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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An Interview with Knitwear Designers Brenda Aherne and Helen Delany of Electronic Sheep

Do fashionistas dream of Electronic Sheep? We get up close and personal with this exciting knitwear brand.

Written by Jessica Cook

Electronic Sheep

Known for their knitwear scarves, Electronic Sheep has carved itself a place in the market with its distinctive designs. Named after the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, this fashion brand has a futuristic feel of its own, and its unique patterns as well as trend-setting styles give it an exciting edge. These scarves are straight out of a sci-fi movie, while still effortlessly maintaining wearability. The patterns are creative with an urban edge, and the use of block colours and type reminds me of graffiti. They sell a mix of products including scarves, sweater dresses and bobble hats. All knit-tastic and colour-packed.

Brenda Aherne and Helen Delany founded Electronic Sheep way back in 1999. Co-Director Brenda has a BA in Fashion from the National College of Art & Design in Dublin as well as a post-graduate qualification in Knitwear from LSAD. Before Electronic Sheep she worked as a Knitwear Technology specialist and Accessories Designer. Co-Director Helen has a BA in Graphic Design and has studied at Dublin’s National College of Art & Design, Central Saint Martins and The School of Visual Arts in New York. Helen has designed and art directed for The Sunday Times Magazine, Swarovski, Glamour US and The V&A among others. I spoke to them both about Blade Runner, purl and what they’ve learnt so far.

Electronic Sheep AW 2013

If you could describe Electronic Sheep in five words, what would they be?
BOTH: Warm Stories Knit Fashion Pictures

How did you two meet?
HELEN: We met in the late seventies, when we were young kids. Brenda moved in next door to me and the friendship began when I was invited around to her garden. This was to take part in a home movie shot on the cine camera. We soon figured out that we both liked making stuff and designed some new outfits for my two Yorkshire Terriers. Then we parted for a few years when Brenda became a ‘bold’ goth pre-teen, and I was forbidden to hang out with her. From thirteen onward our renewed friendship took hold with a vengeance and we became badasses together instead!

Electronic Sheep AW 2013

How did you come up with the name Electronic Sheep?
HELEN: Brenda won an award after her Postgrad in Knitwear, and to claim the cash she had to set up a company. She needed something quick and relevant. At the time she used high tech Shima Seiki knitting machines, hence the ‘Electronic’ part, and everything was made with yarn/wool so that’s where the Sheep came in. I was working at Wired magazine and was immersed in the sci-fi world which also influenced the name.

Electronic Sheep AW 2013
Electronic Sheep

Can you tell me a bit more about your A/W13 collection Typhoon Puppets?
BOTH: The main influence for the Typhoon Puppets collection was meteorology, but parallel to that other themes developed – like the use of our own comic collaged throughout and references to cities. It is a personal statement about how we feel and as city people, a lot of the imagery is a result of what we see around us. For example the scarf ‘Open 24 Hours’ depicts a girl eating noodles in the rain, the signage and clothing are both Asian and English; these are the strongest changes we are observing right now – dramatic weather/mixing cultures. Typhoon Puppets refers to how we have little control over the world and therefore are puppets in a storm.

Electronic Sheep
Electronic Sheep

How do your two different backgrounds (Brenda in Fashion and Helen in Graphic Design) come into play when you’re creating a collection?
HELEN: Having worked together for so long our disciplines overlap and we have similar interests and backgrounds, so we are often drawn to the same things. Conceptually it is a fluid process but when it gets down to the details and production our two strengths play an important part. I get pretty technical with the computer stuff and drawings, and I’m a bit of a control freak about details but that’s the curse of Graphic Design! Brenda is a ‘proper knitter’ and obviously more precious about the fashion side and knit techniques. I think one discipline relies equally on the other for what we do – we have managed to push the detail in our jacquards because we know both sides of the process – graphics and knit.

Your collections have a vast range of influences, how do you get the inspiration for a collection?
HELEN: We live in two different cities – Brenda in Dublin and me in London. Between us we have also lived and worked in New York, Munich and Rome. I think this is a major influence on us, and we delve into our past a great deal subconsciously, as well as deliberately. So it is our own experiences giving us inspiration, and we also collect a lot of things, to the point of being hoarders. Whatever we feel most strongly about at the time of designing becomes the subject of the collection, but usually it has been brewing-up for about a year.

Electronic Sheep

Your AW12 collection Pink Noir led to ‘A Knitted Film’, do you feel all creative pursuits are interrelated?
BOTH: Yes we think so – we are interested in the idea and then the medium. It is important to respect and protect the expertise of each field but we like creative processes overlapping. If it makes it stronger we will collaborate with other designers/artists to keep the level of output high. For ‘A Knitted Film’ we collaborated with a video artist Cliona Harmey to get her slant on things, and we collaborated with a musician to do the soundtrack. So they are all interrelated, but some people are better at certain things than others.

Electronic Sheep
Electronic Sheep AW 2013

Is it important to you that your pieces are practical?
BOTH: At the moment: yes. When we started out we handmade a lot of pieces ourselves, and experimented with fabric items. But production got complicated and we found ourselves glueing on felt dots to skirts at 3am etc. While it was fun the downside was time and also durability. We like that our knitwear is easy to wear and it keeps you warm. Plus we don’t have to worry about a dot falling off.

Do you both knit as a hobby?
BOTH: In an ideal world we would knit on the porch in rocking chairs, but normally we never get around to it. Brenda is naturally really good at knitting and crochet, she can also make knitted dolls. I think knitting is really relaxing and I like doing it but it has taken me 2 years to do 20 rows of plain/purl.

Electronic Sheep
Electronic Sheep

You’ve been around since 1999, how do you think the market has changed in the last ten years or so?
BOTH: It has changed in many ways style-wise, but in our experience a significant change is that people are more aware of product sources. There is in an increase in people buying covetable, durable items as opposed to throw-away fashion. That is good for progressive designers and in the long term, for the environment. It has a long way to go, but if people continue to look at who is designing and making their clothes, the knock on effect is great and really positive.

Electronic Sheep
Electronic Sheep

Do you have anything big planned for the second half of 2013?
BOTH: We have a lot of shows coming up in 2013. We are part of an exhibition which will show our work and film at the Irish Embassy in London and other spaces in the UK. The AW13 collection is also in Fashion Shows in London, Dublin and New York in September. Every October we like to do a launch at the Old Shoreditch Station also known as Jaguar Shoes, which is a fun way to celebrate the new collection.

You can see the Electronic Sheep website here www.electronicsheep.com
Electronic Sheep

Photographs where clothes are modelled are by David Poole. Product photographs were kindly supplied by Electronic Sheep.

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