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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

London Fashion Week A/W 2011 Preview: Rachel Freire

In the second of our interviews in the run up to London Fashion Week, I met the adorable Rachel Freire at her studio, got a sneak peek at the A/W 2011 collection, and talked tea, boys, nipples and leopard-print irons…

Written by Matt Bramford

Nick25
Gemma Milly_Nicholas Stevenson
Illustration by Gemma Milly

Nicholas sent me his CD and tape, approved accompanied by a lovely letter about living and musing about in Bristol. One of my favourite pastimes – we may have been staring into the same middle distance…! Like a quill pen into my heart, recipe I am a sucker for a personal letter. Especially on such nice paper. After reading his scribe, I listened to Nicholas’s album: Phantom Sweetheart, available now on Hilldrop Records.

phantom sweetheart cover by nicholas stevenson
Album Cover, Phantom Sweetheart, Illustration by Nicholas Stevenson

It’s a splendid listen. Thoughtful and wistful. It’s like a less brash (blah). It has a Californian, surf sound, mixed with a smattering of New York – and the mighty UK. This mixture of locations is perhaps a reflection of Nicholas’s various home locations from birth. Since my initial listen, I now enjoy playing the album when I’m in my own little zone, cleaning. Because you could be anywhere. And if you don’t overly want to be where you are right now, there’s your ride. This interesting, sentimental man will take you away. Or indeed in my present case, scrub that flat ‘til in shines like the summer sun reflecting in my – prematurely purchased, cat eyed – sunnies. I miss you sun. I’d like to meet him to discuss travel, home, love and art. Oh yes, he’s an illustrator too. As Nicholas was so eloquent in his letter, I thought an interview would be perfect. So here it follows:

Nicholas Stevenson with phantom

Could you introduce yourself for us Nicholas…?
Hi there, my name is Nicholas Stevenson and I’m a songwriter and illustrator.

Where are you from originally and where do you reside now?
I currently reside in Cambridgeshire, but I was born in Scotland, lived on an island in the Seychelles for a while, and then moved back to England. I’m also half American so I sometimes have a confusing accent; it’s all a bit confusing actually. I usually give people fake biographies about growing up in the North Pole or being found in the wilderness to avoid explaining the complicated truth…

The Aeroplane Darling cover by Nicholas Stevenson
EP Cover, The Aeroplane Darling, Illustration by Nicholas Stevenson

How long have you been playing music? Could you describe it?
It would be hard to say when I started making music, but I found a tape of myself shouting a song I made about giraffes aged four the other day. The music in the shape it is now probably started about three years ago when I moved away to go to Art College. I had a band in high school that made fuzzy alt rock like the Smashing Pumpkins, but when we went our separate ways I started recording songs on my own in my room. It’s a sort of alt folk sound, with lots of layers, and a big emphasis on melodies.

How long have you been illustrating? Could you describe your style?
I’ve been drawing a lot longer than I’ve been making music, but I don’t think I could ever have considered myself an illustrator up until the last couple of years. I try to make work that’s fun, mysterious and occasionally a bit unsettling where possible.

chase in a sketchbook by Nicholas Stevenson
Chase In A Sketchbook, Illustration by Nicholas Stevenson

Do you use your illustration and music to compliment/influence each other?
Most definitely. I think both of these activities really boil down to an urge for me to be story telling. Both my music and illustration usually revolves around some sort of implied narrative and it’s pretty common for a drawing to influence a lyric or vice versa.

What inspires your creativity, both re: music and illustration?
Cosmography, polar exploration, time travel, childhood, memory, feral children, miniature painting, amateurs and outsiders; a lot of things that I read about or places I visit. I try not to rule anything out as potential fodder for making stories and art about.

bayonets album sleeve
Bayonets Album Sleeve, Illustration by Nicholas Stevenson

Have you ever had a ‘phantom’ sweetheart?
Well not a sweetheart per-se, but in the Seychelles I had two childhood ghost friends called Coco and Silent. Coco lived in a palm tree, and Silent lived on an abandoned ship. They were both only a foot tall, and wore white sheets with eyeholes, although I think Silent wore a baseball cap. The name ‘Phantom Sweetheart’ came about partly because all of my records have had terms of endearment in the name (Dearest Monstrous, The Aeroplane Darling) and I wanted this album to be really ghostly and spectral. Phantom Sweetheart just seemed to be the perfect title.

