The first thing I said to Beth when we sat down at the school cafeteria was that her BA collection was one of my favourites that year. “Thank you!” she replied modestly with a slight embarrassment in her tone. As every one who watched the 2013 Press show would remember, Beth opened the show with her charmingly hand-printed Picasso-like collection; it was a perfect showcase of youth and artistry for a CSM show. Beth’s MA collection was an upgrade from her BA, with a few pleasant surprises. As we carried on with the interview, she explained to me how she managed to hold on to the technique, but at the same time pushing it towards a different direction. “I am not saying I would have done it differently with my BA collection, but you know that feeling when you look back at your work, it makes you cringe a little bit.”
“I find designing quite boring unless it’s more textile focused.”
How did you find the MA Fashion course?
At first I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do it, because of how stressful it is. And sometimes I feel like it’s a bit pointless to continue your education unless you are 100 percent sure it’s the right thing to do. But without it, I would be really confused right now. Some people know what they want to do after BA, and some need guidance. I think through the MA, you identify the one thing you are actually really good at and what should be pushed, rather than getting lost and trying to be a jack of all trades.
Were you confused after BA? What was on your mind?
I had a great time collaborating with Machine-A. Obviously at that time, I was thinking about doing my own thing because of that opportunity. Now I have come to realise that my strengths lie in textile design and that I should push that particular talent. It’s good to know what you are not so good at sometimes.
What did you find out you are not so good at?
Not that I am not so good at it, but I find designing quite boring unless it’s more textile focused. On BA, it was all about my textile, and the shape came from it. In the MA Fashion Textiles pathway, I was at first really determined to design everything by myself. But actually in our pathway, you get helpers from first year Womenswear students. Overtime, I learnt to accept help and to make good use of it. It’s not like you hand over your collection to someone else, it’s about communication — especially when textile takes so much time to make. I had five helpers in total, but I found this one girl, Elsa Suneson; when I was stressed, I asked for her opinions and we could bounce ideas off each other. She is good at churning out lots of toiles while I am good at churning out textiles. We really understood each other. You should look out for her next year.
My work, in reality is like 6 metres of flat fabrics with holes in them, so it’s difficult for them to help me. You don’t realize it on the catwalk, they are all folded and wrapped around the body. I remember watching the commentary of the collections on SHOWStudio and they said something like ‘it’s one of the most commercial collections’. Actually it’s really heavy, but I think it’s nice we managed to make it look so easy.
“If I want to continue to work creatively with textiles the way I do, and make a business out of it, in reality I have to be more practical.”
Did you see that comment as a good thing or a bad thing?
I just found it funny. Everyone receives so much information through the internet every day, but most people have no idea what they are looking at. I quite like this idea of tricking people into thinking that the clothes are really wearable and commercial while they are not.
In CSM, being “commercial” is usually a bad thing, isn’t it?
Yeah, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I made incredibly commercial products with Machine-A and with Luke Brooks in our pop-up shop. I think a lot of us don’t fit into the workplaces, but at the same time you can’t sell garments that no one would buy. It’s important to look at places you can fit into. I enjoy doing catwalk, but if I want to continue to work creatively with textiles the way I do, and make a business out of it, in reality I have to be more practical.
What was the transition like from Louise to Fabio?
Obviously the news about Louise was a great shock to us all, but it’s surprising to see how the staff maintained everything so well. At the end of the day, a lot of the team including Fabio have been working with Louise for so long. So, really, it wasn’t that difficult for us to go through the transition as students. Fabio is more patient and approachable at times. However, the good thing about Louise is that obviously she is not afraid to tell you anything; it’s important if something’s crap, you have to let your student know, otherwise your students would be living in delusion. But she also gave praise when praise was deserved. In my pre-collection tutorial Louise was really excited by the work I had produced and she was very encouraging. I was very shocked by her reaction. She was so enthusiastic about nurturing young talent and I’m really happy I had the opportunity to see that side of her.
“With the textile I do, I don’t think I can ever get a job as a designer because a lot of textile is digital nowadays. It’s not that I refuse to do it, but it’s not my skill.”
What is the idea behind your collection?
It’s a similar technique I developed in my BA, but evolved. It’s like patchwork; fabrics trapped behind PVC. It’s originally based on the French artist Jean Dubuffet. I was really obsessed with that, and I want it to be more abstract than my BA. It is a very heavily hand-drawn collection; I literally lay out my PVC, hand draw on the back, and hand-cut all these weird shapes that fit together.
Was your sister [Jenny Postle from Leutton Postle] a big influence on you?
I tried to think she wasn’t, but she was. She went for a BA in Textiles and MA in Knitwear. It was difficult at first for her, because she couldn’t pattern cut. I remember helping her when I was in my first year on the BA; neither of us had any idea what we were doing. But Louise actually liked it, I remember. (Laughs) When I was confused about what I wanted to do after the BA, my sister said to me “you are more experienced than I was at your age, you have to do the MA. You will learn a lot from it.” So she persuaded me to do it. And she was right, I’m really glad I did it.
What do you want to do now?
I am working with Machine-A again, on a larger scale, but I can’t go into too much detail about that. I am really interested in doing freelance textile consultancy. I want to stay creative and experimental. With the textile I do, I don’t think I can ever get a job as a designer because a lot of textile is digital nowadays. It’s not that I refuse to do it, but it’s not my skill. So I will be focusing on contemporary and handcrafted textile. I hope I can keep on doing this to build up my reputation, alongside with my own work. Eventually I might do catwalk, but I just think nowadays there are so many young new designers who make collections every season but aren’t going anywhere with their businesses. I feel like there should be a new approach. I want to try to stock in different places and do different projects until I have enough experience and money to do a catwalk every season.
Do you think there’s a problem when CSM is not encouraging us to enhance our digital skills?
No (laughs). Personally, I don’t think you have to be taught those things, you can teach them yourself. No one forces you not to do digital.
“I think it’s a good idea to shock people a little bit, since there aren’t many people pushing womenswear at the moment.”
But don’t you think it’s kind of discouraged, in a way, because CSM is a traditional art school?
I can see what you mean, but it doesn’t affect me, if there’s a digital project, I would have hated it. But yes, it might be good to have electives for that. And people should be aware that most companies nowadays do require that skill. I didn’t realize that most textile designers actually just sit in front of the computer all day. If you want a job in the industry, you do need to learn it, because not everyone will do their own thing eventually. We do kind of live in a bubble (at CSM), and we feel confused once we step into the real world, but we enjoy what we are doing, and that’s important.
Any advice for Final Year students?
I never cared about pleasing the tutors, I was never good at it; I never failed but I just plodded along. In my final year, I just started to do what I wanted to do, I started to do illustrations of people, and pinning everything on my wall. I didn’t even know they would be used for anything. Because there’s so much pressure, a lot of final year students just crumble thinking that they have to come up with the most amazing idea ever, which is totally unrealistic.
Why did you switch to womenswear after your menswear success?
At the beginning I felt more comfortable doing menswear, but Fabio and almost everyone I spoke to told me it would make much more sense as a womenswear collection. Now I think it would have gone so wrong if I didn’t listen to their suggestion. It feels much more gown-up. I was seeing my work as more commercial menswear, but they thought it could be more high-end womenswear; they saw different potential in the work than I did. There are so many young and sporty collections out there; I think it’s a good idea to shock people a little bit, since there aren’t many people pushing womenswear at the moment. I think it was good for me — as a textile designer — to show that my work can be used in both men’s and women’s.
Words by Derek Cheng