This image is from the walls surrounding my pattern table, the place were I spent every second of the summer, making patterns for this collection.
At the beginning of researching a collection, I usually put all of these images on the walls of my office, where I can stare at them and contemplate the collection and have ideas and stuff. Once I begin to actually make the dress patterns, I put all of these images around my pattern table…
…which is what we can see here: all of the images that influenced me while making this collection. I wanted to include representations of every classic beauty (within the parameters of my aesthetic): sex symbol, goddess, Hollywood goddess, showgirl, little girl, Shirley Temple, Marilyn, Jayne Mansfield, old paintings and portraits from Ingres, Marie Antoinette, dolls, the Virgin Mary. Basically I was thinking about extreme artificial beauty, appropriated female beauty and all its trappings and languages—loving it and hating it at the same time, jamming it all together into one great big giant joyful scream of rage and delight.
This was taken just outside of my office (you can see my black ceiling). Here you can see a self-portrait by Arvida Byström. I love this image so much. You can see her hairy armpits, and she has drawn a mustache in pink on herself. It says so much to me that I can’t explain. She looks so cool. It’s such an interesting sexual image from a rarely seen perspective. Tavi and I used this for the pull-out zine we did together for Garage Magazine. I really wanted to use Arvida as the centerfold, putting her picture onto a photograph of pink satin, to reference those old classic glamour shots where the starlet would be shot on a satin bed. For me this image of/by Arvida is the perfect modern positive readdressing of an old cliché. This image was very important to how I thought about this collection.
The wall of our sewing area in the studio.
Bits of spare T-shirt artwork elements.
Our fat kitty, Wendy.
Oh god! Well, this is my office, a desk which is still just a heap of books, drawings, pens, and tons and tons of barrettes, tiny dolls, bits of dolls, Barbie shoes, Hello Kitty loveliness—all the objects that I collected while thinking about the collection.
On the walls you can see the pictures from my teenage bedroom walls. I’ve always kept them. Now I live in a permanent 1994-1995 time warp…
I thought I would put them up in my office, as it’s about the same size as my teenage bedroom and pretty much serves the same purpose.
These are my drawings of the collection.
So much changes in the process of making a collection that I often draw the collection twice, once at the beginning of the process and once at the end, so I can see and understand what it looks like with all the changes.
I drew these sketches halfway through the making of the collection. Lots of stuff changed, or died, between this point and the show.
There were five looks in the show that we called the Madonnas. This is my drawing of all the Madonnas on the cake. It changed a bit before the show, but not much. Nobody seems to have taken a photo of the Madonnas-on-the-cake reveal—they were revealed from behind a gold curtain, holding flowers like pageant-winner bride goddesses, and they dropped their flowers like Courtney at the end of the Miss World video and stomped off of the cake, rejecting their elevation. When I call them the Madonnas, I don’t refer only to Madonna Ciccone and the Virgin, but also to all of the venerated icons of beauty.
All the Courtney dresses bagged and hanging.
Aaah … this dress died! It happens every season at some point, when elements of a garment just don’t work for whatever reason. This was going to be one of the Madonnas. She was going to be like a Virgin Mary baby-bunny-girl in a frilly lace dress with the back of her skirt over her head like a veil, revealing a blue-sequined bunny-girl corset with a bunny tail, and she would have blue-sequined bunny ears too. But something or everything went wrong with every aspect of the look, so she died. We tried to save her right up until waaaaay past the last minute, but she wasn’t to be.
Often with beading, even though you get the embroidery done to fit specific pattern shapes, you still have to fill in some gaps. Here we are filling in the gaps on some pink-sequined and crystal-embroidered knickers.
This is a close-up of a Broderie Anglais–type embroidery, where there is no unembroidered fabric. This one is called Abigale and is a pinafore dress made entirely from that type of embroidery. We wanted it to look like those paper-cutout snowflakey things that you do in primary school, where all the ladies and their cats are holding hands. Between each band is stitched an iridescent tinsel yarn that’s actually meant to be used for something to do with fishing???
The Madonnas’ zardosi embroidery and fluff.
We made these shoes with Nicholas Kirkwood, who’s been doing our shoes pretty much always. These ones were quite successful. We had just gotten them when this picture was taken, so I was in the middle of stitching the crystal bows to the Madonnas’ embroidered shoes, and making marabou pompoms for the others.
I wanted the shoes to be the most ridiculous and entertaining things, like if you wore them they would keep you amused all day. Big, glittery, cakelike frilly bed things.
The studio rails full of patterns, prototypes, and the beginnings of the real finished garments.
My endlessly untidy office. On my desk you can see: tons of pens, perfume bottles, tiny dolls, Hello Kitty bits and bobs, Frances Farmer in the frame resting against the wall. On the walls we have the centerfold of the 1993 Riot Grrrl issue of Melody Maker, and lots of old pictures of Courtney, Huggy Bear, Bikini Kill, and Morrissey, and a card that Louise Gray made for me. These images are the ones that were on my teenage-bedroom walls.
These are decapitated dolls’ heads that decorate the sewing area in our studio. Earlier this year we did a secret florist shop inside of a Topshop, where we designed the space and decorated hundreds and hundreds of plant pots with glitter, paint, and stickers. These dolls’ heads are left over from that. As you can see, they have no eyes, because we popped the eyes out and attached them to wire stalks which we then stuck into the plant pots. So the plants had blinking dolls’ eyes.
This is the area around my pattern table. There are balloons and party decorations above my head to try to make me feel happy and to surround myself with the spirit of the collection and the show.
Nicholas Kirkwood’s shoes.
Hanging on this rail you can see most of the feather pieces and the Madonna jacket.
These are my drawings/designs for the collection, with Philip Wiegard’s set design, ostrich-feather and tinsel experimentation, some Catholic Madonna icons, and some Courtney from the Reading Festival in 1994.
