London Avant-Garde Hits KoreaThe British Council Korea held a fashion workshop last week to give Korean university students the chance to see British fashion designs and learn leading design techniques under the guidance of Julian Roberts. A graduate of Britain's prestigious Royal College of Arts, Mr. Roberts, 29, worked for two years as a designer at Jasper Conran. He presently owns the label "nothing nothing" (www.nothingnothing.com) and consults for Laura Ashley in London.
Formerly a film director and photographer, Mr. Roberts was a winner of the British Fashion Council New Generation Designers Award last year. In fact, ever since his pursuit of fashion began at the age of 16, he has been an avid promoter of avant-garde designs in London's fashion scene. Last September, his conceptually creativity was highlighted in a group show entitled "The Grey Area." The show was much publicized in both underground and mainstream media and satisfied the public's ever-voracious appetite for shocking contemporary fashions. Now considered a rising star of British fashion, for the past two years he has taught Fashion Marketing and Filmmaking at St. Martin's College of Arts and Textile and Pattern-cutting at the Royal College of Arts.
Beginning this year, Mr. Roberts and his partner, Russell Sage, say they plan to broaden their horizons and take their fashions to the furthest ends of the East and West. The JoongAng Ilbo English Edition met with the designer to discuss his creative inspiration and perception of the design industry at the moment.
IHT-JAI: The business aspect of fashion is very important for the promotion of individual ideas. How do you finance your projects?
Roberts: Every creative young artist wants to promote his or her own collection, and it is often very hard to get sponsors. The British Fashion Council deals mostly with high-end fashion companies, and doesn't really have the eyes to discover new designers. So you need to raise money on your own to get started. If you can hit the right note, you should get attention. And stick together in groups of designers － there's safety in numbers. "The Grey Area" is a group of six, but except for Russell and myself, the other members change. Each time Russell and I select different designers and hold the show before London's fashion week to provide shock-hungry people with out-of-the-ordinary concepts.
IHT-JAI: How did you get the attention of the "seen that, been there" audiences?
Roberts: We came up with a completely original presentation for our clothes. In my show, there's so much to see besides clothes; with several video projections and a multi-angle view of the presentation, audiences never get bored. Fashion shows inundated with different kinds of media are refreshingly new to people, and the show got the attention it deserved. Last year I held my show in a very dark space using video projections and experimental techno music. Instead of the usual models walking back and forth, I used eight static podiums and strong overhead beams of light. The video projection showed a combination of three short art films I had made before. My partner Russell accompanied his portion of the show with a short film in which he jumps out of a plane, but then uses clothes made of various materials that he designed to save his life.
IHT-JAI: What's avant garde to you?
Roberts: I am so sick of everyone listening to what's called mainstream and '70s and '80s retro beats, basically, London music. I'm also bored with the contour and structure traditionally associated with European fashion. I like to go forward and jump into the unknown. I develop new patterns. And when I practice a new style in pattern-cutting, I write down short stories, just like when I make a film I write a script. Hopefully, some day this idea will manifest into some great art book sharing my skills and inspiration. The more you share with people, the more your influence becomes dominant. So I'd like to share my secrets, and then move on.
IHT-JAI: Why does your collection reflect an Asian influence, which is different from most designers identified with "British fashion"?
Roberts: I don't particularly feel that my design is British; I just happen to be British. When Rei Kawabuko [of Commes des Garcons of Japan] presented her designs years ago, I'm sure she wasn't thinking in terms of nationalistic interest. Design is something very personal. When I was in school, I received my early inspiration from Asian designers, especially those of Commes des Garcon. Western design has gone in a full circle to return to retro, and its esthetics are based on structure. Eastern design, on the other hand, has been viewed somewhat wacky and space-age, but I see it as quite refined with fluidity, and their use of space and line is rather organic. What's hip in London is a stark and sharp look, but Asian design tends to be more ornamental with intricate details. I saw the same trend in Korean students' fashion presentation. In the U.K., there used to be two divided styles, high-end fashion and the grungy street look. Glossy high-end fashion is now down played with rawness. Alexander McQueen contributed to that cross-over. He really shook things up by working with haute couture labels such as Christian Dior and Givenchy. He's now been snatched up by Gucci, so we can look forward to a new look by McQueen next season.
IHT-JAI: Like McQueen, if you were given a position at an old-school fashion house, which one would you want to work at?
Roberts: I would want to choose a company that used to be big in the past, but needed to revamp its arrangement, like Pierre Cardin. Pierre Cardin used to have such a futuristic look back in the day, and I could revive that concept to fit contemporary style.
IHT-JAI: What did you think of the video presentation of the works made by the fashion students of Dongduk Women's University?
Roberts: I saw ambition and passion, and there was a strong textile influence. Clothes had a perverted edge, sharpness and were staged interestingly. But, it looked as if students didn't have knowledge in pattern-cutting, and so the clothes didn't fit the bodies. This time my lecture was a general introduction of British fashion and industry, but perhaps next time I could share with Korean students and designers my specialty － fabric cutting. My first inspiration came from Asian designers, so it would be so ironic if I came here to teach; it's like going in a full circle. I had no preconceived ideas about Korea before coming here. I've been to Tokyo and Hong Kong before, but Korea is very different. Seoul has a certain quiet but very prominent American influence. I like the unknown aspects of Korea.
IHT-JAI: Where is your next destination?
Roberts: I need to organize a small exhibition in Moscow in April and then in London to prepare for the next Grey Area show. Russell and I are split on the idea of whether we should go to New York or Paris. Although we're currently working on the New York market in October, which means money and commercials, there is a definitely more creative force in Paris than New York. I'd love to see my collection in Paris.
by Ines Cho