was trying to create

The 24-year-old’s objective to make “intriguing and beautiful but functional clothes that have a life off the catwalk and editorials” was likely the reason she chose to do placements at both Topshop Design and Gareth Pugh during her gap year. Currently in her final months at the Royal College of Art, Dazed gets to know the designer ahead of the graduate show this summer.

Dazed Digital: Can you tell us a bit about where you got the idea for the collection?
Holly Russell: My final collection was inspired by all the colours, textures and patterns found within the natural world. I used materials such as beetlewings and human hair as a way to inject a raw quality to the collection and to emphasise the animal like textures I was trying to create. There are definitely elements within my BA collection that I can see creeping into my MA collection as I found the beginnings of my design aesthetic during my degree and now I can build on that and develop it in new ways.

I make lists of colours, textures, objects, surfaces, anything that I like and things that I am constantly drawn to. This helps me piece together what I am going to include within my collection. It makes me feel in control of what I'm doing. 

DD: What was the design process like? 
Holly Russell: All my research was carried out at the Natural History Museum so I had hundreds of images to work from. I think I designed in a more methodical manner during my BA, I would take a photograph and simply try to recreate the exact colour, pattern but in material/fabric form. My research now comes from a more personal perspective such as my own artwork or short films I make in order to capture the movement and mood I am looking to create.

DD: You've already had a lot of exposure but is there anyone else you would like to see wearing your designs?
Holly Russell: 
I've been in talks with Catherine Pockson from the Alpines about us working together, I think their sound and aesthetic would work really well with my designs. I would also like to work with the model Alicia Kuczman again who I used in the shoot for my first year MA work. The photographer Jessie Craig found her and she was an incredible model who completely understood the mood of the different outfits.

DD: Has the press exposure altered your approach to design at all?
Holly Russell: 
I hope not. Although I find myself constantly thinking about how an outfit would work in a film, shoot or on the catwalk. I have definitely become a lot more interested in styling and the overall image, it's not just a product to me but an overall aesthetic. I still don't think I have a hugely realistic approach to design but then I don't believe my strengths fall within a commercial and functional style of designing. You won't find pockets in my clothes!

DD: Which designers do you admire at the moment? 
Holly Russell: I've recently been looking a lot at the Hollywood Costume Designers such as Adrian, Edith Head and Erte. Costumes for films back then were incredibly creative and experimental. A lot of the weird ideas you see today were first established in this era.

DD: What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?
Holly Russell: 
That would have to be when Nicola Formichetti called me from New York wanting to see my collection. At the time my collection was in an exhibition in Manchester and I'd signed a contract to say that they could keep it for several months. He was trying to get me to go up there and just take it, but luckily for me he was patient.

DD: What are your ambitions for the future?
Holly Russell: 
I'm just about to start my final year of my Masters so I hope to create a collection that I feel represents me as a designer and that I am proud of. My biggest ambition is to have my own label, not one that only stays around for a couple of years but one that has longevity.

Photography by Jessie Craig