We chatted with recent fashion graduate Annabel Dowsing who told us all about the inspiration and design process behind her latest collection ‘Men at Work’.
1. Your graduate collection ‘Men at Work’ makes a very powerful statement about street harassment and is something you yourself have been subjected to. Is your design work usually influenced by your own personal experiences?
I am very lucky to have not experienced a serious case of street harassment. Some stories that I came across whilst completing my initial research for the collection were deeply upsetting! I’m sure I speak for a lot of women when I say that cat-calling makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable – such as leering and sexual remarks just because I chose to wear a skirt on that particular day. The exact point when I decided that street harassment was going to be my theme was whilst struggling through the university car park with all my work. My attention was drawn to a group of workmen standing by a white van, all staring at me and giving dirty smirks. One elbowed his friend and started whistling and shouting after me. I felt so embarrassed but pretended to be oblivious. It made me think about all the times that I haven’t done something about it or told someone, as though it’s okay for me to act like nothing happened. Whether it’s a wolf whistle from a group of builders or a physical grab, it should not go unnoticed.
2. What effect did you want to have on those who viewed this collection? Has the reaction so far been what you expected?
I would never expect street harassment to change from one graduate collection; my intention was mostly to make a mockery out of it! I wanted to make people laugh but also to think at the same time. For me, personally, it has been a very thought-provoking collection. I got an amazing array of reactions at my graduate show, where my collection walked down the catwalk to a remixed version of ‘My Humps’ by The Black Eyed Peas. Many people were coming up to me afterwards and sharing their own street harassment experiences and it received a lot of laughs and a lot of gasps – one lady asked whether I, myself, am a ‘pervert’, which had me in hysterics!
3. Tell us a little more about the design process. How did you go from concept to finished piece?
What particularly inspired my collection and kick-started my design idea was the Australian Snickers advert, which shows builders shouting compliments at women and preaching equality. At the end it comes up with the renowned Snickers phrase ‘you’re not you when you’re hungry’. From that advert I started coming up with designs centred on the silhouettes and fabrics typically used for builders wear, along with a variety of cat-calling phrases. I then decided to look at the street itself and draw up my own road sign slogans to feature on the garments. After a lot of playing around with positioning of the signs and the slogans inside them, my collection was ready to be made.
4. What’s your favourite part of the design process?
Seeing my tutor’s face every week when I would show her a new idea! It was either a look of shock or humour depending on the idea I was pitching. She was absolutely great at helping me to push my designs further and we had such fun doing so.
5. What has been the most challenging part?
Hands down, the most challenging aspect of my collection was sewing the reflective fabric. It is by far the most difficult material that I have ever had to work with. It slips everywhere! It was not for lack of trying either. Every time I thought I had found a solution to sewing it, I would be proven wrong. In the end I had to equip my machine with a specialist presser foot and all was well. When you messed up on the reflective fabric, it would then cost £50 a metre to replace!
6. There are so many thought-provoking looks in your latest work. What are your favourite pieces from the collection and why?
I love each of the looks equally for different reasons. The item that got people laughing was the ‘Stop Pervs’ jacket – I could hear the audience from backstage at my graduate show! The real show-stopper piece, however, is the ‘Keep Your Distance’ dress. The skirt of the dress is comprised of 14 triangular road signs that display a ‘flick-book’ story of a man chasing a woman. When the model did a couple of twirls at the end of the catwalk to make the skirt stand out and the characters more visible, the gasps were incredible… I started crying! It was such a great reaction from the audience and a truly proud moment.
7. Now that you’ve graduated, what’s next for you?
I am still looking for a graduate job in fashion design, but I’m a very driven person so I know that I will get to where I want to be in the end. Otherwise, I am working on my portfolio – building it from strength to strength and coming up with my own projects. I am also the founder of a successful style blog called Adorned in Monochrome, which I enjoy creating content for in my free time. The dream, and hopefully the end result, is to have my own fashion label and to be recognised for the clothes that I create.