Only once you’ve experienced the energetic personality of Gabriella Sardeña can you fully understand the method behind her work. Bubbling with enthusiasm, the British Fashion Council scholar pours her soul into every aspect of her complex designs; each intricate stitch carries thought and meaning. Having graduated from Manchester School of Art with a BA in Textile Design, Gabriella’s creations pay homage to unique fabrics, electric colours and dynamic textures.

Gabriella unveils the raw beauty behind even the most obscure textiles. Working with garish and tacky materials to transform scraps into elegant and luxurious pieces. “Tacky can be a really good thing if you turn it into something beautiful. I feel that art itself has a lot of personality in the way you express things and put pencil to paper. A lot of artists’ work is a reflection of who they are,” she explains.

Daring, bright, striped bodices chaotically clash with soft tulle gowns, sprinkled in confetti coloured tassels that twinkle in the light. Gabriella describes her collection as a representation of her own quirky self, “Anyone who knows me will see the collection and say ‘This is just Gabi, it makes sense,’ Although I’m crazy, my work is still quite sophisticated.” Her graduate collection featured a series of elegantly draped evening gowns paired with vibrant, animalistic, fuzzy jackets that rustle with each movement.

With a background in textile design, the 23-year-old adopts an unconventional working method, primarily focusing on three-dimensional shapes then manipulating them into flat objects. Each collection revolves around the textiles she produces, ensuring that the fabrics are the focus of each look and the silhouettes are their canvas. Only once the textiles have been perfected, are the garment designs sketched.

The ideas behind her fabric swatches initially derived from sportswear but progressed and grew with experimentation. “I started to look at illuminous tape and tried working with different plastics, loads of multi-coloured bin liners,” she explains. It wasn’t until coming across some old cassette tapes in her family home that her final concept was formed.

Using the thick shiny tape from cassettes as thread, Gabriella intuitively embroidered abstract patterns unto pastel coloured tulle. Stiff lace gave structure to the piece and shiny neon party streamers were sewn in amongst the tape to build up animatic layers, creating dynamic, three dimensional shapes.

“I actually started playing around and listening to some of the music, there was Madonna and Elvis Presley. I bought about four Johnny Cash’s from second hand-shops,” she says. “But then I bought the rest of the tapes blank because I couldn’t face telling people I was destroying music!”

Inspired by personalities and situations rather than physical and tactile works, Gabriella looked to Miuccia Prada. “I like her because she just seems bonkers!” Gabriella laughs. “She’s the type of person I would really get along with. I feel that she works in a similar way to me – she’s her own person, she’s not too serious and she’s just fun.”

Danish artist Tal R had the greatest impact on Gabriella throughout the design process. “His stuff is very intense and he has a very particular style, using thick brush strokes and bits and pieces that he finds. I felt I could recreate his work in a textile perspective with fabric,” she explains.

Gabriella adopts a relaxed and open yet determined approach: “My housemates are in bed by the time I get home,” she says. “They all need their nine hours sleep otherwise they don’t function. Being creative, you can work tired or hungover, because it can get quite mindless. Once you’ve got a rhythm in things, creativity becomes natural.” Anyone who watches Gabriella at work can instantly see this. She weaves tape through fabric without needing to look, her hands become her eyes. It is an instinct.

Despite the intricate detail of each piece and the hours of tiresome handwork involved in their creation, Gabriella was not gentle with her collection. “You can be really brutal with it, it’s not delicate at all.” Swatches of fabric that have taken hours, days and weeks to embellish were forcefully pulled apart with scissors during weekly fittings.

In her final few months at Central Saint Martins, the Gibraltarian designer collaborated with first year students Laura and Deanna Fanning, Daniela Geraci, Joshua Kim and Dean Jennings, who helped to transform her textile swatches into a womenswear collection. She relied on her team to help draping the silhouette and turn her vision into reality. “I work really well in a team. It’s a really good cohesion, putting different people’s strengths together,” she says.

For open-minded Gabriella, working with others was a beneficial part of the process. A mix of different ideas and opinions kept her motivated and able to explore her skills as a womenswear designer. “I feel like I’m very easy going and quite laid-back,” she says, describing herself as “understanding and compromising.” She took on the role of a creative director, managing her team and ensuring everyone’s ideas were focused towards the same vision.
Images Peng Qin

Although Gabriella was praised by influential names, including Sarah Mower at British Vogue, after debuting her collection at London Fashion week, she remains modest. “It would be quite naïve and immature of me to think that I could set up my own label when I’m not even a womenswear designer. If I’m working for a company and working with somebody who has done it before and shadowing them, I’ll be able to learn.”

With aspirations to move to New York, Gabriella remains relaxed about her future, eager to educate herself and grow. But despite her successes, the quirky textiles designer still sees herself as nothing more than an ordinary student.

Words Sophie Swietochowski Images Courtesy of Gabriella Sardeña unless specified otherwise