Phone held aloft, I move the screen: pinching and retracting my fingers to explore the environments and experiences of Marie Maisonneuve’s modern nomad. Within this virtual reality I hear and see nature, as well as a man clad in multifunctional garments. Perspective is challenged both literally and metaphorically as I interact with this figure through my screen: seeing him roam, explore and survive in the rustling and quintessentially British landscape of the Cheddar Gorge.

The 360° video that Marie produced in collaboration with Emma Rose Hamilton, exemplifies the conceptual underpinning behind her collection, which subverts our usual understanding of functional design. Here, she achieves in crafting garments that comment upon the current state of society where events unfold before us, such as the migrant crisis, which we potentially only access through our ‘screens’: a further boundary of reality which encourages isolation. Marie’s work is a social, political and spatial response to all which surrounds her: a current and increasingly relevant entity which demonstrates the far-reaching nature of conceptual design.

We speak with Marie to find out more about her approach and experiences of her time at the Royal College of Art.

“When thinking about the ongoing extreme violence our societies face, such as the attacks in Paris and Brussels, I wanted to create a sense of personal security to the garments. I employed close-fitting knitwear as a metaphor which symbolises a self-indulgent armour: a protection of personal space within a breathable envelope.”

Can you tell us about what motivated your final collection and what it reflects?

My collection embodies my experience at The Royal College of Art and all which I have learnt about myself as a designer. Naturally, my work relates to my background and issues that I’m passionate about. All of my previous projects have spoken about quiet minorities: exploring issues regarding tolerance, disability and mental illness, religion and beliefs.

The journey for my collection began by investigating the interaction between the body and garments upon it: how this movement creates an individual language. When drawing upon social and political issues, I thought about the space which surrounds the body, and I started to look into traveller expeditions and migrants: their needs, camps and how they carry personal belongings and thoughts. I wondered what a modern, nomadic world-citizen would have as a personal reference to their past and what they might need for the journey ahead.

Ezio Manzini’s talk ‘People on the Move’ spoke about how design can respond to fluxes in migration. He reflected on African migrants who had been taught artisanal skills to counter-balance the rural depopulation of a small village in Italy and upon listening, I felt a strong faith in humanity. These ideas strongly adhered to the values of the fluid society – a society without any boundaries.

How did you realise these concepts?

I translated these ideas by crafting multipurpose, multiposition pieces which resemble bags. A new nomadist’s wardrobe which has an ability to respond to a variety of journeys and situations. When thinking about the ongoing extreme violence our societies face, such as the attacks in Paris and Brussels, I wanted to create a sense of personal security to the garments. I employed close-fitting knitwear as a metaphor which symbolises a self-indulgent armour: a protection of personal space within a breathable envelope.

My concepts exist within an ever-evolving context and I felt truly betrayed by the referendum result, because a Brexit world is the exact thing my project fights against: closed boundaries, isolated individuals scared by their differences and reduced mobility.

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“A pair of trousers I designed to be highly functional and respond to many different situations, can be worn in more than eight ways; the functionality became so complex that they almost required operating instructions!”

Your work is conceptual, yet functional, what do you think about the line between art and design?

To me design is a response to a need: this can be actual or fictional. Within my collection, the rule was that it is not decorative and has to be functional, each detail was to have a purpose. It’s clear that this was a design-led brief; but when pushed to extremes, design and art can merge. For instance, a pair of trousers I designed to be highly functional and respond to many different situations, can be worn in more than eight ways; the functionality became so complex that they almost required operating instructions!

Challenging boundaries seems key within your work and the RCA is known to challenge a conventional approach to design education, how did this impact you?

When it came to research, we all benefitted from absolute freedom. Zowie treated us as individuals, and she trusted in our capacity to build our personal stories through the year.  The RCA has been the perfect platform to express my creativity and to overcome boundaries of fashion pathways. The annual ‘Work In Progress’ show was a great example of how we were pushed to express our work in a different way: I created a live installation where I placed my tent at the entrance of the college, and used objects to interact with it. This experience informed my final designs and the multidisciplinary nature of the RCA, where so many pathways exist within one campus, ensures that students have a broader approach to design.

At the end of my project, I collaborated on a 360° film which dealt with the literal and metaphorical ideas of perspective around my work. It was really important that my collection travelled and I was so pleased with the film Emma Rose Hamilton produced. Like my WIP show, it directly placed my fashion within a public sphere and gave it a performative, interactive essence. This has contributed to an understanding that on the whole, my final collection is the result of a constant dialogue between my peers, the tutors and the technicians.

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“Design should define the market and not the other way around.”

How do you feel about approaching the fashion market, and what are your views about the state of the industry?

I would like to continue to collaborate with other creatives and allow my garments to speak for themselves. I’m very excited to begin to work within a team and gain industry experience.

I feel like design should define the market and not the other way around. You don’t have to appeal to everybody and sometimes just attracting 3% of the market is enough as you can retain a unique relationship between your product and the customer; there is trust and understanding.

The relationship between conceptual design and commercial design is an interesting debate; I feel like sometimes style takes over design: this is when fashion loses its magic. In general, like many people, l would love to see the industry slowdown. Time has become the new luxury.

It would be great to produce a collection within a longer cycle – taking the time to push the research and experimentation process further. I believe this would work within a collective where individuals would be able find a place to express themselves when they have something to say.

Words by Lilah Francis

All images courtesy of Marie Maisonneuve

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