And what do you think about love and ‘being in love’ ? 
I think it’s a really nice special thing, I’m probably a bit of a softy and a romantic. It might seem like I’ve written a few songs from an anti-love position, but as Harvey Danger once said: “Happiness writes white”.

Have you been in love?
Oh yes mam.

hilldrop business card blank small
Hilldrop Business Cards, Illustration by Nicholas Stevenson

Who else is in your band?
Dan Lewis plays the drums, Tom Harrington plays the bass guitar and glockenspiel whilst Oliver Wilde plays lead guitar.

When/how did you get together?
I met Dan and Tom in Hereford where I was studying at Art College. My manager Joe introduced us and we started arranging my songs and got performing almost straight away as a three piece. Oliver joined the band just last autumn. He not only signed me to his label Hilldrop Records, but he also produced and recorded the album with me in his house in Bristol. We worked really closely together on Phantom Sweetheart and Oliver had a big impact on the way those songs turned out. Of course by the end he knew how to play them all back to front and it seemed like a no-brainer that he should come out on tour with us.

And who is your record label, and how did you get signed?
Hilldrop Records are my label. I think they requested I send them some of my demos in the mail over a year ago. They liked what they heard and I played some gigs for them and we hit it off pretty fast, I started making posters for their shows too. We were all coming from a similar direction and they were interested in promoting art and building it in to the performances. We’d got to know each other reasonably well by the time we decided to sign a contract and make the album.

hilldrop cult 1300_1300
Illustration by Nicholas Stevenson

What was it like going on tour? Did you get inspired?
It was a blast, definitely not glamorous, but great fun. Our car broke down on the way to a sold out show in Bakewell and we had to jettison half the gear and get a taxi. We arrived just in the nick of time with no drums or drummer, and played entirely unplugged to a wonderfully attentive packed room. We spent the night in a big old house; there were teddy bears in the beds. Bakewell is such an old fashioned and charming town (home to the bakewell tart) everyone was so kind and interesting there, it sort of inspired us to play more small places on tour. It doesn’t seem fair that the big cities get all the tour dates, where people can sometimes be so jaded towards the barrage of live music anyway.

Nick25

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Hopefully doing the same things I’m doing now, but more masterfully. I’m fully aware I have a long way to go and lots of room to grow before I’m satisfied… I just hope I’m fortunate enough to find time for it all.

What about now, what is coming up for you?
At the moment I’m working on a sort of audio zine project called ‘Dead Arm’. It’s going to be a series of cassette tapes, each with a different set of new songs and sounds. Its quite fun telling myself to sit down and make a continuous twenty-minute tape, rather than getting too hung up on individual songs; it makes me less precious and hopefully more inventive. I’m quite excited to see where it goes… 
You can buy Phantom Sweetheart, on Hilldrop Records, here.

Gemma Milly_Nicholas Stevenson
Illustration by Gemma Milly

Nicholas sent me his CD and tape, ailment accompanied by a lovely letter about living and musing about in Bristol. One of my favourite pastimes – we may have been staring into the same middle distance…! Like a quill pen into my heart, buy more about I am a sucker for a personal letter. Especially on such nice paper. After reading his scribe, I listened to Nicholas’s album: Phantom Sweetheart, available now on Hilldrop Records.

phantom sweetheart cover by nicholas stevenson
Album Cover, Phantom Sweetheart, Illustration by Nicholas Stevenson

