IT’S TRUE: The Haute Couture world has been sharply affected by the inflation of luxury and the severe lack of consumer’s appreciation for the “magic” of this specialised craft.
For several years, the global fashion industry has been facing an ongoing debate on the value of couture, where some industry players pointed out that couture has regressed to become merely a vehicle of “spectacle”, poised to amuse and entertain the audiences with trickeries.
Others, on the other hand, fought hard to preserve the true principle of couture, and that is, the distinguished levels of high dressmaking, which is commonly termed as “high fashion, despite all circumstances.
No stranger to the case scenario, young womenswear designer Amber-Louise Snow took it upon herself to come up with a solution to this diminishing trade in her Autumn/Winter 2014 collection entitled ‘Dimensional Perception’ that she has presented as part of her submission for her degree at Birmingham City University, which was subsequently showcased at London Graduate Fashion Week 2014.
At a tender age of only 24, the passionate individual, who is currently based in Nottingham, England, brought forth a formula that might just get the nods from fashion enthusiasts — one that involves a commitment towards eco-friendly, ‘green’ fashion, whilst utilising intricate couture dressmaking techniques with a highly precise and detailed skill set.
Amber-Louise’s creative process involves up-cycling and salvaging old, damaged cloth and remnants that might otherwise be discarded, and giving them a new ‘life’ by transforming them into remarkably beautiful pieces of clothing that sparkle in iridescent, indigo blue and ombre hues no less, catching and emitting light in all ways possible.
A twist of sorts by introducing a casual, street wear movement into her design direction, she aims to prove that fashion can still look delicate and beautiful, regardless if it has been made from ‘left-overs’.
To get more dibs on what sparked her creative impetus and fuelled her design journey, we decided to ask Amber-Louise some questions:
1) Hi Amber-Louise, it’s great that you are approaching fashion with an eco-friendly mindset. How did you go about with your sourcing and collecting of the unwanted fabrics, which were used in your collection of up cycled clothes?
Amber-Louise: I have tried to incorporate an ecological approach towards the materials I have used within two of my collections so far. My current Autumn/Winter 2014 couture collection, called Dimensional Perceptions, was largely made from unwanted and damaged cloth. The previous collection, ‘No-Youth’, which has not yet been launched into the public eye, was made largely out of recycled damaged biker leathers.
After studying and working within fashion for a number of years, I have really come to understand and appreciate the money, time and effort it takes to make cloth, and I hate to see it discarded because of a few small faults. I like the idea of creating a challenge for myself, and I want to continue to push my limits. I see all these things around us that still have beauty, which could be put to good use. It sounds strange but sometimes when I see something broken or discarded, I feel inspired and I start to imagine all the new things it could become. Recycling and upcycling is challenging sometimes, and a few compromises and innovative ideas have to be made along the way, but I really enjoy knowing that this difficult process is going to eventually result in something being salvaged and ‘born again’ instead of being thrown away.
For my previous collection, ‘No-Youth’, which I hope to re-launch for Spring/Summer 2015, I knew I wanted it to be really grungy and punk influenced. I had an idea of something really genuine and associated with this movement, and I naturally thought of worn out and distressed old leather. The really old and tatty stuff has so much great texture and it looks really rough, which was the exact feeling I wanted to portray throughout the collection. When it came to sourcing the leathers, I guess I can say I am quite lucky to be in such a strange situation, but my Grandmother (yes my Grandmother) actually has various contacts within the biker community. I asked her if she knew anyone who had any old and unwanted biker leathers that they would like to donate. Being the type of person she is, she organised a huge donation bin out of complete pride that I was designing a ‘biker’ inspired collection.
Everyone got involved and I ended up with heaps of really really great stuff including real leather biker trousers with lace-ups down the front of each leg and a genuine Hells Angels biker jacket, that I let Nan keep.
