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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with textile designer Emma J Shipley

Emma J Shipley is a rising star in the world of textile design, earning recognition with an extraordinary collection of scarves featuring her pencil drawings of nature's finest creations.

Written by Miranda Williams

Emma J Shipley by Natalia Stuyk

Emma J Shipley S/S 2012 by Natalia Stuyk

It was Liberty of London’s Best of British open day, and I can remember quite clearly the moment that Emma Shipley pulled a selection of fine pencil drawings from her bag. Quiet gasps came from around the table. We all pulled the papers closer to our faces, screwing up our eyes at these exquisite drawings, to see if they were really the work of hand. The excitement doubled when she delved into her case and produced a handful of her intensely detailed and rich coloured scarves. Luxurious, conversational pieces, and undoubtedly delicate works of art.

Gorilla-emma shipley
Gorilla drawing courtesy of Emma J Shipley

She then told us about herself – a graduate from the MA Textiles course at the Royal College of Art, who loves drawing (spending up to 10 hours a day with pencil in hand). At the RCA she won prizes and scholarships, and achieved further recognition when her first collection, Hyper Nature, was bought by Browns – a commendation that most graduates can only dream of. Emma Shipley’s print collection was spotted in this review of the RCA’s 2011 Textile Design show by Amelia. Emma spoke to me ahead of the launch of her label at London Fashion Week A/W 2012.

Emma J Shipley by Alejandra Espino
Emma J Shipley by Alejandra Espino

I was first introduced to your designs at the Liberty of London Best of British open day – what have you been up to since then?
I haven’t stopped! I won Texprint’s pattern prize, and with this, exhibited my work in London, Paris, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and also visited the silk mill industry area in Como. As well as working on my scarf label, I’ve been pursuing an exciting collaboration with jewellery designer Tomasz Donocik, on a collection of bejewelled silk scarves. These have so far previewed at Garrard and Harvey Nichols, with the full collection to launch at London Fashion Week.

I’m also currently working on an exciting commission for an American fashion corporation, using mathematical algorithms and programming techniques I developed during my MA at the Royal College of Art to produce randomised, non-repeating patterns. Aside from this, I’ve been producing limited edition fine prints from my drawings, and working on some special commissions for fashion, interior and automotive clients.

Emma J Shipley by Fay Newman
Emma J Shipley by Fay Newman

Can you explain a little about your passion for drawing, and how you moved into scarf design.
It’s something that I’ve always done and loved – it comes naturally and is a part of me. Through studying textiles at the Royal College of Art, I began to focus more and more on my drawing, devoting more time to this stage of the design process, to create something unique and full of soul. The drawings have really become artworks, that are translated onto textiles – I felt that these artworks lent themselves perfectly to luxury scarves, which can be collectable pieces and can be seen as a canvas.

Can you explain a little about the process that goes into making your scarves? What materials are you working with?
The designs are digitally printed directly onto the fabric using the latest technology, as this gives the best results with all the fine detail in my drawings, as well as being more environmentally friendly than traditional printing methods. Fabrics in the new collection include cashmere, modal and Italian silks.

Emma Shipley
Photo courtesy of Emma J Shipley

You outsource most of your production. What is it like managing this? Any lessons learnt?
Absolutely! The transition from college and making everything yourself, to having small runs of samples made, to outsourcing larger production orders is huge. However I don’t think the lessons can really be taught, and at every stage I have felt that I’ve learnt more and more, which hopefully will help me in the future. In fact setting up my own label straight from college has been a steep learning curve in every way.

Emma J Shipley by Katie Chappell
Emma J Shipley by Katie Chappell

You’ve said that your influenced by Darwinian evolution and nature – can you explain where these influences come from?
It’s difficult to explain my passion for this – I think nature is just something that I’ve always been inspired by and drawn to. It’s such a rich and unending source of inspiration and I think the most spectacular and beautiful things in the world are found in nature. An interest in the theory of evolution has also always been there – for me our inextricable link to all other living things inspires so much wonder and awe

I share your love of Walton Ford – what do you find inspiring about his works?
His subject matter and botanical influences are close to my interests, and I love the way he subverts traditional references (botanical illustration) by adding sinister details and exploring the darker side of nature. I also love the way he plays with scale.

What about the new collection – what can we expect?
A continuation of the natural, scientific and mathematical influences. Vibrant colours as well as bold monochrome. A collaboration with jewellery designer Tomasz Donocik, on a collection of bejewelled silk scarves with silver and gold. New fabrics including cashmere and silk chiffon, and some stunning cashmere jacquard woven scarves.

Emma J Shipley by Alejandra Espino
Emma J Shipley by Alejandra Espino

You are launching your new collection at LFW… What expectations do you have?
Exciting and intimidating…! I don’t know what to expect as it’s my first London Fashion Week - the most important thing for me would be to get a great response to the collection, and also of course to meet buyers from stores I would like to be stocked in.

What else will 2012 hold for you?
Exhibitions and launches of wallpapers and interior fabrics with some big interior companies later in the year.

Emma J Shipley will be showing her new A/W 2012 collection in Somerset House, at the Exhibition for London Fashion Week, February 17th – 22nd 2012.

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