It’s a splendid listen. Thoughtful and wistful. It’s like a less brash (blah). It has a Californian, surf sound, mixed with a smattering of New York – and the mighty UK. This mixture of locations is perhaps a reflection of Nicholas’s various home locations from birth. Since my initial listen, I now enjoy playing the album when I’m in my own little zone, cleaning. Because you could be anywhere. And if you don’t overly want to be where you are right now, there’s your ride. This interesting, sentimental man will take you away. Or indeed in my present case, scrub that flat ‘til in shines like the summer sun reflecting in my – prematurely purchased, cat eyed – sunnies. I miss you sun. I’d like to meet him to discuss travel, home, love and art. Oh yes, he’s an illustrator too. As Nicholas was so eloquent in his letter, I thought an interview would be perfect. So here it follows:

Nicholas Stevenson with phantom

Could you introduce yourself for us Nicholas…?
Hi there, my name is Nicholas Stevenson and I’m a songwriter and illustrator.

Where are you from originally and where do you reside now?
I currently reside in Cambridgeshire, but I was born in Scotland, lived on an island in the Seychelles for a while, and then moved back to England. I’m also half American so I sometimes have a confusing accent; it’s all a bit confusing actually. I usually give people fake biographies about growing up in the North Pole or being found in the wilderness to avoid explaining the complicated truth…

The Aeroplane Darling cover by Nicholas Stevenson
EP Cover, The Aeroplane Darling, Illustration by Nicholas Stevenson

How long have you been playing music? Could you describe it?
It would be hard to say when I started making music, but I found a tape of myself shouting a song I made about giraffes aged four the other day. The music in the shape it is now probably started about three years ago when I moved away to go to Art College. I had a band in high school that made fuzzy alt rock like the Smashing Pumpkins, but when we went our separate ways I started recording songs on my own in my room. It’s a sort of alt folk sound, with lots of layers, and a big emphasis on melodies.

How long have you been illustrating? Could you describe your style?
I’ve been drawing a lot longer than I’ve been making music, but I don’t think I could ever have considered myself an illustrator up until the last couple of years. I try to make work that’s fun, mysterious and occasionally a bit unsettling where possible.

chase in a sketchbook by Nicholas Stevenson
Chase In A Sketchbook, Illustration by Nicholas Stevenson

Do you use your illustration and music to compliment/influence each other?
Most definitely. I think both of these activities really boil down to an urge for me to be story telling. Both my music and illustration usually revolves around some sort of implied narrative and it’s pretty common for a drawing to influence a lyric or vice versa.

What inspires your creativity, both re: music and illustration?
Cosmography, polar exploration, time travel, childhood, memory, feral children, miniature painting, amateurs and outsiders; a lot of things that I read about or places I visit. I try not to rule anything out as potential fodder for making stories and art about.

bayonets album sleeve
Bayonets Album Sleeve, Illustration by Nicholas Stevenson

Have you ever had a ‘phantom’ sweetheart?
Well not a sweetheart per-se, but in the Seychelles I had two childhood ghost friends called Coco and Silent. Coco lived in a palm tree, and Silent lived on an abandoned ship. They were both only a foot tall, and wore white sheets with eyeholes, although I think Silent wore a baseball cap. The name ‘Phantom Sweetheart’ came about partly because all of my records have had terms of endearment in the name (Dearest Monstrous, The Aeroplane Darling) and I wanted this album to be really ghostly and spectral. Phantom Sweetheart just seemed to be the perfect title.

And what do you think about love and ‘being in love’ ? 
I think it’s a really nice special thing, I’m probably a bit of a softy and a romantic. It might seem like I’ve written a few songs from an anti-love position, but as Harvey Danger once said: “Happiness writes white”.

Have you been in love?
Oh yes mam.

hilldrop business card blank small
Hilldrop Business Cards, Illustration by Nicholas Stevenson

Who else is in your band?
Dan Lewis plays the drums, Tom Harrington plays the bass guitar and glockenspiel whilst Oliver Wilde plays lead guitar.

