Ever since she was small, Elsa Suneson experimented with various creative outlets, from small illustrations to large-scale paintings. But it was not until a big flea market opened up close to her parents’ house, where everything from fur to underwear was priced at 50p, that her interest in fashion really started to take shape. She began to accumulate an eclectic collection of accessories and garments, from markets and secondhand shops, and started to remake them in her own way. Although her fascination with fashion and garments began to grow, she decided to do a fine art foundation to study illustration or architecture. She quickly changed her mind, and decided to study BA Fashion Design at Beckmans Designhögskola.
Elsa dreamt of a life outside of Sweden, however. “I’ve always wanted to go abroad as a child, I guess it’s always like that if you grow up in a small town,” she says. After finishing her BA, she was keen to continue her studies. “I didn’t think it was enough for me. It felt strange to stop right away, I wanted to learn more.” Her next step was to pursue an MA Fashion Womenswear degree at Central Saint Martins.
Photography by Axel Drury, Sasha – named models
Elsa’s education at CSM and experiences in London have greatly influenced who she is as a designer. “I love the city because there is so much going on all the time.” Currently living in Lea Bridge Road, her London experience has mostly taken place in the East. When asked about her favourite activities, she tells us the last two years have been too busy for her to have a life outside of university. With a spare hour at hand, she enjoys taking walks and going to charity and secondhand shops.
Despite the pressures and stress of studying MA Fashion Womenswear, Elsa talks to us about everything she has learnt from being on her course. “It’s been really intense but I’ve enjoyed it so much.” Contrasting her natural dreamy disposition, she was challenged to always be ‘on edge’ when working on her collection, especially because she had to be ready to show it to her peers and tutors at any given time. “I’ve learned a lot about presenting my work and the importance of treating it with respect.” This was particularly evident when she had to present some of her work that she was uncertain about. “It’s so important to believe in your work and to be confident with what you have, because the tutors will see through you and catch every single thing you know is wrong.”
Although spontaneous presentations and technical malfunction in workshops were frustrating experiences, in hindsight she believes that everything she considered weaknesses about the course at first, were what turned out to be the most helpful in her development as a designer, as it prepared her for the future. From all of her past experiences, Elsa adheres to planning ahead in all circumstances.
Research plays an essential role in her creative development. Looking through books and magazines, Elsa enjoys the hunt for material, and the unpredictability of never being sure what is going to turn up during this process. Much like her production stage, she likes her research to be quite instinctive. Mainly looking at photography, Elsa moves away from fashion photography and investigates historical portraits and general imagery of people from the past. She takes note of details such as how a garment sits a certain way on the body – for instance if the wind is blowing; how that affects the material and creates big volumes within the garment. Although her research is heavily influenced by anything retro, she does not aim to create pieces that look the part. From the beginning of the last century up to the 1970s, Elsa’s fascination with the past is extensive. Doing a substantial amount of secondary research online, she utilised the Metropolitan Museum of New York’s website, where they have a comprehensive compilation of its collection available for anyone to flick through.
For her final collection, Elsa started off with draping heavy garments, a personal favourite, while working with colours. She initially wanted to challenge the weight of fabric with lead hemp tape, to create a contrast with the material of the fabric. But it did not have the effect she had anticipated, which led her to experiment with attaching sandbags to garments, to achieve the unbalanced look she was hoping for. Working with a range of fabrics from stretchy jersey to wadding, she had to consider the exact amount of sand she would need for each garment. The fabric mix was eclectic and random, as she sourced material from cheap markets to find various samples, including lining fabric, which is not typically used to create proper garments.
As her time at Central Saint Martins has come to an end, Elsa hopes to get a job at a fashion house and be part of a larger team; working on a collection from the beginning stages up to final development. While still considering different factors of her design ethos and questioning the way in which she designs garments, she brightly looks ahead to gain a ton of experience in a professional environment.
Interview by Alexandre Saden, Words by Grace Ahn