The Royal 20: Supriya Lele
Set against the curve of the female body, soft rich velvet roses and their dark green leaves are compressed beneath a sheet of thick, transparent plastic. Natural, beautiful forms contrasting with an artificial material: the opening page of Supriya’s lookbook is the perfect representation of her graduate collection. Rendering cheap materials luxurious, exuding opulence and empowering the wearer, I felt a strong and immediate affiliation with Supriya’s work upon my first visit to the RCA back in December. Understanding her work in its most raw form to now seeing her final imagery, it is clear how much the collection has evolved and developed.
“I ALWAYS TRY TO LOOK FURTHER THAN THE RESEARCH, TO LOOK DEEPER INTO THE NARRATIVES PRESENTED.”
Would you describe your work as inherently personal?
It’s impossible for my design work not to be an extension of my own identity. Experiences, friends and surroundings shape everything about your personality, and I think that in turn reflects the work you make. My work hasn’t always come from such a personal place, but I think that being at the RCA really pushed me to dig deeper into my research, and so it resulted in a really personal starting point, but ultimately, as the project developed, my work became more abstract and universal.
The tutors at the RCA really challenge you over your choices, and then it ends up being a really personal perspective that you draw out. My concept evolved from my dissertation that I wrote over the summer before starting 2nd year — which was about the female body, and female comportment — and so when I started the second year I tried to underpin my personal interest with that, and it ended up being about my heritage. In terms of interpretation, I think now I always try to look further than the research, to look deeper into the narratives presented.
How important is experimentation?
During the design process, you start with so many ideas, or visual concepts, which you then start filtering out and adapting as your work naturally evolves. The key to this evolution is experimentation.
It’s really crucial to my own creative process that there is experimentation and development throughout. I need to keep the development flowing in a natural way, as I tend to get bored quite quickly! At the RCA, the tutors are really supportive of this, and expect the work to progress organically. They challenge you quite a lot during the process and this sustains momentum and progression.
Prior to your MA, you gained a lot of industry experience, how has this helped shape your practice?
Working in the industry was really useful for me in terms of understanding how design studios operate, in addition to fully understanding the quick turnaround of making a collection. Having said this, when I started at the RCA, I wanted my experience to be purely a creative one: I just wanted to be able to develop my design aesthetic. In the final year, it is still really important to be able to know who your woman is. Where does she live, what does she do, what other brands does she wear? These are important questions that you need to understand for the work that you are creating, and where it will fit in within the industry.
“I THINK BECAUSE THERE ARE NO RULES, YOU MAKE YOUR OWN — AND SO EVEN JUST WORKING WITH FABRICATIONS YOU HAVEN’T USED BEFORE, YOU FIGURE OUT WAYS TO MAKE THINGS WORK AND TO YOUR LIKING.”
When developing and transforming your collection, how important was working with different creative forms such as film, performance or even non-conventional manners of production?
The great thing about the RCA is that there are no rules around how you choose to develop and process your work, or your information. It’s completely personal – so if you don’t want a sketchbook, you don’t need one, for example. For me, using film and performance earlier on in my process really helped push my work. I used these forms during our Work In Progress exhibition, and it was more of an exercise in draping and visual collage. It helped me to move my silhouettes forward and to bring plastics and vinyl fabrics into the mix, which then ended up leading the collection. I think because there are no rules, you make your own — and so even just working with fabrications you haven’t used before, you figure out ways to make things work and to your liking. Some of the plastic pieces I made are simply just melted together, other pieces are literally just held together with gaffer tape.
I understand my work as an artistic approach to design. I do see the final pieces as design, but by using film, photography, collage, performance within the design process, it becomes much more creative. The lines are blurred and it’s very personal to the designer, but for myself, there is always an element of wearability to my work. Fashion, art and performance cover such broad and interweaving spectrums, I think it’s impossible to define exactly where those areas separate.
How do you feel about your whole experience at the RCA and what are your plans for life after?
I never thought I would develop so much as I did during my time at the RCA. I have learned so much about my personal process, and also about myself. It’s definitely been a challenging couple of years, but they have been the most rewarding. I am really excited for the future and I would love to work for another brand to really learn the codes of a house. I would consider starting my own brand, just a little bit later down the line!
In what way would you like the fashion industry to change?
It would be great for the industry to slow down a little bit. I don’t think that there needs to be such a quick turnaround and so many collections. However, I think it’s really good that there is a lot of scope for young designers, and there is certainly a fresh wave in the industry at the moment — it seems to be connecting fashion with people from all cultures and backgrounds, which is really positive!
Words Lilah Francis
Photography Agnes Lloyd Platt
Set Design Emma Pack
Styling Beatriz S. Maues
All images courtesy of Supriya Lele