With Graduate Fashion Week (GFW) 2018 firmly noted in our diaries, Kerry Curl catches up with Norwich University of the Arts Alumni Jack Wildish to look back at his time studying BA (Hons) Fashion, GFW17 and his thoughts on finding your way as a young designer in the fashion industry.
Q) Hi Jack, we saw your collection at GFW17, it was memorable not just for the colours and textures but also for the way you used your designs to question gender boundaries. What was your inspiration behind this collection?
A) My collections inspiration derives from a combination of things. The initial source was from a scene featured in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet in which Romeo's best friend dresses up in drag and sings Candi Staton's disco hit “Young hearts”. I took inspiration from my hero David Bowie and his everlasting and constant ability to redefine what a man can be and how he can present himself through clothing. I always wanted my collection to represent a reflection of a movement and represent some form of social change or social opinion. Otherwise what does it stand for? The ultimate goal was to see how far I could push what a menswear collection could be. By selecting techniques mainly featured in “female” based clothing and using a colour pallet and fabric selection which wouldn't necessarily be seen featured heavily in a menswear collection. Blurring lines between masculinity and femininity. There are deliberate decisions within my collection which are an obvious contradiction, for instance naming it “The Sad Boys” whilst visually it is something quite garish and seems to celebrate fun and quirkiness was something heavily considered.
Q) Your collection hit the runway to Candi Staton's "Young Hearts" which frankly sent a wave of energy through the room. Does music have a huge influence in your work and/or creative process?
A) Music always tends to be the starting point of many of my projects whilst at university. I think to be able to take something just from sound and create something visual is so fascinating. I think music and fashion really do go hand in hand. Especially in this day and age where we no longer see different groups of bold youth movements dressing a certain way because of the music they listen to. For me, that's so sad because these movements have essentially been dissolved with the fast-moving modern world. In terms of Candi Staton - Young Hearts, it was always something I was going to come back to; to bring the collection round full circle. The collection changed so much throughout the year. It did start of much more happy and optimistic and turned into something slightly more dark so to honour my original starting point by using that song whilst the collection went down the run way was very important to me.
Q) You studied at Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) but you grew up in Essex. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
A) Moving from Essex to Norwich when I was 18 to study at NUA was something I was so ready to do. In fact, I was dying for it. Growing up in Essex when TOWIE was at its height of fame, I felt like I didn't fit in with most people. So Norwich for me, was a breath of much needed fresh air. Whilst in Essex I studied Art and Design at college which in a way acted as a safe bet simply because we were able to explore all kinds of avenues within the visual creative industry. It took 2 years of college for me to really realise that I was in fact dying to do fashion. Something I knew from a young age I had an interest in and really wanted to explore. You could say I put it on the back burner, as growing up in a small town a male doing fashion still wasn't the done thing. Luckily I had friends and family around me who always did and still do to this day support me in my decisions. I had made things from such a young age. Mainly with my nan. I guess you could say she is the one I have to thank for my love of sewing and bringing an idea together within fabric. I recall making a lot of teddy bears and puppets who had perfectly made little dresses. Often meaning I’d beg my nan to cut up some of her favourite clothes simply because I loved the fabric (thanks for that Nan!) I realised whilst at college my ideas often diverted from the past as opposed to something that is yet to be seen or has a futuristic feel to it. I would often pick a place, a person or a song to inspire my college projects. Following from that I took film and music videos into account to allow inspiration too. Taking something that is existing and turning it into some kind of garment was something that fueled my mind and got me to the place I am today as a young designer.
Q) Can you talk us through your final year at NUA?