When/how did you get together?
I met Dan and Tom in Hereford where I was studying at Art College. My manager Joe introduced us and we started arranging my songs and got performing almost straight away as a three piece. Oliver joined the band just last autumn. He not only signed me to his label Hilldrop Records, but he also produced and recorded the album with me in his house in Bristol. We worked really closely together on Phantom Sweetheart and Oliver had a big impact on the way those songs turned out. Of course by the end he knew how to play them all back to front and it seemed like a no-brainer that he should come out on tour with us.

And who is your record label, and how did you get signed?
Hilldrop Records are my label. I think they requested I send them some of my demos in the mail over a year ago. They liked what they heard and I played some gigs for them and we hit it off pretty fast, I started making posters for their shows too. We were all coming from a similar direction and they were interested in promoting art and building it in to the performances. We’d got to know each other reasonably well by the time we decided to sign a contract and make the album.

hilldrop cult 1300_1300
Illustration by Nicholas Stevenson

What was it like going on tour? Did you get inspired?
It was a blast, definitely not glamorous, but great fun. Our car broke down on the way to a sold out show in Bakewell and we had to jettison half the gear and get a taxi. We arrived just in the nick of time with no drums or drummer, and played entirely unplugged to a wonderfully attentive packed room. We spent the night in a big old house; there were teddy bears in the beds. Bakewell is such an old fashioned and charming town (home to the bakewell tart) everyone was so kind and interesting there, it sort of inspired us to play more small places on tour. It doesn’t seem fair that the big cities get all the tour dates, where people can sometimes be so jaded towards the barrage of live music anyway.

Nick25

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Hopefully doing the same things I’m doing now, but more masterfully. I’m fully aware I have a long way to go and lots of room to grow before I’m satisfied… I just hope I’m fortunate enough to find time for it all.

What about now, what is coming up for you?
At the moment I’m working on a sort of audio zine project called ‘Dead Arm’. It’s going to be a series of cassette tapes, each with a different set of new songs and sounds. Its quite fun telling myself to sit down and make a continuous twenty-minute tape, rather than getting too hung up on individual songs; it makes me less precious and hopefully more inventive. I’m quite excited to see where it goes… 
You can buy Phantom Sweetheart, on Hilldrop Records, here.


Rachel Freire S/S 2011, site illustrated by Krister Selin

‘I’m terrible at interviews’ I announce shortly after arriving at Rachel Freire‘s East London studio. A bit of a melodramatic introduction, viagra 60mg maybe; but as I now sit staring at my notes which resemble the scribbles of a toddler I now know why I said it.

My trouble is that I just like to listen to people. I get lost in conversation and forget to write anything down. I refuse to record interviews because I hate the sound of my own voice and I find it a bit of a distraction, viagra sale so my erratic notes are all I have to record our meeting. Sometimes, if I meet up with somebody and they don’t say much, I can manage it; when I meet people like Rachel Freire – gorgeous, mesmerising, opinionated, articulate – I’m left with nothing.


A/W 2010, illustrated by Abby Wright

Rachel is based at the Dace Road studios, home also to the likes of Christopher Raeburn (featured in ACOFI) and Rui Leonardes. Ex-tennants include Mark Fast and Mary Kantrantzou who’ve now moved to Shacklewell Studios, aka hipster central, but despite her successes, Rachel’s staying put. I meet her on a grey Saturday afternoon, she’s been up for most of the night, but you wouldn’t notice despite her protests.

”Whoever says January is a dead month is LYING!’ Rachel exclaims as she makes the tea. I do find that I get on better with people who drink lots of tea. I just don’t trust people who don’t like it. I know, as she gives them a stir, that we’re going to get along. We sit at a big oak desk in the centre of the studio, Rachel lights a cigarette and we begin our conversation. I ask Rachel how it’s going, and she seems pretty positive. She has an army of interns and creates ‘a sense of family’ in her studio, which is adorned with all sorts of interesting antiquities like skulls and baseball paraphernalia. A sign above the door, Rachel’s mantra, reads ‘IF IN DOUBT, SPRAYPAINT IT GOLD,’ a statement I wholeheartedly agree with.


