Ella Marsh, a recent Fashion Print Graduate, recounts feedback she received during her Central Saint Martins BA: “innocently sexual.” A description which now pales against the release of her final collection. The lookbook, filmed and choreographed to show off the kinetic quality of her clothes, is filled with shrinking pleats and anthropomorphism (full body wearable flowers, even).
Against a background of Lil Louis and It’s A Fine day In Opius, Marsh explores the female frustrations which come with maintaining an appearance of functionality in family settings and hierarchical communities. The film moves from references to old folklore to oppression in the modern day, which for the doubtful, she makes easier to spot through some high-vis colours.
However, Marsh refuses the idea of a costume. It is the clothes, with their tongue in cheek insistence, which gives the wearers a vehicle to not only operate but to expose and reclaim the narratives the clothes and wearers reference.
The film is set in an arena of parks and streets, which comes with a built-in, live-action audience who can watch in real time as Marsh’s team act out the breakdown of public appearance. Marsh, in cameo, closes the sequence in power suit stance, however, not without some visible collar tugging from the on-screen passerby. Is that where the film reflects on the self? “My work, throughout the entire time I’ve studied fashion, has always been a very personal affair.” With the film released and after her graduation shy of this year, we decided to speak to the designer to learn more about her work.
What led you to the costumes? There’s something very pantomime about these…
I find the costumes in the Triadic Ballet particularly beautiful and they definitely featured in my research whilst designing my final BA collection. However, I don’t consider my work ‘costume,’ as the garments are not exactly in a style typical of a specific country or historical period. Maybe I’m just hypersensitive but the term ‘costume’ can feel a bit loaded. In terms of being pantomime, yes, the collection and presentation of the collection are humorous but I would hope not too slapstick.
Why film? Do you find it conclusive to your project? Why not record a live action performance instead of a curated, directed film?
I wouldn’t say the film was strictly directed as such. A lot of the time it was a case of trying on pieces, playing around in them, filming bits and seeing what we all liked. As I said, I can be quite stubborn, so the idea of a live action performance sounds way too spontaneous for my up-tight liking. In terms of the necessity for film versus static photos, I think firstly the combination of sound and image is important in my work, this adds another dimension I find very important in order to convey my ideas. “It’s A Fine Day” by Opus iii creates a sort of euphoric element for the moving image to work on, and it’s just a really excellent song in general, haha. French Kiss by Lil Louis was part of my final collection show music, so I was quite insistent this would be featured in the film. This song was played a lot during the design process of the collection, sex and sexuality have always been quite a heavy and obvious influence in my work! Secondly, the whole collection featured a lot of pleating, and of course, what better way to show the playfulness of the springy motions of these pleats than through film?
How important is collaboration to you?
Very. In all creative practices, I find collaboration is essential to elevate work. Throughout the process of designing and making my final collection I isolated myself slightly and was insistent on making it all myself. This did at some points lead me to struggle to see things clearly as it was very much an all-consuming project. The film produced in collaboration with Jaron and Angelina was started after all pieces were completed and I had a bit of time away from the collection. Because I had such a clear image of what I wanted in my head in terms of the garments it was really nice to see how other people (Jaron and Angelina) interpreted the collection. I can be quite stubborn, in general, but especially in terms of work, so it was a really useful experience for me to hand over the reins slightly.
How did you see Jaron Hill and Angelina Jesson as the ideal set of people to help you realise your ideas?
Jaron and I have been friends for several years now, we met when we both lived up North and went to college at Leeds College of Art. A whole group of us moved to London around the same time to study at various universities, all in different practices. Jaron and Angelina met in their first year at Central Saint Martins whilst studying “4D”, so I have known Angelina for a while too. I have always been a fan of their collaborative work and now just seemed like the perfect time for us all to work together. I think what made it work so well is a very diverse bed of ideas but a similar set of themes, sexy and funny.
What do you have in common?
An emphasis on humour. Fashion can be so serious! I do appreciate this and in terms of work ethic – I take it very seriously but I always find that as fashion can be so time-consuming, it is important to have fun with it too. I want to be entertained, and I want the audience and wearer to be entertained.
Words and Interview: