INTERVIEW Graduate Fashion Week 2015 featured more than 40 universities and showcased over 1,000 promising fashion graduates, and FashionUnited were on hand to watch the catwalk showcases and scour the portfolios to bring you the next generation of fashion designers you need to watch out for.
Our graduate profile series has already featured a number of menswear designers, reflecting the moment men’s fashion is having, just look at the recent London Collections: Men this area of fashion is booming, and there are many promising graduates coming through and today’s interview is with the talented Suzanna James from Winchester School of Art. Suzanna James is a knitwear specialist who was awarded the WSA Fashion Textiles Award by designer Peter Jensen for her ‘The Great Outdoorman’ graduate collection, inspired by the historic role of knitwear in regions such as the Shetland Isles and Guernsey, and FashionUnited caught up with her during GFW to find out her inspiration, plans for the future, as well as her advice for aspiring designers. Tell us about your graduating collection – what was the inspiration behind it?
Inspiration initially came from the outdoors; combining my interest in the natural world and fascination with historical knitting. I found the geographical homes of iconic stitches specifically inspiring. Fishermen jumpers became a common theme alongside the landscapes they came from and so the landscape paintings of Michael Broad were fundamental for my colour scheme and landscape inspired knit.What are the signature piece/pieces?
I worked hard developing a modernisation of traditional Guernsey styles, this has carried through my pre-collection into my final collection. I’d say that these, along with my felted landscapes, which I’ve been developing for a couple of years, are my signature pieces.Did you have a specific audience in mind when designing your final collection? Who is your target customer?
My collection is called ‘The Great Outdoorman’ and is aimed at those who want to wear garments that bring a sense of continued but modernised tradition with it. I hope that the audience of my work will have an appreciation of the great outdoors or that my work could create this interest. I’m passionate about sustainability and ethics and used a lot of ethical materials, this is inextricably linked to a respect for the great outdoors for me. Hopefully my collection could create respect for these interests through the materials used or could attract those who already keep this in mind.What made you choose to study at WSA?
I transferred there after two years study at the University of Westminster purely to specialise in knitwear. The facilities at WSA are second to none. This was the biggest factor in my choice.As well as university, have you completed any other work experience?
I went on a few work placements in the first couple of years in my studies, I had short term work experience at Nicholas Oakwell and James Long before a longer placement in my second year with Peter Jensen. I worked on the production team there, I was a huge fan of his SS13 collection which was the main reason I applied there.What do you plan to do now that you’ve graduated? What are your plans for your career in the future?
I’m going through the Texprint interview process at the moment, which is very exciting. There’s a possibility that I would be able to show my work at Indigo, Premiere Vision and in Shanghai which I’m really excited about! Otherwise, I am currently applying for internships, one day I would like to have my own business, but I think getting experience in the industry for a successful brand is a good idea at first.Where do you hope to see yourself/your label in five years time?
I’d like to be a knitwear designer for a high end/creative company or running my own business. I hope I’ll be able to continue the actual making and knitting process myself.What was your Graduate Fashion Week/catwalk experience like?
It was great! It was such an enjoyable end to my studies. They have been a hard slog at times and it made it all worthwhile, as I won this year’s Fashion Textiles Prize from WSA I have had a lot of interest in my work. I felt on top of the world!What designers/labels do you most admire? Who would you love to work or collaborate with?
Lately I have had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about where I would fit in the industry, it has been really encouraging as I have had a lot of feedback which points me in the direction I wanted to go. For example, I have always thought my work fitted well in boutique level brands, and a favourite of mine is Toast, and I have recently been encouraged to contact them, as well as Paul Smith and Anthropologie among others.What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers?
Everyone is so different, but I think it is a fairly overarching requirement that your studies and career have to be the top of your priority list, it takes a huge amount of hard work and dedication and you have to be prepared to give it your all! Having said that, you have to do what’s best for you personally and that means working in your own way, don’t feel pressured by the 24/7 working lifestyle if that doesn’t work for you.
Images: Suzanna James/WSA