A/W 2010, illustrated by Naomi Law

Rachel brands herself as a ‘costumier’ who happened to fall into fashion, which explains her unique and innovative approach to dressing. ‘I’ll never lose track of my costumier routes,’ she tells me, ‘I’m pretty anti-fashion. It dictates what we wear and how we feel, and I’ve never subscribed to that.’ Her models ‘need to have an arse’ and she’s conscious of the responsibility a fashion designer must adopt, whether that be ethical or environmental. ‘I am the cheapest person!’ Rachel admits, ‘but I will never shop in Primark. I look at the clothes and think ‘somebody suffered for this’. I want customers to hold things knowing somebody’s crafted it – that something is special.’


S/S 2011, illustrated by Gemma Milly

Rachel won’t compromise. She’s staying true to herself and won’t put her name on anything that she hasn’t rigourously vetted and knows exactly where everything has come from. Rachel is as much an ethical designer as any of the Estethica designers – if not more so. She values the work of other people and believes that you ‘have to be ethical in so many different ways’. How you treat your interns, where you source your fabrics, how you communicate with suppliers – all these things, Rachel believes, are necessary for good business, not just opting for ethical fabrics.


S/S 2011, illustrated by Bex Glover

Rachel’s previous collections provide sculptural, architectural pieces with innovative techniques (read all about her glow-in-the-dark S/S 2011 collection here) and it seems A/W 2011 will be even more exciting. As we chat about the boy Rachel’s texting and get mixed up with whose tea is whose (easy mistake – Rachel’s recently got a new mug but the Queen of Fucking Everything option she’s given me still has sentimental value) we’re surrounded by leather nipples. REAL nipples.

Rachel and her team of merry men (and women) have been hard at work in the previous weeks to marry them together to make roses. They’re absolutely beautiful to touch and look at but there’s something rather unsettling about them. ‘That’s my aesthetic!’ Rachel declares.

A sneak peek at some of the fabrics, techniques and colours Rachel’s preparing to show this week:


A/W 2010, illustrated by Joana Faria

Rachel’s also working with Ecco, who are developing processes for leather manufacturing for couture houses. Rachel has devoted a lot of her time visiting the Netherlands tannery working alongside them in their quest to transform how we produce and approach leather goods. ‘I’m obsessed with materials!’ Rachel tells me. ‘It’s much nicer to make a jacket out of something that you’ve had an input in from the start.’ She shows me a new process she’s working on (damned if I can remember the name) which gives leather an ethereal ripple-like pattern that looks as if it’s been photoshopped. I’m speechless, and we both sit caressing it for a while until I can think of something to say.


S/S 2011, illustrated by Yelena Bryksenkova

So what’s up next for Rachel? Well, A/W 2011 looks set to be her bravest collection yet, and I had a sneak peek at some of the fabrics, textures, techniques and cuts she’s working on. On a grander scale, she ‘loves to teach’ and wants to establish a system where the efforts of designers to instil good practises and skills into their army of interns is recognised. She describes mainstay teaching as ‘box ticking’ and, as someone whose never done what she was told to do, feels there’s more to give in a studio-based environment than anything in the classroom. I hear ya, love.

Rachel’s excited about the future. She plans to dazzle once a year at the A/W 2011 shows while maintaining commissions with an ever-expanding roster of clients and other projects during the rest of the year. She also wants to live on a boat and explore costume design in cinema. She references Jean Paul Gaultier‘s work on flicks like The Fifth Element and is excited by the prospect of applying her unique aesthetic to film. It all comes down to financing. ‘Money dictates and creates a standard,’ Rachel tells me. ‘The system to support new designers is very small, but I won’t compromise my values. I’m here to stay.’

I should bloody hope so.

Rachel’s original draqing for her collaboration with Neurotica:

All photography by Matt Bramford

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