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Phoebe English's Merit Award

Last week rewarded with Vauxhall Fashion Scout's Merit Award for A/W12, we chat with the CSM graduate about her inspiration and design process

For spring, Central Saint Martins graduate Phoebe English steered the subversive, ethereal aesthetic of her MA collection along a route of cool, all while retaining sensitivity to her craft and vision. What transpired was a hand-smocked collection of subtle body-con shapes that challenged modern day’s notions of beauty and the body. Her success comes not only from the deft manner in which she manipulates what is considered fashion’s plainest fabric, but also in producing sensuality in bulky, chunky shapes. With her collections now stocked by Dover Street Market, Dazed stepped into a foggy setting of English’s subconscious during her campaign shoot in Park Royal Studios to meet the designer...

Dazed Digital: Why does Dover Street Market’s aesthetic fit with your label?
Phoebe English:
I think because it is work that’s not straightforward in its aesthetic sexiness. The challenge that I set myself was to make the textile that I developed - which was this heavy, rather clumpy smocking that adds quite a bulky layer around the body – look sexy, and psychologically, it is sexy. DSM is the type of store out of any that would understand that and I’m really excited to be stocked in a shop whose clientele will be able to understand the pieces and bring their own creativeness into how they wear it.

DD: Tell us about your latest collection?
Phoebe English:
A lot happened between graduating and starting my new bit of work; I wanted the collection to be a reflection of that and the things I was surrounded with. My studio then was in a huge warehouse in Hackney that was partially being built, so there were drills, hammers, dust everywhere on my work and tables; I began to really love that rawness I was in. The shapes came from the motion of walking as I had quite a long walk to get there; it was that repetitive treading, almost marching movement that gave the pieces its heavy, slightly utilitarian feel and boxy shapes. 

DD: What drew you to calico - an unusual fabric choice considering it is mainly used within the toiling process?
Phoebe English:
It was from the notion of wanting to do something that was beautiful and a continuation of the MA collection but with an element of that semi-finished, raw building I was working in. Calico’s a material with no precious connotations and I wanted to utilise and reinvent this almost throwaway material in a precious, time-expensive way.

DD: How difficult is it to reproduce the pieces, are there any commercial considerations you’re having to make?
Phoebe English:
We’re doing all in-house production because a lot of the process, like bleaching the calico has to be done by eye and by hand. Some parts of making the collection could be sent out to production houses, but I think there’s something nice about buying work that has some kind of physical affiliation and contact with its maker! [laughs].

DD: What’s the concept behind the campaign you’re shooting today?
Phoebe English:
Basically to recreate the fantasy with themes I was working on, as I find you lose it slightly in catwalk images. The collection builds up and breaks down in places, so similarly there are parts thrashed with powder, and other parts that are severely serene. We are just playing with chaos and control to portray the different dynamics I was inspired by.

DD: What was important for you to convey in the official debut of your label?
Phoebe English:
To show that I can do other things; everything is so quick today, Facebook walls changes all the time… it is a restless culture and it is important for me to start respecting that. Having said that, I don’t think because we live in a fast-paced culture, things should necessarily be made in the same way. My work is never going to be fast fashion, but the air changes all the time and my work needs to reflect that.

DD: How do you find balancing an artistic vision with thinking quite commercially, a conundrum you did not have to face on the MA?
Phoebe English:
I’m obviously very much at the beginning of everything, but I believe people do want to spend money on creativity and it’s something you don’t get in every city to the extent that you do in London. I do want to make things that are interesting and exploratory to contribute to the design of what happens in this pace that we live in, and hopefully people want to buy into that and it will lead to some kind of commercial exchange.

DD: What do you want your label to be recognised for?
Phoebe English:
For something that’s reliably and traditionally beautiful, but fresh.

Photography Josh Shinner
Model Jessie Good at Storm
Make-up Jess Cheetham
Nails Ama Quashie