Representing the creative future

The Masters: Emma Bergamin Davys

The noise – or lack thereof – is the first thing that strikes you when walking into the MA Fashion studios of Central Saint Martins. It’s surprisingly quiet, with students moving silently around each other, the only hum coming from machines and a tension that hangs in the air like electricity. The second is the smell: like heat, like fabric, like glue (just as you might expect) and the third, is the mess. Say what you want about the talent contained in these four walls; organised chaos is clearly the majority’s preferred setting. Emma Bergamin Davys is not the majority.

“I like things clean,” the 28-year-old asserts, setting down her flat white with filed, neatly manicured hands. “And new, and sharp, and polished, and things to be finished properly.” This interview is our first, and, sat in the college’s King’s Cross campus, we’re trying to pin down exactly what the designer wants her collection to say. She sprints through concepts at roughly a mile-a-minute, to-ing and fro-ing between often opposing ideas, but delivering each one with unquestionable certainty. Finish – and the quality of – is just about the only consistent element we have landed on.

With final line-ups imminent, this might come as a surprise, but Emma’s ability to find value in so many varying ideas is one of her greatest charms. Firstly, because it is unexpected; looking at the bench Emma has spent the majority of her waking hours at since September, you’d likely not pick it out as the home of a fluctuating mind. It’s one of the tidiest, for a start; a sanctuary amongst the reams of fabric surrounding her peers. References are kept on hand, tightly contained in bulging scrapbooks and battered plastic wallets. The clothes themselves hang close-by in their various stages, removed for tweaking, weekly model fittings and review from the tutors. At the heart of the scene is Emma, standing at 5’9” with dyed-red hair pulled back into a low-slung ponytail. Her eyeliner is an impeccable feline flick over wide eyes behind her round spectacles and, most often seen in, “jeans and a t-shirt”, she is a picture of calm.

The trait also appeals for how it has influenced the core theme of her MA collection: a melding of dichotomies. On one side of the moodboard sits a clean, conceptual and reasonably commercial girl, represented in the neutral colours and negative space so pivotal to Emma’s references. On the other resides Sarah Lucas’ boldly coloured stockings, uncomfortable poses directed by Erwin Wurm and the bare skin inherent to Melanie Bonajo’s projects. “Collaging plays a really important role in my design process,” she explains. “It helped me to work out balance and proportion in my work – not only in terms of the garment itself, but also looking at negative space. Keeping the balance of this between my original collages and the final look was key.”

The result, a collection of two halves; each of her looks quite literally split down the middle. “There was a lot of development at the beginning,” she explains. “Getting my line-up toile after toile after toile until it was right. But it was only when I started collaging that things started to make sense.” The aesthetic, despite each look’s juxtaposition, is homogenous; voluminous, pearlescent plumes are sewn onto straight-cut, crotch skimming hemlines with perfectly finished seams, decorated with hardware created in collaboration with Misha Venter, a BA Jewellery alumni currently residing as a graduate assistant at the school. “Each half of each outfit is a different fabric,” Emma continues. “Nothing is repeated. I was very nervous about it at the beginning, as it’s important that each drape does what it needs to do. I had to stay faithful to that drape, and get the fabric right.” Suffice to say, this took some time.

Her final choices erred towards more traditional fabrics, to avoid the collection becoming too one dimensional. “What the tutors have been so good at, is saying, ‘that may be your aesthetic, and that’s great, but if you just use technical fabrics, and your aesthetic is modern, and you like modern art…’ It just becomes too much.” Taffetas, satins and polyesters made the cut, and sit beside gazars. “They are like a silk basket weave,” she explains. “They create a lot of volume, and are really light and bouncy. A lot of my stuff could become really heavy if I let it – finding that lightness is really important.”  Her colour scheme is equally delicate, favouring versions of off-white and candy shades of blue and yellow, interrupted by jets of black in varying degrees.

Proportion is a key element for Bergamin Davys, who has worked primarily with draping to achieve her desired look. “It’s a massive part of my timeframe,” she explains. “Some people might be flat pattern cutting already, but I start off with draping to get shapes; to work out the manipulation of my fabrics. From there it’s a lot of fittings and taking photographs, which I then manipulate also, draw on top of and try to fit in with my research. It’s not just a drape in itself, there’s a context to it.” Because of this, calico was generally avoided. “ I used a medium calico a bit, but it doesn’t do the same thing as felt, which is what I used for my original drapes. Everything has a different weight, so I played around a lot with fabrics to see how they would behave. I love the experimentation, but that’s only one part of it. I always love the new, and I’ll find myself in a hardware store looking for new trims when what I should be doing is the third toile of a dress that needs to be finished,” she pauses. “You may have this great, original idea, but it’s got to be refined, and it’s got to become a real, desirable thing. Plus, I don’t want things just shoved together at the end. Quality is incredibly important to me.”

Here we are again: finish; that one thread that is inherent to every piece of work Emma embarks on. It comes from a background in product developing, a path she followed on completing a foundation at Chelsea College of Art and BA in Fashion Design in Bristol. Jonathan Saunders drew her initially, followed by a stint at Roland Mouret and four months at Roksanda Illincic, where she has returned to during school breaks. “I’ve learned everything from working,” she says. “You know, being a designer – it’s not just about the fabrics and method, but about the world of it. Jonathan always had these amazing shelves full of artist’s books – he taught me that there is more to a designer than just making clothes.”

Despite this experience (and her Stella McCartney Scholarship offer), Emma is entirely modest. Did she not in any sense feel a step ahead? “Not at all!” She exclaims. “I suppose my previous experience has been both a strength and a challenge. I have a technical knowledge of garments and finishings, but whilst on the course, I had to ignore some of that in order to concentrate on being creative and experiment more. I had to be less sensible. Once the collection started to come together, however, I could then bring that side back to think about finishings and details, which are important to me.”

Cut to a month later, and all that toiling has come into fruition: a few days after our interview, Emma received the news that she had won a coveted spot to show on the MA catwalk, cementing herself as a rising star. “Post-show was a weird, weird time.,” Emma admits, in between dressing and directing the model for her lookbook. “Because you can’t stop to enjoy it, you have to sort your portfolio – you can’t just sit back. I’m looking forward to working with other people to see how they interpret my world.”

On set, wearing all white and her hair in a neat bun, Emma is scientific in the positioning of said model, and adjusting where she wants her clothes to sit to the last millimeter. Saying that, she’s not stubborn either – in fact, it’s all laughter and smiles whilst singing along to Florence + The Machine and Fleetwood Mac. “It was the same at the show,” Emma’s backstage assistant Natassa explains. “She was really focused and put together, and being so kind to the models and her colleagues. When everyone around her was panicking, she was creating calm.” It’s a warmth and consideration that makes those around Emma want to create whatever look, pose or vision she might think up – effective, indeed.

So where to take these skills next? “I’d like to work with another brand right now, either on a full time basis or perhaps on a part time consultancy basis,” she says. “I’ll have to see what opportunities come up. But I’ll be continuing my own work too – I would love to continue with one off projects or collaborations.”