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​the tate shines the spotlight on young designers at work in new film

In response to the Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process exhibition at the Tate Britain, Tate Collectives films four young creatives in their own work space.

by Lily Bonesso
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22 April 2015, 1:44am

The Nick Waplington/ Alexander McQueen: Working Process exhibition is a breathtaking insight into the iconic artist's behaviours of making, during the creation of his last collection, Horn of Plenty. Inspired by this, Tate Collectives wanted to see what young fashion designers are doing to create their work. What spaces are they inhabiting and what processes are they using without a hired studio and a team of people helping them achieve their goals? They discovered people working in their bedrooms, shared studios or often borrowing the spaces of their bosses; bringing with it all the transiency of couch surfing, and the discomfort of sleeping on a sofa that isn't quite the right size. That said, as one of the cast, Olubiyi Thomas, mentioned, "You're working with the space around you. Rather than designing the space to suit your work, you're sort of working with it." With the characteristic resourcefulness of youth, these four designers have made it work for them, inhabiting some spaces that are in turn quirky, homely, inspiring and, in some cases, totally epic.

Visiting the working spaces of four designers, in order of appearance: Harry Mundy, Olubiyi Thomas, Sadie Clayton and Phoebe Kowalska, filmmaker Scott Carthy observed them at work and acquainted himself with the individual processes and craftsmanship which give each character their signature style. The emphasis on craftsmanship within their working processes is an antidote to mass production, demonstrating a devotion to quality which bypasses any yearning for financial success. Whether it was developing new techniques, like Kowalska's interest in forming new fabrics through bondaweb and Clayton's metal-worked copper pieces, or endorsing tradition with modern quirks, in the cases of Mundy and Olubiyi; craftsmanship is central to their work.

Harry Mundy began his career at 16 working for Vivienne Westwood. Now 23, but still baby faced, he has started his own label. He explained his idea is to buy in, with heart and soul, to traditional British crafts companies. These, according to him, have a "level of skill which is only possible, when someone has decided to dedicate, in many cases, their entire life to perfecting a craft or a small aspect of a craft and getting it as good as they can." He is determined to use only the best craftsmen out there to produce his clothes. Olubiyi Thomas seemed to feel very much the same; "You can always tell when something's been hand crafted, it's got a more soulful feel to it." This ethos has lead to an obsessive need to wash all the materials Thomas works with; "Whenever I buy a new fabric I always shove it straight into the washing machine. It's like the tension between something that's almost dead and still alive. It feels real, I guess, and less clinical or pristine. Washing cloth is actually really bad for the cloth but I like how it wears it down a little."

Inadvertently linking back to Working Process, Thomas continues; "Now everything is so mass produced. It's pretty grim the fashion cycle... it's so fast paced... and, not to sound like a hippy but it's destroying the planet and people's minds, as well. McQueen is a perfect example of someone who was an absolute genius but also really affected by the pace of the industry - by the carnal nature of it." Horn of Plenty, intended to be the culmination of all McQueen's past work, was centred around the tension between mass production, destruction and renewal. In 2009 McQueen said "we are living in a mess" and "we got to this point because of rampant, indiscriminate consumption." Well, here is the next generation of designers, thinking the exact same thing and doing something about it. 

Nick Waplington / Alexander McQueen: Working Process is on at Tate Britain until May 17.