Ten Meets Andrew Bell, The RCA Graduate Finding Inspiration In Hoover Bags and Snickers Bars
Later today, the Royal College of Art will be showcasing their MA class of 2019, set to (as always) be a spectral chess of 52 looks, glimpses and perspectives in motion. Having seen snippets of these visions, I can confirm they are a cohort of creativity, with an emphasis on the group over the individual. “Everything at once!” Both the name of this year’s event and the attitude of the RCA’s Head of Fashion, the unstoppable Zowie Broach, who is looking to extend last year’s feast of the senses and explore the innumerable ways to skin a metaphorical fashion cat.
Out of the vast variety that will graduate amongst this showcase is the designer Andrew Bell, whose futuristic women’s tailoring collapses the traditional hierarchies that divide the materiality of luxury and lo-fi. Bell is a designer that observes the collapsing and reshuffling of fashion frameworks in a global context. This approach filters through his work: “I am constantly on a quest to find the beauty in the banal, the extraordinarily constructed in the mundane.”
Paradox and contradiction characterise all of his clothes: side-on perspectives are reflected in the cutting of his outerwear pieces from side profile, and the removal of all of the traditional layers of canvas, pad-stitching and interlining. “The common connective that runs through my work is the absence of the thread and the needle, in the construction of the pieces. Using sonic welding technology, I have aimed to engineer a future tailoring aesthetic,” he explains his techniques. In place of the stitch, Bell’s work is sealed with clean non-fray lines and graphic zig-zag edges. These serrated edges unravel on belts and scarfs, both fluid and graphic at once.
“I have aimed to adopt a hallmark of disposability, with the zig zag edge inducing reference to a Snickers bar wrapper, re-contextualising it as something beautiful, desirable and lasting,” Bell says. Prior to securing the prestigious scholarship to the RCA from Irish retail leader Kildare Village (and following in the footsteps of previous winner Michael Stewart whose sculptural jersey silhouettes glided across the MA programme in 2017), Bell worked in fast fashion where he felt inhibited by the constraints of an industry in overdrive. Winning the scholarship allowed him to critically evaluate the systems that bind the industry at present and to project a body of work innovative in its response.
Through this lens Andrew Bell began the MA with perforated clothing, cut from non-woven materials that he presented in towel dispensers, ready to be torn off and consumed. But these satirical snapshots quickly lost their lustre: “satire and cynicism is only ever funny in the moment, you can’t exactly stare at an Andy Warhol canvas for hours. I set out to capture something more subtle, that balanced between beauty and engineering, emotion and desire: something that could last”. In harmony with his juxtaposed aesthetic Bell explored the concept of luxury in an age of material excess: “within this saturated context of online shopping and expanding consumption I saw the traditional framework of luxury as stretched to the limited, and potentially at breaking point. My collection as such offers a snapshot of these micro and macro considerations; zooming in on innovative construction techniques and equally zooming out and evaluating the current fashion landscape.”
Looking at the beauty of the hoover bag and how it folds from 2-D to 3-D, but also exploring its symbolism of throwaway culture (used, filled, thrown away), Bell fused the constructionism of the hoover bag’s foldable qualities with the highly advanced design work that has gone into its construction. Subsequently, his outerwear coats fold flat, to a mere 1.5 cm thickness that slides from pivoting boxes, that mirror the proportion of silk scarf packaging. The vacuum cleaner bag isn’t the only point of reference here – the hoover flex takes a role as a Brutalist concrete rail to showcase the collection on in the showroom, a closer look at its design and pattern reminding you of the forward-thinking attitude of Issey Miyake’s Pleats Please.
For his graduate collection, Bell has collaborated with two of his fellow RCA students – collaboration always a key focus for any creative wishing to launch themselves into the fashion sphere – from the fabric co-created with Ciaran Moore, inspired by rusty non-slip grills and lining on envelopes, to the shoes with recent graduate Tabitha Ringwood. “The shoes are all made by hand using reclaimed leather: shoes that diametrically drives a wedge between high and low aesthetics,” Bell says. Their joint agreement on the beauty of the door stop’s form and function saw them cast their own door stop heel for their bespoke boots and mules.
It will be fascinating to see what’s next for Andrew Bell, him being the newest disruptive creator to enter the landscape of emerging design. Fashion needs people to constantly probe, rather than comment: His clinically-deep explorations about the future of luxury has resulted in designs of elegance, superior construction, and explorative depth.