Representing the creative future

Clay’s sentimental styling

Fashion Communication student Clay is reinterpreting clothing for the protection and honouring of women

It’s no news that the past few months have been a challenging time for creatives. With limited access to materials and studio space, resourcefulness has been vital in the work of young, independent stylists as demonstrated by the ethereal creations of Clay. Clay, a CSM Fashion Communication student, has spent her time in quarantine creating deeply referential and repurposed gowns and headpieces: “I’m using puffer jackets to create farthingales, veils made from miniskirts, armour made from bras.”

Clay woman styling

For her current series, Clay combines the roles of designer, stylist and model, delicately blurring the lines between all three.  Clay’s work is rooted in imagined characters and landscapes.  It is both historical and futuristic, forging hybrids of the past and future to create fictional women that she can ‘relate to’.  The result is deeply personal – Clay imagines herself as various characters who inform and inspire the pieces that she creates, a process she calls ‘sentimental styling’.

A great deal can be found in the historical and contemporary representation of women’s clothes, such as how they can be used as a weapon or contrastingly as a suit of armour.  Clay’s work reinvents clothes that aim to empower rather than simply to dress; something she perfects in her honouring of the wearer and their histories through her creations.

We spoke to Clay about her creative process and her interpretation of the meaning and use of clothing.

You are currently studying Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central Saint Martins, what led you into this area of study, and how are you finding it?

I felt that FCP was the best place where I could evolve my concepts. I wanted to create  worlds that made me feel alive and strong. I’m not really interested in fashion per se, I’m interested in the characters and stories that clothing and space can convey. FCP has a lot of room for bold ideas and bringing new conversations to the table. This was very important to me.

Could you explain your practice – is styling your medium of choice? Do you experiment in other areas too?

Styling myself was a practical way for me to translate my ideas on a body during lockdown. I developed myself into figures, forged from myth and my reality.  I want to create something that seems otherworldly and familiar. Lately, I’ve been exploring Elizabethan braiding patterns and traditional Himba hairstyles. I’m also really interested in 3D art and immersive theatre to animate my characters. I don’t expect my work to be based on fashion alone.

Clay styling FCP CSM
Clay styling FCP CSM
Clay styling FCP CSM

What do you believe led you into this series?

Before the pandemic, I had been studying Memories of Murder by Joon Bong Ho. It’s about a serial killer who used women’s tights and knickers against them. This alarmed me and compelled me to explore the rugged use of women’s clothes. I saw how women’s soft undergarments could be used as a weapon or conversely as a suit of armour for protection. In my world(s) I want to rethink clothes and equip rather than dress people. I want to honour people by styling them in a way that reflects their journey and what they’ve been through using the most intimate materials.

The way you approach styling is very close to design; Do you think that this is what styling should be? Putting together pieces to make up new shapes and designs?

I don’t think that there is a way that styling should necessarily be. I call what I do sentimental styling because I’m trying to recover something personal about women, and men to some degree. I’m trying to find the remains of women’s bones, creating a narrative about their misuse, their resurrection and their preservation in society and visual culture. When I’m styling a person, I’m looking at the body as part of the fabric that holds everything together like tendons attaching muscle to bone. A top is not a top anymore, I’m thinking about the textures, shapes, the holes. I think I can stretch it? Wrap it?  Clamp it?  Tie it? Or strap it? I spend a lot of time examining these possibilities. I decide if I can balance other items on it, like a supporting joint, or if it can be broken into multiple strands, like a rib cage. I’ll also investigate if it will expand or contract the body, shorten or lengthen it. I’m not registering the clothes as clothes or the body as a separate form. I reinterpret the designers’ choices for their clothes: I’m using puffer jackets to create farthingales; veils made from miniskirts; armours made from bras.

Clay styling FCP CSM
Clay styling FCP CSM
Clay styling FCP CSM
Clay styling FCP CSM

Your work is highly referential of both history and popular culture, from Pharaohs to Star Wars. Would you say your references are overt or more nuanced within the pieces you have created in this series?

When I’m creating new concepts for a character’s styling, I imagine the 3D landscape they walk across. It’s really important to look at historical dress and spaces as a foundation for innovation. I often gravitate towards books that discuss how/why women heal and how they ‘make-up’ themselves – chemically or in a ceremony like with liquid gold, bark or dog leaf. I look at the environments where this takes place and the physical landscape that facilitate this from forests to caves and sacred sites.

I’ve always looked for the intersections between the past (history, ancestry) and the future(sci-fi, technological advancement and space travel). I bring them together to create hybrids of women that I can relate to.

Clay styling FCP CSM
Clay styling FCP CSM
Clay styling FCP CSM

Do you find that you work yourself into these histories?

I’m just using my body as a vessel, it’s not really about me. Although maybe it is. I am very sentimental towards women who carry scars. Part of what makes up the suit armour is a woman’s skin, her structure, her naked form – it’s a weapon in of itself, it’s power.  I feel protective of women, including myself.  I make soft armour forged from my own experiences. I think it’s important to work with the hurt in our bodies (and the model’s). This has a moving effect.

Who do you admire?

My mum. She was the first character in the series. She’s a survivor in her own right and thrives. She’s the reason I protect women.

 

Clay styling FCP CSM
Clay styling FCP CSM

1 Granary

Magazine Issue 6

With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

Buy Now