Emma has partnered with the likes of Vauxhall Motors, Irregular Choice, Soda Stream, Quartier21 and Helen Rochfort as well as received international press across tonnes of media platforms and publications including Dazed & Confused, ELLE Germany, Paper Magazine New York, VICE, The Daily Mail, WAD Paris, Time Out, Drapers, Wonderland, Notion, The Daily Express, Cosmopolitan, Design Week, SKINS, BBC’s British Style Genius, Channel 4’s Style the Nation, ARTE: Tracks (France/Germany), Mi Lajki Style Factory Sweden and SKY 1’s Pineapple Dance Studios.
Bell’s unique designs have taken her around the globe from Japan to Austria, showcasing at international shows and exhibitions such as Vienna Fashion Week.
EB brings all things I adore about wearable art to the fashion table! She’s quirky, kool and so SKOOL GIRL…you haven’t lived until you’ve seen her‘Snack Attack Embroidered Shirt!’
Describe the general process you go through to conceptualise and design a garment.
One of the first things I do when commencing design of a new collection, commission or garment is to build a good solid foundation in terms of research and experimentation. I find that exploring ideas and really gaining a strong understanding and relationship with the subject, themes or influences behind the concept is a key factor in the taking a garment on the journey from design through to make. I spend a lot of time researching and collating journals and scrapbooks before starting to experiment with textile techniques, ideas and sketches for print design, toiling new shapes or silhouettes on the mannequin and sourcing fabrics.
I then move onto the design development of the garment which involves pages and pages of sketching, taking into consideration tiny details such as fastenings and stitching, practical issues and also how a garment would fit and move on the human body. I tend to redraw and rework details, adding new features and dimensions until I am 100% confident that the design is what I set out to achieve. Usually at this stage I move onto illustrations of the final design which gives me the opportunity to play around with colour palette, print placement, fabric and texture combinations. This is one of the aspects of the design process that I love the most as it’s a chance to push the creative boundaries and really experiment with colour, technique and effects such as embroidery, appliqué, digital print etc!
After the design stage it is then vital to produce technical drawings that reflect every single detail. This is so that the pattern for the garment can be developed before a practice version is made and eventually transformed into a final piece of clothing.
When did you realise your desire to become involved in the fashion industry?
I have always gravitated more towards the creative subjects. When I was 6 years old I had decided that my dream was to become a fashion designer! I would hang out with my Grandma playing dress up and she was the person who taught me how to sew and knit as she was a keen dressmaker and really into fashion herself. As I got a bit older I loved customising and making my own clothes and from there it was a natural progression to choose fashion and design as my future career path. From here I went on to study fashion at the University of Westminster which gave me the tools and knowledge that I needed to begin my journey into the industry and likewise gave me even more drive and dedication to break into fashion.
What elements do you believe make your designs unique?
I think the personal approach that I apply to my design methods help in maintaining a unique identity to my work. I mainly choose themes or influences that are things that I have personal experience with or that hold some kind of sentiment or memory as my concept is for my work to reflect a visual diary. I think my use of experimental colour and not working towards trends also makes my work individual in an industry that is very trend and consumer driven. In recent years I have been working on projects that are more art orientated which has given me the chance to explore the idea of wearable art which is something that allows for one off pieces to be created using materials that would otherwise not be used in clothing design. This branch of my work has really enabled me to experiment with so many unusual fabrics and medium, ranging from paper to bamboo, plastics, and metal so it has been great to design and produce pieces that are more unusual and diverse.
“ I think my use of experimental colour and not working towards trends also makes my work individual in an industry that is very trend and consumer driven.”
How would you define the Emma Bell style?
I would say it’s playful yet considered, it embraces humour and fun whilst telling a story. It is driven by colour, texture and detail with focus on print and craft. The look is based on fearless colourand layering of pattern, tone and surface design and embraces the ideas of freedom and self-expression.
Who are some of your favourite brands / designers and why?
I’m often drawn to designers that embrace colour as I’m a magpie when it comes to rainbows and interesting colour combos! I absolutely love the work of the Australian brand, ‘Romance was Born’as I find their creative vision just out of this world! I adore the colours and awesome print design that they use and I also love that they collaborate across disciplines, such as teaming up with contemporary artists.
Another designer whose work I really admire is Yang Du mainly because I just love the fun, playful approach she expresses in her work. I loved her pieces that use animals and the cartoon like style she applies to lots of her work and also her knitwear pieces are magical!
There is so much UK based talent that I love to keep an eye on and I’m always in anticipation of what they will produce next for example designers such as Louise Gray, Fred Butler, Meadham Kirchhoff and Tata-Naka are all labels that aesthetically I’m drawn to because of their experimental use of colour, texture and approach to design.
From personal experience, where are the best places to gain fashion / design skill, knowledge and understanding?
I would say that grabbing a lot of hands on experience is one of the most valuable things to gain when starting out in the industry.Internships and assisting are the perfect way to not only figure out your niche within the industry but, are also massively important in terms of networking and building up your CV and skill set. I tried my hand at a variety of different areas both as a student and graduate ranging from styling and PR, to working as a design room assistant for a large design corporation to also assisting in a small, independent textile studio. This gave me a chance to learn about so many aspects of the industry and pick up new skills on the way. For example, I learned about preparing technical packages for production, Fashion Week preparation, working with photographers, make-up artists, and models and also got lots of practice with pattern cutting, garment finishing, and a great insight into the business and marketing side of things.
I also believe that education is equally vital in establishing the skills and understanding that you need to work as a designer or professional within the creative industries. Careers within fashion rely on constant learning so I think that an openness and dedication to keep learning and picking up new skills and knowledge is really important. I would say that I learnt a lot during my time studying fashion, not only from my mentors and lecturers but, also from my peers and just from being based in a creative environment on a daily basis. Personally I would say there are many routes in terms of learning you can take either academic or vocational whether it be university, college, an apprenticeship or participating in training workshops. These are all places that give you a great starting block when it comes to making the first steps into the industry.
My way of thinking is that design is more of a way of life rather than merely a job. I always find that staying in the loop outside of the studio in terms of fashion and the arts is just as important as work and classroom experience so galleries, museums, the library, public events and workshops etc can provide so much inspiration and information with regards to trends, style and fashion movements.
What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers?
Give it your all and grab every opportunity you can! Say yes to everything and remember that everything you do can potentially open a door in the future. Embrace every bit of experience and be prepared to give 100% commitment and professionalism to everything you do. Maintain your profile and keep good relations within the industry. Stay on the ball and up to date with happenings in the fashion world and keep on learning!
(Feature images by Yuji Watanabe)