phoebe english “introspective” opens at now gallery
The exhibition in Greenwich presents film, sketches, design development and archive collection pieces.
Phoebe English only graduated in 2011, but her archive is already ripe for a mini retrospective, as her solo show Floating | Falling | Drowning | Flying: An Introspective of Process at NOW Gallery in south east London demonstrates. The first fashion commission from the gallery, the "introspective" presents sketches, swatches of complex weaving and knotting work and finished garments, as well as collection and catwalk photography, with a cinema screening her fashion week presentations and fashion films.
i-D spoke to Phoebe before the opening about the concept for the retrospective: "The exhibition is about the process of making a collection. It's a peek backstage into the ephemeral bits of working papers/photos, the very first sketches, the pre-swatches all of which have such urgent importance whilst you are in show preparation but which just become useless rubbish once it's over, all the pieces of work which you would usually never expose to the fashion press."
The exhibition presents a broad range of Phoebe's work, but this concept grew out of a modest initial idea: to simply present the spectacular glass installation that hangs at one end of the exhibition, a specially-commissioned seven meter beaded web, which makes use of the gallery's high ceiling, held from high up to drape down onto the gallery floor. Explaining that this project is completely separate from her upcoming spring/summer 16 collection, English told i-D that, "the installation is specifically designed for the gallery space... so I was really responding to the height and light which the space incorporates." English says she enjoys working on non-fashion projects, explaining that "It's a bit like doing an exercise for me, stretching my mind in a different direction".
Speaking at the launch event, English seemed pleasantly overwhelmed, "It's kind of weird, this is the first time I've been to one of my own shows - usually I'm backstage." Describing the process of curating the exhibition, English says, "It was especially really strange to go through the sketchbooks, because I usually finish one and then just put it on the top of the pile of the other ones and I've never got them down and gone through the pile to look at them before, so that was a really strange experience, and quite revelatory". The designer added that her favourite part of the show is, "some of the MA work, because it's been on my shelf for years and I have never looked through it and it was quite special to look through and remember who I was when I did all those mountains of drawings".
The retrospective is a poetic introduction to south London for English, as she is due to move her studio from Hackney to New Cross next week. "[It's] a big thing, leaving east London for the first time... it's going to be quite strange, not being in Hackney and Dalston everyday," though she adds that, "It feels like the right move".
The exhibition is open every day 21 May - 9 August at NOW Gallery in North Greenwich, with a live performance event on 9 July, featuring aerial hoop contortionist Lily Raptor, DJs and musicians.
Text Charlotte Gush and Bojana Kozarevic
Portrait Josh Shinner
Exhibition photography Charles Emerson