My current collection, Dimensional Perceptions, was made following a similar environmental approach towards materials. Due to the collection being couture, a lot of the designs I had planned were to feature an excessive amount of fabric to create large billows of volume and to give that grand, theatrical effect that couture is best recognised for. I designed and made the entire collection on a very limited budget, which added additional considerations when it came to sourcing the right fabric; I didn’t want the ‘feeling’ of the collection to be diluted due these restrictions. I wanted to express that bold feeling of couture throughout the collection, but at the same time I needed to come within budget and efficiently distribute costings across the collection.
I know I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to reuse old clothing from my ‘No-Youth’ collection, and I thought it would be an interesting idea to make a controversial statement and introduce damaged cloth into a couture collection. Couture is widely recognised for being the very pinnacle of high end fashion, it is completely luxurious and delicate, due to it all being hand stitched down to the smallest details, and this is ultimately reflected in the price. I wanted to challenge this, and practice an environmental approach towards couture manufacture and still achieve a high quality, refined finish. I could have chosen to buy perfectly finished, blemish free fabric but I wanted the stuff that no-one wanted. I wanted to put that to good use because I hate things going to waste.
When it came to sourcing my fabrics, I approached many fabric suppliers. Many of them were the cloth houses that I had previously purchased my materials from for other projects of mine. I asked if they had any stock that they were unable to shift, but obviously it still had to fall into the requirements I was looking for, i.e. correct length, correct colour, right sort of material that matched my designs.
It is a fulfilling feeling to know you are being 100% resourceful with the materials you have. I really respect the planet and if I have an opportunity to be economical with materials, I will always take it.
2) What were some of the difficulties and challenges that you have faced during the process?
Amber-Louise: As I mentioned before, having the need to salvage and reuse damaged cloths and clothing does come with its difficulties. Quite a lot of the time, it often makes the design and manufacture process a lot harder, and a lot of smart ideas have to be used to fix problems and get the best use out of each damaged item. During the manufacture of the ‘No-Youth’ leather collection, it was quite tricky trying to reuse the leather from the donated garments, as some of the pieces I had to work with were quite small and already cut into strange and not very practical shapes. During the design process for the collection, I planned on using creative pattern cutting and lots of unique panelling within each garment, and this technique helped to overcome a lot of the problems I’d faced from working with such small sections of leather.
This panelling effect resulted in a unique combination of all the textures of the different leathers when they came together in one garment. The leathers created a rough and old feeling throughout the collection, which was in turn balanced out with the soft lines from the panelling, and the smooth feminine silhouette created from the cutting in which leather was moulded into.
Surprisingly, I found it much more difficult to work with the damaged cloth I was using for my Dimensional Perceptions collection. One particular cloth that I’d bought from a wholesaler, was unable to be sold because it had various marks and stains over it. Apart from the discrepancies, the cloth was perfect for what I wanted, but during the manufacture process I found it quite difficult to economically use the cloth; avoiding the stains but not compromising the design, cut or finish of the garment.
3) Would you be launching your own label in the future? And would it be couture or ready-to-wear?
Amber-Louise: The end goal is to eventually have my own label, and it would be both RTW and Couture. At this moment in time I am hoping on securing myself a job in the Fashion Industry so that I am able to develop my portfolio and continue to refine and learn new skills.
I’m also in the middle of organising promotions for my ‘No-Youth’ collection. As well as this, I have a number of small projects currently running on the side; a number of exciting collaborations as well as talks to produce a few one off pieces for special plans. I am also in discussions with a number of brides-to-be about making their wedding dresses, but overall I just want to continue learning, developing my skills and exploring the fun design ideas I have to keep the creative juices flowing!
4) How have your own working experiences help in creating this collection?
Amber-Louise: My own work experience has helped me in creating this collection in a way I wouldn’t expect. It hasn’t helped me with the design or manufacture processes so much; these areas are constantly inspired by the things I continue to see around me, instead of my past experience or what I already know. It has helped me become the person I want to be recognised for, and it has taught me that I need to become my own person and to stand up for the ideas I have, and what I believe in. I should have faith in myself and my abilities, and I need others to give me a chance to prove that I am capable of delivering.
The Collective Eye – Photoshoot ManagementGemma Mahoney, Shoot Stylist Kimberley Morris, Hair Stylist