New Waves: Joanna Melbourne
In her final collection, Joanna Melbourne questions the ways in which people project sexuality onto non-sexual things. Beginning with an abstract concept, she managed to narrow down her research by solely focusing on water, specifically looking at how it reacts with and obscures the body. Projecting this outcome onto clothing, she found that the more one manages to encapsulate what you’re doing into one single idea, the easier it becomes to communicate your vision.
What was the conceptual starting point of your graduate collection?
My collection was inspired by an erotica magazine titled ‘Odiseo’. The cover of one issue features a beautiful photograph of a large african snail that resembles the delicacy and form of a vagina. I started to question the ways in which people can project sexuality onto non-sexual things, specifically the way that water and wetness can sexualise something. I looked at the way water can create pooling in certain areas and tried to recreate this effect with clothing.
“IN THE END MY COLLECTION WAS COMPLETELY UNRECOGNIZABLE FROM MY ORIGINAL DESIGNS. I THINK THAT’S THE BEAUTY OF HAVING A YEAR TO WORK ON IT; YOU CAN GET ALL THE SHITTY IDEAS OUT OF THE WAY.”
How do you create a visual narrative out of an abstract concept? Is it a challenge to translate a very conceptual idea into something practical?
I think every designer has their own personal way of doing this, and that’s what makes every collection unique. What works best for me is to try and find a specific research image which makes my concept tangible. For example, my concept of projecting sexuality is quite vague. But I found that the more specific my research became, the easier it became to work on the stand.
How did your collection develop during the course of the year? Did you face any serious challenges during the production process?
In the end my collection was completely unrecognizable from my original designs. I think that’s the beauty of having a year to work on it; you can get all the shitty ideas out of the way. About four days before the final line up, my tutor told me to change every single fabric in my collection. It felt like the end of the world. Instead, it turned out to be the best thing that could ever have happened to my collection.
Do you get inspired by every project?
Definitely not. But in the end there’s always a way to make a brief work for you. I always took each brief as more of a loose guideline than a strict framework. When I’m stuck, I go to the college shop and buy a bunch of random objects and then see if I can do something, anything, with them. Somehow it always worked out.
“THE TUTORS HAVE DONE THIS YEAR AFTER YEAR AND THEY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT, SO I THINK DISMISSING THEIR ADVICE CAN BE NAIVE.”
What do your design ideas mostly revolve around, do you have a certain theme that you usually return to?
My themes are always different but my process is always the same. I love working in the 3D workshops and playing with all the tools they have in there. I would always look for an excuse to bring some material that isn’t fabric into my projects. I’ve made a dress dripped in liquid crystals, a jacket made of thick vinyl and a bag made of stainless steel (which was way too heavy to carry).
What does your development process usually look like?
My development process involves hours and hours of research. Once I’ve looked at every single book/board/article I can find, I’ll drape and draw and drape. I like the ease of working on the computer as well, so there’s a lot of collaging and tech drawings put into it. Then I’ll try a few designs out, and pray that one of them looks as good in person as it does in my head. Usually it looks completely different though. And sometimes I’ll go back to square one and repeat the whole process again.
How does the conversation between 2D and 3D work for you, how much does one inform the other?
2D and 3D work really rely on each other. It can be hard to properly visualise a 2D drawing until you see it on the stand, and it can be hard to develop a drape on the stand without drawing. Everyone definitely seems to lean towards one or the other, but in the end both are massively important.
When do you think your identity as a designer really took shape and a ‘concrete’ form?
It was quite surreal to see my collection in the final toiles. I remember assisting so many final years during their lineup and thinking it was quite an important milestone in final year. When the day actually came and I saw my collection lined up on models it was a strange experience after five years of expectations.
“DESIGN STUDENTS NEED TO BE CONCERNED WITH THE FUTURE OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY BECAUSE IT’S THE INDUSTRY WE WILL SPEND MOST OF OUR LIVES WORKING IN.”
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 what they want?
A lot of people in final year will say “it’s your collection, not your tutors’.” The tutors have done this year after year and they know what they are talking about, so I think dismissing their advice can be naive. I like getting other people’s opinions, and I think part of being a commercially successful designer is being able to make beautiful things that will appeal to the right people.
What did you do during your placement year?
During my placement year I was at Trager Delaney, Hussein Chalayan, and Marc Jacobs. The majority of the time I was at Marc Jacobs doing fabric development, which taught me a lot about fabric production and manufacturing. They design most of their textiles in house at Marc Jacobs so I got to learn a lot about the process involved in that.
Did your experience in the industry give you a better insight into how the business of fashion actually works?
I think being in the industry teaches you how large it actually is. So many people are employed by the fashion industry in some respect or another. I suppose that’s the reason it seems to be getting more and more commercial, since there are so many people relying on its economic success.
What advice would you give to students choosing their placements?
My advice would be not to stress about it. Everyone gets a placement, and when you come back to final year everyone has the skills they need to make a collection. Just enjoy your placement year as much as possible, you will miss it when it’s done.
A big part of the fashion industry consists of a sector that supports a philosophy of material consumption, constantly reproduces unhealthy ideals, can’t manage to find sustainable solutions for its workers, and is one of the world’s largest contributors to climate change. If you’re emotionally engaged with what you do, how do you (emotionally) disengage with the harm the fashion industry create?
I think more and more people are emotionally engaged with what they do and still aware of the problems. Awareness is increasing through initiatives like Fashion Revolution and brands are being held more accountable. We had a talk in final year about sustainability and we were told that just making a small choice, such as reusing some left over lining from your last project instead of buying a new one, are things that all help.
“WHEN I’M STUCK, I GO TO THE COLLEGE SHOP AND BUY A BUNCH OF RANDOM OBJECTS AND THEN SEE IF I CAN DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING, WITH THEM. SOMEHOW IT ALWAYS WORKED OUT.”
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?
Design students need to be concerned with the future of the fashion industry because it’s the industry we will spend most of our lives working in. The industry can’t be expected to stay stagnant so we need to make sure to influence it to move in the best possible direction.
Graduating is about the scariest thing for an undergraduate student to think of. How was that experience for you? Did anyone approach you after the show?
A final year once told me that from one day to the next you are done with your collection and left to fend for yourself. That’s exactly how it feels. But I think CSM teaches you to fend for yourself and figure it out. After the show I was approached by a couple brands abroad and I’ve also approached some brands in London.
What are your plans for the immediate future?
To recover from five years of minimal sleep. Other than that I’m aiming to start work this month.
Do you have any plans for the not so near future?
I can definitely see myself applying for the MA after a few years of experience in the industry.
What does your Oscar speech sound like?
Better luck next time Jennifer Lawrence.