These are “the powdering Courtneys” backstage. I have always been so obsessed by Hole’s Miss World video and have stolen from it endlessly. Right at the very beginning of working on this collection I knew that I wanted to have an army of Courtneys powdering themselves for the show.
These women are wearing tights by Meadham Kirchhoff and shoes that we bought from some bridesmaid place and colored with Pantone. All of the Courtneys came onstage and powdered themselves with beautiful pastel-colored goose-down powder puffs from Penhaligon’s, and put on lipstick (Ruby Woo by M.A.C.) whose tubes we had customized in pastel colors and glitter, and then started to dance.
I decided to try to faithfully remake pastel versions of the dress that she wore for the Reading Festival in 1994. I love that dress. It’s one of her classics. And I love the message she was sending to the world with that dress. Reading ’94 was Hole’s first show after her husband died, and the world was waiting to see if Courtney would curl up and die with him. Instead, she showed up in this tiny little gold dress, and really worked and defined her “thing.”
This is the look board, where I put together all of the looks the night before the show. It is customary to shoot each look on the model who will wear it in the show, but I always get really nervous doing all of the looks, as it is often the first time I get to properly see the real clothes—the end of making a collection is always such a huge rush that once things are made there’s usually not very much time for me to pay much attention to them, and quite often garments get made (and sometimes don’t) right at the last minute. So, when I do put together the looks I prefer to have as small an audience as possible. I shoot always them on one of my assistants, Daisy, who helps me to do things like embroidery and painting biker jackets and stuff like that, and whom I do all of the preliminary toil fittings on. (A toil is a prototype garment usually made with a cheaper fabric than the finished garment.)
This dress is called Mary Kate, and is made entirely from ballerina embroidery. It was inspired by those old Spanish postcards where the flamenco dancers have real fabric skirts, so each ballerina has a little sequined tutu that you can lift up, and a pearl necklace and crystal tiaras. The dress was made from bands, or strips, and between the bands are ruffled Broderie Anglaise lace ribbons. The sequins make this dress glittery in the most glittery way.
This jacket is called Madonna. It is a pannier-hipped, sack-backed, zardosi-embroidered frock coat with powder-puff boobs. When Benjamin Kirchhoff and I returned from our first-ever holiday in Spain this past June, I had an epiphany where I pictured this piece and the powdering Courtneys in the show. Zardosi is an incredibly labor-intensive type of embroidery traditionally used in ceremonial Catholic dress and ornamentation and military dress, made by stitching coils of metal to create the pattern.
This is one of the Madonnas. I really love her makeup. I loved the idea of making this Frida Kahlo/Virgin Mary veil thing and putting the wig on top of it. The veil has something like a 30-meter hem. It took me all day to stitch the lace around the edge. I kind of wanted it to be like she was dragging this 1930s dress around from her head.
This looks so good. It’s a painted/melted wig by James Pecis. Usually the hair is the first thing that comes to me for a collection, but this season I was really stuck. I wanted something really traditionally glamorous, but something gross and cool too. And I wanted them all bleach blonde. James sent me this idea he had been working on: melting wigs. It seemed perfect, to combine his melted-wig idea with all of these classic blonde-beauty glamour hair do’s, and a splash of color. Here we can see the nail stickers that Nail Rock made for us, using all the little figures we used throughout the collection.
Another one of the Madonnas (with Ben Kirchhoff in the background). This jacket is called Kathli. It’s a silk zardosi-embroidered ottoman jacket with a sack back, with crystal-and-sequin-embroidered showgirl knickers.
This white dress is called Arvida.
This is one of the first garments I did for this collection. There’s a TV show that Ben watched called The United States of Tara. The daughter on that show is kind of cool, and she wears this brown-bear pinafore. I was totally obsessed with it. It looked so cool. So it seemed very logical to me, since we were working with these little figures and illustrations from old cards, and decals from a baby’s crib, that we should do the checkered bear as a pinafore. The bear is called Danni, and is entirely embroidered, with 3D leather-appliqué eyelashes.
I keep reading on the Internet that this pink short-sleeved jacket is laser-cut leather, but we do not do any laser cutting! The jacket is made entirely from very dense embroidery on a silk organza base.
This is a dress called Maude and a pinafore top called Millicent, worn with a tie. Both of these pieces were very late additions to the collection.
These dresses are called Molly and Lacy, and are some of the most difficult patterns I have ever made. They have practically only horizontal seams and have a pannier-hipped inner layer. They are made from silk satin gazar, which is like a really really springy satiny organza type of thing. They both have pin-tucked panels, and although you can’t see it in this picture, they have ballerina embroidery through the skirt.
We worked on this jacket for a long time. It’s appliquéd with a sequined lamb motif that is from an old crib decal that I have on my computer. He is the lamb that is on the invitation to the show under the collection title, “A Wolf in Lamb’s Clothing.”
The front of that jacket.
A little pinafore top that, when hanging, looks like a baby’s dress. It’s made from a linen Jacquard, and has an embroidered girl’s face I stole from a ’70s plastic toy mirror/vanity set I have.
FLUUUUFFFFFFYYYY! Fluff is pretty much where this collection started. I just wanted to lose myself in pink fluffy loveliness. These pieces are made from marabou feathers, and they actually weigh a ton! There is so much volume in them—the hem of the blue jacket, pink skirt, and green dress is like 26 meters, and it took an hour just to stitch the band of feathers onto one of these hems.
I wanted these feather skirts to be endless. If you spin or hold up your skirt it seems like there is no end to it, and if you look up at them from underneath all you can see is fluffy ruffles with little legs poking out.
This girl looks so good. I love that lipstick.
(To see a video of the show by Sharna Osborne, click here.)