A) To describe that final year is difficult. It was 10 months where a lot happened quickly within my life. I won't lie in saying it was a year where I was pushing myself more than I ever had done before. In terms of the creative process from sketch to final garment it was very lengthy. Maybe more so than I’d anticipated. For me, I knew I was a designer from the get go. To have to make as well I knew would be a challenge. Starting with mood boarding and extensive sketching allowed me to push the collection into many different places to start with. I must have designed 150+ garments within the first term. Things were ever changing… the tiniest little re-jig on a sketch of a garment meant sometimes going back to the drawing board with the pattern to re-make in calico. This happened to me a few times. Hours were also pretty extensive working 9am-9pm days. However I felt it within my power to say if I had enough and go home for the day or take a half an hour break. I sometimes felt knowing when to stop and if I was pushing myself to places I couldn't go on a particular day was my saving grace. Even with a 12 hour day that still meant going home and doing further work during the nights and weekends. It was sometimes hard to switch off from studio life. Selection day for GFW17 was also a day where I think my head was in a make-believe kind of place. It was so hectic and very quick. Everyone was there to lend a helping hand. My selection time with Betty Jackson, Hillary Alexander and of course my amazing course leader Sue Chowles seemed to be over within 30 seconds (it was much longer than that, it just felt very quick) I remember going in feeling very prepared and then leaving as though my brain and tongue weren’t connected! I am very gratefully to have learnt later that as soon as I left they had decided straight away to put me into the show.
Q) How is post uni life going for you so far?
A) I never expected to leave uni and be straight in a job within the fashion industry. In fact, I needed a break from it all. I really had worked myself to the bone so I needed to step away from that world for a few months. I feared if I kept pushing myself towards it straight away I’d lose the love for it and that's something I obviously didn't want to do. In the Autumn I decided to come back to things a little more so by meeting the lovely Marie Oakes who runs Trend Academy. I managed to get her email from an old course mate. Meeting Marie put me in a great mind set to push myself whilst living in Norwich. Norwich really is crying for some kind of fashion movement. There are so many young creatives here who could take the world by storm! You could say that is what I want to work on most right now during my post uni life. Post uni life as a whole has its struggles, I won’t beat around the bush. It's like a big hole without university. A lot of my friends aren't here anymore. I miss the staff and coming to a motivating, fun, hard working environment every day. I wish I had soaked up the fact I was surrounded by so many young creatives creating their craft. I had been finding it difficult to even find a “normal” job. I always go on about how much fashion and university meant to me which I think puts a lot of fear in “normal” employers. However, I will never lose the thirst to get into this industry. I have been put on this planet to have a stamp on the fashion industry somehow. It really is time for a revolution. Especially in a world that's full of so much uncertainty.
Q) What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing emerging designers in the industry right now?
A) I really do believe there's a never-ending list as to what the challenges are getting into this industry for young creatives. I really do believe it does start with or revolve around money. Had I had lots and lots of savings I could have moved to London to live and then find a job within the fashion industry. Unfortunately I couldn't do that so decided to stay in the place I felt most comfortable in the world, the place I now class as my home, Norwich. Straying from this is the fact that so many fashion companies expect you to work for free for months… How on earth is this at all feasible? Of course this would add up to making your CV look much better making you look much more employable but it just seems like a silly way in. I think it is such a competitive industry where there seems to be a lot of loop holes. I really do feel as though creating contacts is something I look back on feeling as though perhaps I didn't meet enough people. We were encouraged to go out there and do it ourselves and at no point did I expect anything on a plate nor am I complaining what we got from NUA as I loved my uni. So perhaps it's just in hindsight that I can say I should have actively gone out there and done that but what with the stress of uni it wasn't on my mind. I just think how am I meant to get into this industry not knowing anyone already established? I really do think that the three years after graduating will just entail hard graft and climbing the ladder to a better place. It's just the initial “how do I get a foot in the door” type thing that really does leave me puzzled.
Q) What continues to inspires your creativity?
A) As cheesy as it may sound the thing that continues to inspire me is life itsself. Day to day my mood can change a lot depending on what's going on, what I’ve watched or what I’m listening to. The idea of creating from the past is something that will always continue to inspire me. Each day brings a new thought or idea. Life seems to be ever changing and evolving. I’m not sure if that's because of the speed of the world or if I am just at an age where I’m soaking everything up like a sponge. I think following from this, my personal experiences in life fuel my inspiration. I think to be able to create things that are personal to the creative is something to be commended. It's not easy ripping your heart and thoughts out to the world and having to explain them. I wouldn't have it any other way though.
Q) What does your creative process look like? How do you get from inspiration to a finished design?
