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Still from Dancing With Dreams Claire Barrow
Still from Dancing With DreamsFilm by Jacob Bird and Claire Barrow

Claire Barrow on leaving fashion week – and her new show

Ahead of her exhibition opening, the artist/designer debuts a new film created with Joseph Bird exclusively here

For Claire Barrow, being an ‘artist’ and a ‘designer’ are not mutually exclusive. In her work, the two disciplines meet on an equal field, and it’s this that sets her apart. Her illustrations are best known in the context of her collections – hand painted onto her unisex silk and leather garments – and her clothes are typically presented in the context of art, often as part of immersive exhibitions that showcase her designs through film, installation, and sculpture, as opposed to the traditional runway show format.

Last summer, Barrow took her unorthodox approach one step further and officially announced that she will no longer show seasonal collections. The move successfully positioned Barrow outside of the fashion cycle and enabled her to focus on creative projects that combine both worlds. “I needed more time to think about my work,” explains the designer. “When I was still doing seasonal collections, it was all about wholesale and making everything for the store. I felt I didnt suit that as a visual artist. There’s a lot of big brands doing really nice clothes but that’s not what I never really fit into, so I don’t feel part of that. I don’t have any intention of being the creative director of a big house or anything like that anytime soon – but then who knows what will happen in the future, I change my mind constantly.”

She’s outspoken about the fundamental flaws with the seasonal model that dominates the industry. “I think it’s difficult because everything is so much about consumerism and selling and the internet hasn’t really helped in that way either,” she says. “I think the most interesting stuff is coming from the really young brands who aren’t focused on sales and are trying to change things and make statements through their creativity.”

“I think the most interesting stuff is coming from the really young brands who aren’t focused on sales and are trying to change things and make statements through their creativity” – Claire Barrow

Now with one foot in fashion and the other more firmly in the art world, Barrow presents Dancing with Dreams  a multimedia visual feast that opens tomorrow at Galeria Melissa in Covent Garden. The works include five life-size clay sculptures and a series of film projections directed by Joseph Bird, starring award-winning actress Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, dancer Harry Alexander of the Michael Clark Company, LGBT and social activist Michael Peacock and performance artist Amy Kingsmill. In the film, the Pygmalion-like performers vie for the attention of the lifeless statues as they dance to a thumping soundtrack scored by Kenichi Iwasa of the Xaviers. Iwasa described the soundtrack as 90s inspired EDM, with vocals by Taigen Kawabe of Bo Ningen and Beatrice Brown laid over the top.

Like three-dimensional renditions of Barrow’s warped out illustrations, each sculpture represents a different character, which the designer has left open for interpretation. “I have an idea of who the characters are, some fantasy and some anecdotes from my past,” says Barrow. “But, I’ve left that for the viewer to expound, because the show is about how the human condition is wired to make assumptions about people and I’m trying to challenge those ideas.” Barrow is largely concerned with human interaction, she is interested in the ways we exist in person and online, a theme that she is keen to continue exploring. “When you’re on your phone or sat at a computer, you can live half your day online in a different world. I want to investigate that tension between the digital world and the real world through my practice.”

Both the sculptures and performers wear costumes designed by Barrow, the garments feature her signature artworks and are embellished with pearls, feathers, ribbons and beads. The designer has also collaborated with Melissa on a shoe range, which will hang from the ceiling by ribbons in the main entrance of the gallery. According to the Barrow, every look is different; “There’s isn’t a particular silhouette or reference that I’m working with, the styles reflect the characters wearing the clothes. I’ve decided to stop using references in my work and I now draw ideas from my subconscious,” explained Barrow. “Everyone is so stuck in nostalgia, where you borrow from different eras produce things that look 60s or 90s, if no one pushes things forward everything will remain in the past.”

Watch the film for the exhibition below. The installation opens with a private viewing tonight and will run until 15 May 2017, at Galeria Melissa, 43 King Street London. Admission is free.