Starting your career with two awards in the fashion competition for up-and-coming designers par excellence must be an interesting sensation. Katie Roberts-Wood, the 28-year-old English designer still hasn’t had time to sit back and reflect on the fact that her latest collection “Synch” was awarded two prizes, Fashion Collection of the Year and another from Vogue Talent, both at the most recent edition of International Talent Support.
It wasn’t long ago that she started to study fashion. In fact, Katie has a degree in medicine, like her parents, but she quickly realized that her creative side was crying out for something different. She studied design and has recently finished a Master’s in Womenswear from the Royal College of Arts.
What we love about her work is the beautiful, cyclic geometry, the effect that the hypnotic waves cause with their repeated, symmetrical shapes. Katie finds inspiration in nature and in mathematics and dedicates her time to investigating new ways and techniques that create interesting visual effects.
So Catchy! Where Fashion Begins talked with her not long ago and she had this to say:
SO CATCHY!: Congratulations Katie. You won two awards in the recent edition of International Talent Support 2014. How does it feel?
KATIE ROBERTS-WOOD: Thank you. It was such and incredible experience… and a big shock to win, I really couldn’t believe it.. The group of designers that were in the finals were incredibly talented, all with such amazing and diverse collections and so I was really just so happy to be there. But to win the two prizes was just beyond anything I expected. After having come so far from where I started out and working so hard for many years, it was amazing to finally feel like I am exactly where I am meant to be, doing something that I love, and that people could see and relate to what I was trying to achieve.
SC!: What did they say at International Talent Support about your clothes?
KR: I think they were intrigued by the production methods and the techniques that I have developed; hopefully it was not quite like anything they had seen before. I like to make engaging work and I love it when people first see a thing and are not quite sure how I made it… I hope my work makes people curious.
SC!: What are you going to do with the prize?
KR: The prize money will be going towards the development of the next collection, which I will get to show in Trieste next year. Its such a massive opportunity to have that platform to show my work again, I am incredibly grateful for that, and will definitely be making the most of it.
SC!: Your work really stands out. What were you trying to tell us with your collection Synch?
KR: I started by thinking about my obsession with visual repetition and why I’m so attracted to repeated forms. I made a connection to the seemingly ubiquitous presence of repeated patterns in nature, such as fractals, etc, as if on some evolutionary level we are supposed to find these impossibly complex, repeated forms instinctively beautiful. I was also fascinated by self-similarity in structures and the creation of an ‘organism’ made up from many repeated sub-units; as in when starlings fly together in these amazing aerial displays, murmuration, and almost appear as if they are controlled by one collective brain, all moving together in synchrony, hence the collection title, ‘Synch’. It’s really hypnotic. I wanted to use this idea to create an interesting optical effect, by developing a textile using the visual repetition of a single unit, where the garment is the larger ‘organism’ in this case. I chose to use the wave as my shape.
SC!: And what about the waves?
KR: It represents to me a form that is present in both mathematics and nature, these two opposing and yet inextricably linked ideas. It is on the one hand a very organic shape but also can be very precise and constructed. Waves also have this association with movement that I was really interested in. Because of the use of colour on the opposing side of the fabric, the pieces look like they are shifting when the wearer moves or turns. The wave allowed me to create an aesthetic that is both organic and quite digital looking at the same time.
SC!: It seems complicated…
KR: I would say they were fairly complex to make! I wasn’t really using traditional pattern cutting methods and a lot of it was based on trial and error, experimentation; making samples and then stand-work and partly trying to imagine how the shapes would behave when they were translated from my flat vector drawings of the individual components into the finished, constructed 3D shapes.
As for sewing, there wasn’t actually any involved at all; the collection is made entirely from the individual, laser-cut pieces that are then linked together; each piece slots into the next and so on.
All the pieces are linked together by hand and the smaller ones are fairly labour intensive/time consuming, but not that difficult to make. I think working out the patterns for the garments was the most difficult part of the process.
SC!: In this collection, your inspiration comes from nature and mathematics. Where do you normally look for inspiration, how do you awaken the muse?
KR: The fascination with natural sources of inspiration might stem from my scientific background, so often animals/plants/anatomy/the universe are a starting point! There is just so much amazing design through evolution that has developed over billions of years, the most startling and unbelievable things. These kinds of things lend themselves so well to structure and texture, which are two things I have been really driven by in design.
I would also say that the experimental process itself is often kind of inspiration. I think playing with 2D / 3D shapes is really fun and trying to work out the patterns for translating one dimension into the other… Its like a complex puzzle that doesn’t have a solution yet… this is often where the process starts for me. Then that created form might trigger some thought or reference which leads into a path of research, which in turn feeds back into the design process. Then applying all this to a body, a person, a wearer is where it becomes really interesting. My MA collection was pretty conceptual and my challenge now is to develop my designs to become more wearable and desirable as garments without losing the innovation and creativity.
SC!: In you Master’s thesis you said: “The effect of the fabric is intense, animalistic; a protective and communicative emotional skin enveloping the body”. What emotions do you think your work creates? Who kind of women would you like to wear you clothes?
KR: I wrote my MA dissertation on emotional design and the role this has in sustainable design, and this is something I definitely want to continue to explore in my own work.
I hope that my work provokes curiosity and intrigue. I was thinking about a woman who has the power to change how she is perceived when she wears the clothes, in a conceptual sense, with the shifting of colour and form, a kind of bizarre camouflage of sorts! I would like to think she would feel protected and in control, without needing to be aggressive.
SC!: What materials did you use?
KR: I experimented a lot with bonded fabrics, combining different materials to create different effects and thicknesses, getting the structure or flexibility where I needed it. I developed my own neoprene-like fabrics using felts, jerseys, lycra and wools in different combinations, heat-pressed and bonded together.
SC!: Are there any new designers that you like?
SC!: Your favorite designer…
KR: Yohji Yamamoto, the first designer whose work I fell in love with. Just so amazing.
SC!: Do you follow any online magazines?
KR: Lots, i+D, Dazed and Confused, Another, A Magazine…
SC!: Have you thought about your next collection?
KR: Probably I will continue developing where I left off with the last collection, feeding back everything I learnt on my MA, all the mistakes and successes… but things evolve a lot over time so the collection could really go in a number of different directions… which is the fun part… I have a lot of ideas already of things I touched on in my MA but want to develop further… we’ll have to wait and see.
SC!: What are you going to do now?
KR: Have a break and then start designing again!
SC!: What pushes you to keep doing what you do? What is your impossible dream?
KR: A few years ago this would have been my impossible dream! When I was studying medicine, I was dreaming of being able to do something like this but it seemed completely impossible.
SC!: A good place to lose yourself…
KR: The highlands of Scotland, the most beautiful place on earth.
SC!: You can’t live without…
KR: My dog!
Photos courtesy of Max Barnett
Layout and Translation by Michael Padilla