A) This is probably the hardest thing to explain in a simple way. I always struggled to get from point A to point B. Being such a perfectionist I wanted things to be created in a way it would pay justice to the original design or thought. For me it would often start with an image. Then onto extensive designing. Often, I would draw at least 3-5 different versions of the same garment. Colour and fabric would then come into effect often changing the design once again. Then the hardest part for me came which was flat pattern cutting. I would normally start off of a basic block and add or take away if needs be. Quickly making up different prototypes to hang on the stand and then take in or add again if needs be. Moving back to flat pattern and then finalising the design in a 3D form. I always tried to work in the most methodical way possible but sometimes things did become kind of erratic. But I guess that was me developing as a designer/maker. Throughout, I would always try to focus on that original starting point. Whether it be an image, a thought, song or a film. It was integral for me to not stray too far away from that point.
Q) Your work seems to have a real 'wear what you want' ethos to it, which we absolutely salute you for. Do you feel this is an attitude that is spreading through the industry in a serious way that has longevity?
A) For me, there are too many rules to fashion. It's boring and frustrating to have so many unwritten restrictions on what people wear. Humans have evolved to be much more understanding and open minded in the last ten years or so. I think a sense of youth being more in control to how the world goes round has allowed for this change in social attitudes. I think we’re only seeing the beginning of this attitude spreading through the industry. I think give it 10-20 year's time, the fashion industry will be a different place simply because the world will have changed and people who are young now or have a young mentality will make this world a much more free place. It's very apparent that many designers from what they say in interviews, to what they present in their collections are having attitudes to fashion that weren't around 15 years ago. So to answer the question simply, yes. I do think it has longevity. Very much so.
Q) Do you have any dreams and aspirations for the future you can tell us about (and inspire us with)?
A) I have plenty of things I want to do with my life in terms of what I studied. I am quick to label myself as a menswear designer but I do eventually want to go back into doing womenswear too but for now so long as we differentiate clothes by gender I will identity as a menswear designer. I would love to be able to work for myself creating garments, pushing boundaries of what can be. I am keen to stick to using unusual colour fabrics to smash this preconceived idea of what men should wear. I do however love the idea of working for certain brands or designers. I’ve always loved Topman. I think what they’re doing with their Topman design collections is great. One of my heroes, Dries Van Noten is someone who I very much aspire to be like, the way he thinks and creates, I feel is very similar to me. Paloma Spain are doing crazy things for their fashion industry right now too. I very much looked to them whilst creating my own collection. Finally, and certainly by no means least Gucci is really my heart and soul. I would be more than happy to work for, or under and within any of these companies as I do believe they are pushing menswear into a good place. A place where the menswear garments sit equally alongside the womenswear. I know I am meant to do something with my heart, mind and hands. I have it within me to really try and make some kind of impact. I am determined to get somewhere with this. You could however say is that my “dream” is to make fashion less rigid. To make it more personal to individuals. The world is full of so many different people. Gender, age, race sexuality, class… It's so far and wide now. The industry needs to accommodate to a rapidly diverse world.
Q) And finally, any advice for anyone thinking of studying fashion?
A) Go for it. If your heart tells you that this could be something that frees your heart and mind, honestly, go for it. Just go into this thing with huge, big open arms. It's going to be a rollercoaster for sure. But one that's going to be worth it. Don’t be afraid to say your opinion, ask for help, or not know what to do. It's your opportunity to experiment and find your craft and more importantly who you are, and what you can do within the world of fashion. There really are no rights and wrongs when starting a career in fashion as you’re soaking so much up. Most importantly, if it's your dream but you think you’re not good enough or you don't feel as though you fit into the fashion mould just go for it, break the boundaries. If you go into this thing and have days where you feel like you can't do it, or you’re not going to do your best because of other things happening just take some time away. Don't let life kill your passion. Fashion can be very consuming and quickly becomes your life from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep. Never let anything come between your love for it. The creative industry as a whole can seem to change rather rapidly which was something I noticed during my three years of studying fashion. Never take any advice or constructive criticism for granted. Most the time people who are giving you that advice or criticism know exactly what they’re saying and are trying to help you. Most importantly never forget the amount of people round you who are doing the exact same thing as you. Talk to each other. Find common connections. Never forget the people who went along with you on that journey.
To discover more about Jack visit his Instagram HERE.