MADE to measure isn’t only for haute couture. We talk to six designers and one collective who specialise in making one-off pieces as individual as the people who wear them
words and direction: Eilidh Nuala Duffy
photography: Ana Larruy
clothes: Claire Lemaigre
beauties: Clara Boulard, Julia Creuheras,
Mariona Valdes, Inez Valentine at Nii Agency and Wenchu Ye
Wenchu wears golden coiled serpent top and trousers for Maansi by Firpal Jawanda made from lehenga and salwar handed down from their mum
WORKING purely on a commission basis, South London-based Firpal Jawanda isn’t interested in making clothes for the sake of it. “You’re literally making something for someone to put on that isn’t you” so why, they ask, would you try to force your own perspective on them. When designing their graduate collection at Central Saint Martins in 2018 the casting was an essential part of the design. “I don’t do it alone at all” they explain. Jawanda was happy to develop a concept by themselves but only so far. To complete their vision they worked with their models for most of the year; what they felt comfortable in was key. “It was based around what they already wear and then what I want them to wear” bringing together two separate visions to create something with a bit more purpose.
Certain pieces in the collection, like the golden coiled serpent top and trousers featured above, were patched together from hand-me-down lehenga and salwar fabrics from their mum, adding another voice into the mix.
An interest in bringing different bits together runs deeper than just in their clothes-making. For over a year now their research has been based around chimeras in South Asian folklore and they’re still looking to these patchwork creatures and the stories built around them for ideas. Their final collection was just the beginning, “there’s so many scripts and stories and fairytales about these things, I wanna refine it into a more concrete narrative.”
For now a second collection is on hold while they brainstorm a show of tools and furniture – some pretty purposeful objects. They’re looking forward to taking their research and applying it to other design methods. So that means levelling up when it comes to their skills. Plans to build a kiln and learn metalworking are just the beginning. Watch this space.
Wenchu wears KALPAVRIKSHA will grant her destiny trousers for Soha by Firpal Jawanda
Julia wears Reconstructed Cotton Vest Top and Woollen Vent Shorts by Eliza Collin
“I’M TERRIBLE AT BEING ALONE” Eliza Collin confesses. For someone who hates isolation she’s chosen a pretty odd place to live. Last year she and her boyfriend, the painter Pietro Librizzi, moved to Petralia Soprana in Sicily to do up his grandmother’s old house. Situated high in the Madonie mountains, slowly but surely they’re turning it into an artist run space and residency in paradise. For Collin, who grew up in rural Cornwall, it’s been a return to the simple, community-centric lifestyle of country living.
Collin is back in London for an exhibition at Light Eye Mind in Arsenal. She and Librizzi are showing a body of work made from bits and pieces left behind in the house. “The nice thing about limiting yourself to recycling is you limit yourself to what you find” so she set herself the task of creating a whole collection from the best fabrics she could salvage. From old cashmere, linen, jersey and nylon she’s crafted beautiful, simple pieces you could “run for the bus in”. If it’s going to be a quality piece of clothing which stands the test of time, it has to be in a good fabric.
Moth holes have been worked around to shape jumpers which sit snugly around the torso. Old boxers are patched together to make a shirt. Designing is a slow process, mirroring Collin’s new pace of life, “you need to work out the best way to rework that material, it’s like sculpting.”
Inez wears Long Tight Top and Shirt Shorts by Eliza Collin
Clara wears dog hair hat and socks by Ilana Blumberg, underwear stylist’s own
“I HAD A DREAM to live in the countryside and have sheep and then make stuff out of them and sell it for like millions of pounds”, I sit cross-legged with Blumberg on the floor of her living-room-meets-studio which, since rifling through bags of dog hair, has started to smell overwhelmingly like a pet shop. “I kept looking up like how to have a goat in London or trying to get sheep”, a strange initiative by today’s standards, “but then I realised I already had a goat, it was just a dog”.
“This is an album I started making when he started getting old, in case he died”, she flips through pictures of Rex, a fuzzy Greyhound Bedlington, “he’s so beautiful”. Her three legged dog Toby “wasn’t as fluffy” so not as good a resource. Rex tragically died before she had “quite figured out what to do with dog hair” so for a while she didn’t have a source for her dream practice. Coincidentally, when petting a man’s dog on the Overground they got chatting. Lo-and-behold, the guy owned the grooming parlour House of Baxter. He saves big bags of chopped hair for Blumberg to pick up and use as she sees fit. For now most of the hair has only been suitable for felting, out of which she makes hats. Spinning requires longer hairs and makes a spiky, lumpy yarn which looks dauntingly uncomfortable.
