Have you ever witnessed glamorous evening dresses being made in your grandmother’s garage? Not every kid will say they have had such an experience, but current MA Fashion student Deanna Fanning surely can. Fondly reminiscing her Australian childhood and using old wedding dresses and knit pieces collected from car boot sales as well as charity shops, her BA collection offered an unusual take on archetypes of female dressing.
What was the conceptual starting point of your graduate collection?
My sister and I spent a lot of time with my Italian grandmother in Australia when we were growing up, where our relatives would create all types of occasion wear for family events. Some of these garments, like wedding dresses, involved more laboursome tasks such as beading, sequining, making rosettes and layering tulle. There used to be piles of old 90’s magazines surrounding their workspace in the garage; it always took a while for the European issues to arrive in Melbourne. Together they would be working on extravagant pieces in their knitwear. I really admired this contrast of high and low, casual knits and jumpers worn for creating glamorous garments. I also liked the way they spoke about clothes. They would tell us about different pieces they worked on, which embroidery they used, or reminiscing how they learnt a specific technique. It all seemed very romantic and inspiring. My grandmother would always say that when you’re creating real fashion, you’re creating a fantasy. To me this is really interesting from a sociological perspective; I think most people use fashion to create or project an image, and I can also see this as a fantasy of how they view themselves or would like to be viewed as.
How did you create a visual narrative out of an abstract concept? Is it a challenge to translate a very conceptual idea into something practical?
My starting point gave me my initial references, but to visualize it I needed lots of research. In the beginning of the year my tutors encouraged me to look into a specific period of wedding dresses that I was interested in. As I progressed I realized I was very fascinated by the large volumes of the 80’s, and drawn to romantic elements of the late 70’s – such as found in Deborah Turbeville’s photos. I also did some more practical garment research, since it’s a challenge to find all details in photos alone. Looking at works from prolific Australian artist Howard Arkley, also gave me some colour references that resonated with my suburban childhood memories. Colour is really important to me and I kept on changing my mind on shades and tones. Since my collection used colour blocking, I guess I was concerned with how each look would next to one another as a collection.
“I’m really interested in women portrayed through art history, and how certain symbols and archetypes still imbue femaleness and connote a feminine aesthetic.”
How did your collection develop during the course of the year?
Leading up to the show, I think the collection was always developing in some aspect. I had no idea the collection would look this way when I started off. I spent the start of the year swatching and sampling, so in a way an idea for the fabrics came before the shapes, even though I would still develop colours and yarns while toiling. Sometimes I was forced to change my plans since it wasn’t possible to find a large quantity of the yarn I wanted, or it would have been economically unrealistic to use a specific yarn for the entire collection. I think these issues are quite normal in knitwear, though, so if something doesn’t work you have to move on quickly to find another alternative. For me this was for the better in most cases anyway. It was also great to have my twin sister in the studio next door; we’d often bounce ideas and suggestions off each other.
What do your design ideas mostly revolve around? Do you have a certain theme that you usually return to?
I definitely return to themes surrounding the representation of femininity. I’m really interested in women portrayed through art history, and how certain symbols and archetypes still imbue femaleness and connote a feminine aesthetic. There are so many ideas that can be related to this theme.
What does your development process usually look like?
I’ll initially start to create fabric samples before I begin working on the stand. I prefer to make 3D shapes based on my research, and develop them with drawing before going back to 3D. If I can’t achieve certain shapes with the fabrics I started off with, or need to consider particular finishes, I’ll return to develop the fabrics. I’m a very visual person and need to see things before deciding on them. Even though I realize this is sometimes more time consuming, it is the way I prefer to work.
Being critiqued constantly, sometimes we can lose sight of who we are or what our work stands for. Where would you draw the line between growing from those feedbacks and conforming to give tutors or clients what they want?
I think tutors and clients are different in what they aim to receive from you. From personal experience, the tutors are interested in what creative and original ways you execute your ideas, and how well you manage to communicate them. Their feedback is more personal and constructive, since they’ll push you to improve yourself. Whilst this is also important to clients, they have different motives. You’re working to satisfy whatever their requests are, and what you do has to be relevant to their objectives. In this sense I think you do have to conform to what clients want, as opposed to a tutor who are probably more open to your own ideas and won’t require a predetermined outcome. Therefore I don’t take feedback from a client as personally as I would from a tutor; it’s a business.
What did you do during your placement year?
I gained experience for shorter amounts of time at local studios in London while I studied, but didn’t do the placement year.
Did your experience in the industry give you a better insight into how the business of fashion actually works? Is there anything CSM didn’t prepare you for, or did you learn anything you wouldn’t have learned in school?
The industry moves so much faster than projects do at CSM. Besides, you’ll often have multiple projects at a time, so it’s been interesting to compare the pace. It has also been beneficial for my technical skills. Interning in smaller studios often means you’ll have to do repetitive tasks for days at a time, when you’re working towards show day or a sample deadline. To me this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, since I think it helped me gain the physical and mental endurance to finish my collection. It was also interesting to see how a small design team communicated with each other and worked together professionally, since studying is mostly focused around your own work and your own process.
“If a studio environment permitted it, it could be good to engage in a dialogue about sustainability as an intern.”
What do you think that you can do to improve the fashion industry? Is finding systematic solutions to some of the big problems in fashion something that design students should or shouldn’t be concerned with?
While it may not be possible for design students to find solutions to these problems immediately, I do think it is important for them to facilitate change in the future. Perhaps if a studio environment permitted it, it could be good to engage in a dialogue about sustainability as an intern for a start. I also think fashion could play a positive role in the diversification of economies, considering the high levels of expertise involved in luxury goods, but sadly I feel these macroeconomic issues run deeper than designers working in the industry.
Graduating is about the scariest thing for an undergraduate student to think of. How was that experience for you?
The year went incredibly quickly, I didn’t really get a chance to think about graduating until it was all over and there was no studio to go back to. I really miss it.
Do you think you will stay in fashion? If so, how would you like to be working professionally as a designer?
I would love to be able to work as a fashion designer and hopefully have my own studio and label. I feel like I just started and still have so much more to learn. It would be great if I could also work with my sister in the future, we both enrolled onto the MA course! I’m excited to be back in the studio.
Words by Matilda Söderberg
Follow @deannafanning on Instagram