On approaching Chelsea School of Art, we’re greeted by colourful ribbons which adorn the path towards the Cookhouse galleries, where Danielle Romeril presents her AW16 collection. Red, white and blue — they rustle and billow in the wind: graphic markers leading the eager crowd into Romeril’s world. Entering the space: we duck under more of the tightly bound ribbon which is ever present throughout. Zig-zagging and framing: the set design fulfils the dual purpose of evoking the ‘stripes of a cycling jersey’, one of the inspirations within the collection, whilst equally becoming a means of interaction between the models, space and those who attended the presentation; a form which Romeril prefers over the show. “It gives you a chance to really show off your personality and what your inspiration was behind the collection. Unless you have a million to spend on a catwalk show, it’s very difficult to get more than a nice floor!” This materialisation was well-received and one member of the audience reflected that it really showed off the collection, whilst our very own Oliver Vanes marvelled, “it was a photographer’s dream.”
Unlike the many-layered SS16 and AW15 sets, which were reminiscent of Romeril’s layering of garments and surfaces, AW16 saw a more minimal approach towards the space: where colour and music dominated. Blaring out, were the likes of Tame Impala, The Stranglers, Arab Strap amongst others: a source of inspiration for Danielle, who likes to spend her free time attending gigs. The music was also a tool to evoke the postmodern notion of bricolage, which underlies the collection. Living in an age of information, one which perhaps favours a romantic vision of nostalgia, this season was very much “a time-travel trip from 16th century Spain and Isabel de Valois, who was King Philip the II’s consort, I guess right up to 1980s cult clubs and Amsterdam studio parties. I wanted to tackle elements of historical costumes you’d never ever look at, and try and to recreate them in a contemporary way.”
Photography by Oliver Vanes
Historical dress was reimagined in the fun and colourful way which has become synonymous with Romeril, as has her interesting use of textiles surfaces. Eruptions of embroidery were hand-crafted and labour intensive: the result of creating “meters and meters of thread that we pull off the spool and then tightly wrap around pins, creating shapes for the garments we’re showing them on. They’re layered and very delicate.” An acknowledgement of the established idea that her work is ‘very feminine’ and light. “I have to embrace that,” she states, remarking that her collections are easy to wear on a day to day basis: “I’m a designer, so I think about it from a practical aspect, as opposed to some designers who consider themselves artists. For me, I think it’s a challenge to come from an original starting point and create something that’s beautiful, fresh and wearable.” Without losing the importance of craftsmanship and luxury, as Danielle and her team worked closely with an Italian mill, using leathers, silks and satins which took on a more utilitarian form, as they were water-resistant and materialised in sporty silhouettes, harking back to the cycling jersey and ‘football scarf’ references in the collection.
With much recent fashion commentary revolving around a need for change, our conversation flows to the commercial constraints of running a label, which she incidentally founded in SS13. “It’s hard work. You have to be passionate and that can be hard when you’re self employed.” However, the support of schemes such as Newgen are “essential for young designers,” she tells. “They make it happen. I would not be here today with all these beautiful girls and this great set if it wasn’t for Topshop and Newgen, so thank you very much!”
Undoubtedly such platforms liberate young designers to realise their vision, which Romeril has continued to do since graduating at the Royal College of Art in 2010. The only thing left to ask, before Danielle is off to celebrate, is her advice for fresh graduates straight out of art-school, hurled into the fashion system so poised on the verge of ‘revolution’: “be brave, stay true to yourself, get some experience and save yourself some money!”
Words by Lilah Francis
Portrait by Eugene Shishkin