I try to visit the University of Dundee Art, Design & Architecture degree show every year because it’s such an incredibly diverse exhibition of art and design work being generated in Dundee, but I particularly enjoy the textiles department because of my love of clothes and style. Each year, I wonder how the new cohort of graduating students can possibly surpass the last, but they do; they are equally as talented, their skills honed by the dedication and motivation of their lecturers, and yet they each produce a whole new set of colours, prints and ideas. This is what is so exciting about the degree show, the new textile design talent is produced right here in Dundee on an annual basis. We nurture them over the four years of their course of study, throw a huge party for them to celebrate their work, and then send them off into the world as an innovative, inspiring new generation of young designers, and ambassadors for our city.
There are always one or two collections that really stand out for me. Last year, it was those by Ryan Albert and Lewis Scott. This year, it was Stephanie Reid, who I met a couple of months ago to discuss her future after graduation in relation to her business venture Exposed Designers. Steph is an astute, motivated young woman who is keen to learn as much as she can as soon as she can. She has great plans for Exposed Designers (a platform that supports textile designers across the UK) as well as her own textile design work.
Talking of textiles, that’s why I wrote this post. Steph’s final year collection ‘Beneath the Canopy’ absolutely took my breath away. Her leafy prints caught my eye right from the moment I looked at her mood board, sketch book and sample rail and, when I walked into the exhibition space, her display of textiles confirmed my initial feeling of finding something special. Her collection ranged from long, flowing drapes that pooled into a puddle of green and white, while a re-upholstered vintage chair was a novel approach that, in my opinion, is one of the reasons Steph stood out from the crowd. Her rail displayed various prints on simple fabric, but each design was clearly connected to the next; her work, though distinct in each individual design, was superbly connected by a consistent theme.
When I asked Steph about her work, she sent me an interesting mix of technical detail and her inspiration for the collection. She said: “My graduate collection, ‘Beneath the Canopy’ explores the use of modern technology and how to retain a hand painted quality throughout the design process. As styles and trends are constantly changing, the need for fast and mass produced design work is increasing. Digital technology allows you to generate design work for a quicker turnaround than more traditional ways of printing, i.e. screen printing. However, during this process designs can become mundane and look completely computer generated. Focusing heavily on drawing and hand development has allowed me to ensure that the organic, vibrant feel from my sketchbooks is not lost in my final designs.
“My collection aims to reflect the beauty of the rainforest in an everyday environment. As I am heavily inspired by nature, this encourages me to explore ways to convey the paradisiacal sights of the outdoors through textiles. I feel it is important to reflect the vibrancy of nature through my work which is why I incorporate a painterly style and interesting marks which has ensured that my final designs do not become flat and lifeless.”
My personal favourites were the dark, luscious greens on stark white, and the slightly unexpected soft palette of dusky pinks and blues, again with leafy prints. I see myself in these designs; primarily a maxi wrap dress split to the thigh, but also billowing palazzo pants, and even a midi A-line skirt in one print, with another print on a shirt, tucked in, the clashing prints complementing each other (as Steph no doubt intended them to do). All perfect for my fictional travels to Cuba and/or Costa Rica, of course.
Steph’s work was so exciting because I can actually see her work in my wardrobe. For me, that’s when I know the simplicity of a textile design is more than just ‘really nice’. It’s wearable, it’s versatile (from fashion to home), and – even as a simple strip of fabric – it’s drawing from me an emotion, a feeling- so much so that I’m in talks with Steph about purchasing some of her fabrics.
Congratulations to all of 2016’s graduating students!