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Juliana Sissons Haunting Knitwear

Knitwear designer and multi-tasking Juliana Sissons is creating spider web soft knits with a keen eye for luxury and unsurpassable quality.

University of Brighton graduate Juliana Sissons creates an exciting, diverse and eclectic range of knitwear as well as tutoring pattern cutting in Brighton and lecturing at the London College of Fashion. Before setting up her own label she freelanced for Alexander McQueen and Shelley Fox and worked in tailoring on Savile Row. Her work is currently being sold as part of the Art Councils Own Art Scheme.

Dazed Digital: How would you describe your signature work?
Juliana Sissons: My work concentrates on shaping and structural pattern making. I focus on innovative sculptural approaches to making garments. The starting points are either through fully fashioning straight from the knitting machine, or by a combination of flat pattern cutting and draping on the stand. Body conscious garments provide more interest for shaping techniques, but I also love to play with volume, balance and scale as a contrast. I look at segments of the whole, with refined volumes, as a sort of liquid architecture.

DD: How does your work take a new direction and what are your inspirations?  
JS: My background in costume design, Savile Row tailoring and pattern cutting has provided me with a unique approach to knitwear. I am designing from a different starting point. Rather than using large needles or a chunky gauge knitting machine to create volume and structure, I have used many fine layers and tailoring techniques to interface, adding support for construction and suspension.

I draw on my background for a combination of skills and combine processes and techniques. Ideas come from the way the material drapes on the stand and eventually responds to the female form. My work is influenced by my interests in historical costume and undergarments, interiors, packaging, art, music and the architecture of Jean Nouvel, Frank O. Gehry, Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. and Gaudi.  

My styling is inspired by a lifelong interest in the opulence of the early black and white films, to the glamour of Fredericks of Hollywood, to the shaded decadence of the 1930’s Berlin Cabaret. I like to think that in my work, I am producing contemporary images of glamour, a sort of suggestive art form.

I take inspiration from the early Couture designers such as the works of Erte, Madam Vionnet, Edith Head and Elsa Schiaparelli. Other designer/artists of interest are Tim Burton, The Quay Brothers, Naum Gabo and Barbara Hepworth.

DD: How does working for your own label differ creatively from working with people such as Alexander McQueen?
JS: Working in a freelance capacity for designers such as McQueen or Shelly Fox, offers the chance to work creatively and push boundaries in a way that opens up interesting opportunities. When working for my own label, I am developing my own concepts and building upon work I have done before. My collections of clothing are part of a constant development; these pieces are evolving into one larger collection. They are not mass produced, so each piece becomes more special.  

DD: What is your latest collection like?
JS: My latest collection – Haunting - takes volume into a different direction. Silk organza and tulle is woven into the knit to build up large collars and necklines for backless swim suits, cat suits in contrast with long narrow evening dresses, made from silk and steel. Little black dresses are draped and pulled in with strapped knitted girdle shapes and worn with huge pompom style hats.

DD: What is the most challenging part of being a designer today?
JS: I find that the most challenging part of my work is being able to produce the garments at the right price, without compromising the quality of design. A lacy frill can be cheaply produced or it can be exquisitely made with volume and detail. The challenge is to keep the quality but find quicker ways of producing. Factories that produce small runs are hard to find and freelance knitters who have both the quality experience and the understanding of the design are also hard to come by.   

DD: You do a great deal of teaching, when and why did you begin to do that?
JS: I have always enjoyed teaching, my passion is to reach a wide cross-section of the community to inspire and educate within the medium of fashion and textiles. I first began teaching an evening class in Pattern Cutting at the Hackney Adult Education Centre, Community college in the early 1980’s when I was also working full time in Savile Row, teaching and freelance pattern cutting.

DD: Some of your work is being sold as part of the Art Councils Own Art Scheme, do you think it’s important to see fashion and art combine whilst giving people the opportunity to own it?
JS: In today’s culture, there is always room for a little fantasy, both art and fashion provide a place to escape from the normal working day. The Arts Councils Own Art Scheme gives more people the opportunity to purchase luxury items and it also introduces the art/fashion world to people, who are not normally aware of it. The exhibitions provide a creative atmosphere and hopefully inspire a new generation of talented people.