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Bugs Garson: Dressing the letters my grandmother wrote

Words Mahoro Seward

Parsons MFA graduate Aideen Gaynor discusses ‘Bugs Garson’, her alias-designed collection that brings her grandparents’ love letters to life.

It was while packing up her grandparents’ Long Island home that Aideen Gaynor stumbled upon the box that would go on to inspire her MFA thesis collection. In it, she found a series of letters written by her grandmother to her grandfather over the months leading up to their wedding in 1948. Each was signed ‘Bugs Garson’, an “alias my grandmother used as her signature so that her name was not visible on her company letterhead,” Gaynor explains. In honour of her relationship to them, and the tales the letters told, she adopted the alias as a design-moniker, and as a title for her collection, which gives her grandparents correspondence a fresh voice just after what would have been their seventieth wedding anniversary.

“I wanted to create a duality that would celebrate that for my grandmother as well as look at how my relationship with New York has always been viewed through their lens,” she says, explaining her motivation to translate the letters’ verbal sentiments into fashion—which, of course, is no mean feat. But it’s a process of making that Gaynor’s always felt comfortable with. “Analysing linguistic expression and translating it into a visual format has always played a large role in how I come to understand a topic,” she explains, noting that “storytelling is inherent in the culture of Ireland,” the country where the designer was raised. There’s also the fact that her “father is in set design for film so that has always played a large role in how I approach my creative process.”

“I thought it best to approach the letters as if I was approaching a script. Everything was then viewed in a cinematic light, questioning the surroundings, the people the actions and the lighting. I wanted everything to be taken into account in quite a literal manner.”

Indeed, there’s a distinctly filmic quality to Aideen’s work: a relatively traditional silhouette, lifted from her grandparents’ respective wedding suits, serves as the frame for romantically washed out floral prints, photographically-hued repeat patterns and delicately embroidered details, often with trailing threads. “I treated each letter as its own individual narrative and built out the visuals from there. I thought it best to approach the letters as if I was approaching a script. Everything was then viewed in a cinematic light, questioning the surroundings, the people the actions and the lighting. I wanted everything to be taken into account in quite a literal manner.” she says.

Of course, choosing just the right graphic or handiwork technique to bring the written source material to life was a significant challenge, not least for the emotional weight of perusing the belongings of her late grandfather. But this allowed her to make poignant tributes to his memory, weaving the visual hallmarks of the items he collected into the work. “I referenced a lot of graphics from my grandfather’s matchbooks from his days travelling as a Director for Hilton Hotels. Juxtaposing the graphics from my grandfathers saved ephemera with the watered-down florals felt like a true representation of their personalities and the world they came from.”

Deeply personal as the designer’s approach may be, she notes that she wouldn’t have been able to develop it was it not for the familial environment of the Generation 8 class of which she is part, and the guidance offered by course tutors Shelley Fox and Joff Moolhuizen along the way. “They’ve been excellent mentors on the program and I feel they have been instrumental in shaping how I question my design process and identity. I feel as though my two years on this program have been a massive challenge but a great success in helping me understand how I want to articulate my ideas visually,” she concludes.

Images courtesy of Aideen Gaynor