Notions of luxury and the relegations of throwaway culture: Twin meets the RCA graduate Andrew Bell

30.06.2019 | Blog , Fashion | BY:

Images courtesy of Phillip White

The needle and thread, the binding hallmark of the fashion industry is devoid in the work and craftsmanship of the fashion designer Andrew Bell. 

Using cutting-edge sonic welding technology, in a disruptive approach that undermines the one constant that has traditionally kept fashion together, Andrew is a creative looking at alternative means to design. For Andrew contemporary fashion is stuck: designers are consistently creating the same shapes and silhouettes, very much defined by tools and techniques which have not changed for decades. Having graduated from Zowie Broach’s MA degree at the Royal College of Art, Andrew was one of the front running thinkers of her encouragement towards radical thinking: the graduate show entitled All At Once summarising the spectral chest of ideas on show.

Unpicking the traditional and moving forwards with new technology is central to what makes Bell’s aesthetic fresh and striking. Collapsible coats, razor sharp pants and fluid-cut tops combine to project a signature look that crisp, sharp, compact and concise.  Side-stepping the familiar, traditional and pre-determined is at the heart of what makes Bell’s work engaging. Animatedly explaining how he used Sonic welding technology to seal not only to edges and outlines of his pieces, but to bind the very aesthetic direction of his work, Andrew has ensured that in the absence of stitch lines his pieces are super-lightweight, which in turn allowed him to develop a series of collapsible coats and jackets that fold completely flat to just 1.5cm in profile. 

Andrew’s work hinges on an axis of high-low paradoxes. On one hand his cutting references the collapsible hover bag, on the other the very cornerstone of modern womenswear tailoring – the Dior Bar Jacket. For Andrew this paradox reflects the collapse in the traditional frameworks that bind our notions of ‘luxury’ and ‘non-luxury’ in an era of material excess.  In this saturated context Andrew’s work presents in part a portrait of the collapsible, but equally projects an alternative vision for the future, with ‘Future Tailoring’ the term the designer uses to condense and communicate his approach. 

Across his MA collection Andrew has explored the hallmarks of a new era of garment construction across a spectrum of materiality; from sharp and structured to soft and fluid. The edges of this new aesthetic are instantly identifiable through his iconic zig-zag emblem;  More subtle is the completely clean-cut, non-fray edge that defines every other sleeve and side seam in the collection. Up close, the zig-zag edging harks of easy-open, single-use supermarket stock. 

Collaborating with a print designer, Ciaran Moore, on the fabric, the pair capture the beauty of industrial textures, such as the rusty non-slip grills that go unnoticed under our feet. The ephemeral geo-prints that line envelopes and parcels sit side by side with heritage herringbones; luxury and the lo-fi abound. This approach is extended to the footwear in the collection too. In collaboration with fellow RCA alumnus Tabitha Ringwood, the pair present a capsule of footwear completely crafted from scratch. For the heels the designer borrowed the humble door wedge, re-moulding it both physically and conceptually as an object of beauty that extends beyond its primary status as a mass-produced, valueless and solely functional article. 

Perfume is an off-shoot, but nonetheless connected project to Andrew’s vision: exploring the potential of a fragrance focused magazine that features different contributors each issue. Just as the designer’s outerwear collapses the material hierarchies of ‘luxury’ and ‘non-luxury’, so too does his fragrance concept. In the place of traditional cut-glass bottle, Bell’s concept sees bio-degradable PVC sachets as a sustainable alternative. As such Andrew dissolves the most expensive aspect to any fragrance – the bottle – allowing fragrance to become more accessible to young designers and their audience.

Andrew’s work reminds us that aesthetics and technology can harmoniously inhabit a creative space together – technology cannot abandon visual beauty, nor can form ignore the potential and the responsibilities of production and design. Andrew has allowed technology to shape his process, re-articulating items of the banal everyday into structures of body-skimming beauty. As Bell surmises, in order to break the deadlock, the repetition and the dead-stock, fashion must look to new ways of making, and new ways of thinking.

It’s an approach that Bell attributes to the inimitable teachings of Zowie Broach, a modus operandi that demands a fearlessness in approach. Under Broach’s leadership Andrew was chosen by Value Retail to be the 2nd recipient of the highly coveted support scheme for rising Irish talent; The Kildare Village Fashion Scholarship which allowed Andrew to take his place at the RCA, an opportunity that the designer explains would otherwise have been closed to him. 

The designer is often a perfectionist: in the way they touch, feel, look. Every facet is examined, explained and evaluated in detail. Andrew Bell is no exception – it is this exhaustive dedication to the metaphorical folding of fashion that has allowed a designer to emerge that is refreshingly new.

Expect to see him at Jil Sander before long.  

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