the csm graduate designing herself into her own clothes
Pauline de Blonay’s BA graduate collection turned the runway into an exhibition as much as a fashion show.
Photography Pablo Di Prima
Everyone who attended this year’s Central Saint Martins BA graduate show knew a little of Pauline de Blonay’s designs before the show had even begun, whether they realised it or not. Adorning each of the invites sent out was an artwork she’d created -- a wistful painted face of different colours and Schiele-esque proportions -- and one of the many paintings that appeared throughout her collection.
“I have been making art from a very young age and I took painting lessons for many years back home,” Pauline explains a couple of days after the show. “Before moving to London I didn’t know much about fashion.” Enrolling on a foundation course at CSM though, she soon became charmed with fashion and all its different possibilities. “At the start of the course I was very naive, but I grew to realise how open and expansive fashion can be. Originally I was planning on returning to Switzerland after my foundation, but once I had a foot in CSM I did everything I could to stay.”
Growing up in Geneva, Pauline was always interested in the history of art. “I definitely loved fine art when I was growing up, especially painting, I have always been obsessed with Modigliani, Edward Hopper, Egon Schiele, Cy Twombly and so many more.” All of the garments in Pauline's collection bear the marks of this lineage, turning the runway into as much an exhibition as a fashion show. Beginning with a jaw-dropping, painted portrait printed across two-piece blazer and skirt, the show traversed an idiosyncratic mix of fabrics; silk, aluminium foil, leather, metal. Structured, moldable suits and dresses followed this first look, combined with printed boots, leather chaps and feathered nipple brooches. “I still take inspiration from fine artists, and on quite a few projects my goal was to make my design and silhouette look exactly like my illustration. I always liked the idea of giving life to a character you draw by making it in 3D.”
The starting point for the whole collection was the idea of bringing together all the different facets of a person that, when combined, make a whole. “My purpose was to extend myself onto other people’s bodies by giving them parts of my own body cast in metal. Metal for me is a metaphor for strength. I am really interested in the idea of a fragile strength, something that looks unbreakable and powerful but is actually extremely delicate and vulnerable.” With its fierce, androgynous energy, the collection also offered a contemplation of gender roles today. “I explored a feminine masculinity or masculine femininity. I wanted to merge those two terms together. I think a breast shape made from cold hard metal going on a tailored coat, for example, is a nice representation of that.”
Metalwork was one of the most striking details of Pauline’s collection, and something she had to teach herself to do. “Before starting the collection I knew I wanted to make a lot of metal work to combine it with tailoring and different garments. But I had never properly worked with metal. I had to do a lot of research and experimentation on my own to figure out how to melt and cast metal, to create the pieces I had drawn. I found my own technique and ended up doing all the work in my room and my kitchen. Bless my flatmate Maria, who never complained about my mess in the kitchen.
“Some looks took me in total about a month each. But I made the opening look, the moldable suit, and the second to last one -- the “nip slip dress” as I like to call it, made of 100 nipples made of metal attached together on a tailored coat -- all in one week.” The finished product was proof that hard work pays off: not only did Pauline debut her collection to a round of applause, she was also awarded runner-up for the L'Oréal Pro Young Talent Womenswear award. It wasn’t just her mix of technically accomplished construction and rich art historical references that bagged her the prize -- within a bumper year for ambitious graduating designers, Pauline’s work stands out for its heady and perfectly judged dose of the surreal. Apparently, even fashion students need a bit of escapism now and then.
A few days after we speak, Pauline headed to Hydra, Greece, to shoot her collection with photographer and fellow Central Saint Martins graduate Pablo Di Prima. “I had planned to shoot with Pablo for a while,” the designer writes over email. “We met up recently at the pub to discuss the shoot and decided we wanted to go somewhere special. Since I was a child, I have visited the island of Hydra. My grandmother bought a house there about 40 years ago and settled there completely about 10 years ago. She speaks Greek, has about 15 cats and knows everyone on the island. It’s is a magical place."
The idea was to recontextualise Pauline's collection against unexpected, unconventional backdrops; bringing out the many different facets of her designs. “I have memories on every corner of the island, as I have spent so much time there, with my family and the people who I love", she explains. "I liked the idea of shooting my collection against Hydra's very raw landscape. The idea was to bring out all these characters I have created for my collection and to have them stand in such a contrasting landscape.” Shot over the course of two days, ensuring the duo maximised the soft light of morning and night, avoiding the fierce sun of midday -- all whilst scaling rocky cliff edges -- was no mean feat. “The island is like a big rock planted in the mediterranean sea. You climb everywhere, you can only walk around as there are no cars or mopeds. The whole shoot was an amazing experience!”
Photography Pablo Di Prima
Models Faye Damen, Yria Tamari, Skyrah Archer
Developed at Rapid Eye