It takes Blumberg about five hours to spin a ball of dog yarn (officially called chiengora) and “if you pay a spinner £10 an hour then that would cost you £50 for a ball of yarn” so it’s not cheap. But for Blumberg it’s the sustainable quality of hair and wool that’s so attractive. “I feel like if you make stuff you have to be responsible for where it comes from, where it goes and this is totally guilt-free” she explains, “apart from the fact that keeping a pet is maybe a bit questionable”, plus “when I have bits left over I can just chuck them out the window”. The surrounding birds, she tells me, love a bit of dog fluff for their nests.
Julia wears ruffs by Ilana Blumberg
GIOVANNA FLORES loves tension and pulling. Her work is instinctive, details aren’t planned – they’re draped. “I feel this little joy of having this fun little sparkly square and doing a dress around that”, it’s about feeling something out and letting the garment grow.
Flores holds on to fabrics, sometimes for years, before she figures out which piece she wants to use them for. Nothing, however, is ever made twice. Each piece from her collections is archived in a big cabinet in her bedroom. If someone requests a piece she’ll remake it in slightly different fabrics – she never has enough to make a exact replica. Plus it’s nice to have a bit of back and forth with her client about what they both think would feel good.
She makes everything from memory. “It’s easier for me to just read a piece” rather than work from sheets of pattern paper. Since her junior year at Pratt in New York she’s loved the toiles of her work far more than the finished product, “it was always such a bummer having the end product not be as good as that first thing because to me the first thing really felt like me, you could see my hand in it, it was exciting.”
After proving herself to her classmates and teachers by designing a whole collection constructed from pattern pieces, she was eventually left alone to do what she does best. Six collections later, she’s still doing it the way she wants.
Inez wears bandana top by Giovanna Flores, shorts stylist’s own
Clara wears top by Carole at The Gate, thong stylist’s own
FOUNDED in 1992 by Yarrow Housing, The Gate is an art collective of adults with learning disabilities based in Shepherd’s Bush. It’s a social centre for people to come and hang out, make art and play music. In the art classes which take place every weekday except Wednesday, members of The Gate are invited to make clothes. From big bags full of second hand clothing the artists choose the pieces they want to customise. They’re then handled pretty roughly, stripped to their core value as material and crafted into new wearable items. No potential fabric is left out: newspaper, plastic and fake hair are commonplace. T-shirts are treated as a blank canvas to cut, paste, paint and draw – new life is breathed into something destined for landfill.
Although a collective, the pieces are made by the individuals rather than as a group. Mary, who made the coat below, is more into drawing than constructing clothes so she chooses to paint on her pieces. Labake, another member, loves making clothes so they are all “able to dress up”. She takes her inspiration from The Sims 3 in which you can construct and then clothe characters, playing god in a microcosmic dream world. Due to her disability she isn’t able to use her left hand to its full extent but she wants “to show people with one hand like me that nothing is unachievable”.
Mariona wears hand painted coat by Mary at The Gate
Inez wears hand cable knitted vest by George Meadows, shorts stylist’s own
WHEN George Meadows’ mum taught him to knit just a couple of years ago he became “obsessed”. For him, it’s not simply a nice hobby, it’s his chosen medium. Meadows uses this traditionally feminine craft to make masculine tropes such as football jerseys and hi-vis vests. “It’s traditionally a female thing” he explains, so “it felt like a really good way to discuss the things I’m talking about”. The knitwear forces the viewer to reevaluate the meaning behind the objects “or makes you think about why they play a certain role for people”. For Meadows knitwear is protective. It’s warm, soft and “a real practical, physical manifestation of love and care”. He sees the workwear he studies as protective too, but in a psychological way.
He’ll start his MFA at Glasgow School of Art in September where he plans to continue knitting, incorporating metalworking into the craft. Both processes are “technically really similar” in the way that you use your hands to construct something purely from the material but are “read very differently as to who does them and what they’re for, I think there’s a lot to explore there”.
Julia wears hand intarsia knitted vest by George Meadows, underwear stylist’s own
Clara wears hand painted dress by Noon, thong stylist’s own
NINA PORTER’S concrete floor is stained technicolour from layers and layers of the ink she uses to paint scenes and symbols on each piece of fabric for her label Noon by hand. “You can see some flames over there”, she beckons to a couple of splodges at the edge of the mess in dark orange. There are remnants of little faces, too, if you can let your eyes relax enough to spot them.
“I’ve never been that phased by nudity”, she nods at the tops hanging next to her. But for Porter, using mesh is less free the nipple and more the perfect canvas for her drawings. “I have tried painting on to other stuff” like woven fabrics, but “the images are a bit more imposing”.
After graduating from Slade School of Fine Art in 2017 she needed a break from filmmaking, it had become tedious and long. She was looking for “something more spontaneous”. Being able to flog her work quickly and let it out into the world “instead of holding on to it and hating it” was the perfect change.
Inez wears hand painted top and underwear by Noon