In the excitement surrounding Hussein Chalayan’s current exhibit at London’s Design Museum I was reminded of a piece in the Royal College of Art’s Works-In-Progress show this winter that triggered the same wonder and excitement I felt upon first seeing the cool rigidity of Chalayan’s airplane wing inspired dress. Only this time it was textile student Claire McClachan who presented something with all the structure and intrigue of the iconic fiberglass airplane dress, only this time it was brilliantly executed in a mysterious combination of finely knit and woven yarns. I mined the epic pile of inspirational scribbles and paper scraps on my desk for the notes that would lead me to this innovative young designer from Aberdeen.
Can you tell me about the captivating skirt you displayed at RCA’s Works-In-Progress Show?
The piece I displayed at the was the culmination of my pre-collection work which focuses on the relationship between curve and angle. It is made of a knitted fabric I’ve developed which has some interesting properties; it is stiff yet has stretch, it has memory and can be moulded into different shapes. It allows me to create sculptural shapes for the body and challenges pre-conceptions of knitwear.
Alot to ask of the humble methods of knit and weave. Your fabric and its propertieswere so attractive and mysterious, with no visible structures to support it. Approaching it I thought it might even be textured clay.
People have preconceived notions about knitwear. That it’s dowdy, or crafty… done by your granny while on the sofa watching tellie. Only recently have we seen those really challenged in mainstream fashion by people like Azzadine AlaiaLouise or Louise Golden. Although my Grandma did teach me how to knit, I didn’t pick it up again until much later.
So what did you start out focusing on in art school?
In my BA program they stressed a traditional drawing base. So I did quite a lot of that.
Do you feel that skill has directed some of your textile work?
When I started in textiles I was more of a printer. After my BA in textiles I knew that I wanted to progress into fashion and approach fashion from this direction.
How might that background help cultivate a better fashion designer?
I think that some really interesting fashion comes from designers with textile backgrounds. The difference being that fabric tells you what to do instead of the other way around.
Are there places you typically look to for inspiration?
I am generally inspired my man made structures, I love architecture, engineering, aeroplanes, mechanics, technical drawings, plans etc.
Many may not realize but knitting and weaving, unlike other immediate or fluid forms of art require quite a bit of mathematics and calculating. Hear that kids? Maths may be useful yet, even for you aspiring artists!
Yes, it’s almost ritualistic and that is something I like about the process. It’s systematic, requires planning. This is image of Eden Project is from my sketchbook.
Any fashion designers you find particularly exciting at the moment?
There are several new designers out there doing interesting things. However, my true loves are the modern couture of Dior, the innovation of Chalayan, the consistently knock out collections of McQueen and the couture knitwear of Azzedine Alaia.
You’re currently designing a capsule collection for the RCA gradutate show which opens June 26th. Will we see more of this extraordinary fabric?
I’m going to continue to push the fabric I’ve developed here to see what it can do. I’ll probably include other weights of fabrics too and a range of shapes.
Thanks for letting us get to know more about you and your work Claire. Happy knitting!
I can’t wait to see what forms sprout from this designers imaginarium. She will be one to watch.
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- Royal College of Art: Fashion Design Graduate Show 2011 review. Womenswear Knitwear.
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