Interview and shoot with two of Central Saint Martins rising stars. Published in HEROINE MAGAZINE.

At times of global uncertainty, fashion has historically tended to swing towards minimalism, embracing aesthetic safety when all else is on the edge. Until it all blows up in a romantic haze of innovation, designers rebelling against the state of now. The constant here is the young gun. Yet unbound by commercial constraints, students dream up worlds for the clothes – the word wearable has little value here. Even less so for those who focus on textiles, where surface is just a starting point to exact their own wicked escapism. Here we celebrate two such graduates. Fresh out of Central Saint Martins’ prestigious MA program, their approaches to textile design encapsulate the big-thinking philosophies that have defined some of the strongest design talents of recent decades.
You can imagine Henriette Tilanus’ creations being all the rage in Vienna’s wealthy bohemian circle at the turn of the 20th century. Just as Secessionist painter Gustav Klimt’s reform dresses blurred the lines between art and craft, it’s difficult to define the Central Saint Martins graduate’s collection as ‘fashion’ or ‘art’ – like from a disassociating dream state, it exists somewhere between the two. Using a profoundly delicate process fusing paper, glue and paint, for her final MA collection Henriette constructed vivid, free form dresses influenced by her love of gardens and artists like Henri Matisse. “It’s like making a walking painting,” she says of her process. The result is the ultimate Gesamtkunstwerk, a ‘universal artwork’, and the stuff of dreams.
Tempe Nakiska: I read that you studied at the Academy of Art in Holland, is that where you originally discovered your love of textiles and print?
Henriette Tilanus: Yes, exactly. The school is called ArtEZ and is in Arnhem, a city in the east of Holland. You can’t really choose a pathway there, you just do fashion design for four years and you learn everything about the whole industry. I’ve never been very good at making the perfect, wonderfully designed jacket or something, so for my final collection there I focused on making the textiles and realised that it was what I really loved to do. So I made the silhouettes very simple and focused on making the textiles myself, and then chose to do textiles on my MA [at Central Saint Martins] in London.
Tempe: The silhouettes in your final MA collection feel almost like a canvas, is that how you approach them?
Henriette: Somehow I just love to work like that, it’s like making a walking painting... not that you should feel like that when you wear it, but that’s how I like to view it. I got help from a really nice team of first year MA students who helped me make the garments, so it was a really nice co-operation.
Tempe: Is it a very difficult process because you used a lot of paper, right? Was it very involved?
Henriette: It was a long process, I did lots of experiments with different kinds of fabric bases and paper and glue. I screenprinted with special textile glue, and then I heated pressed tissue paper on it and sometimes dyed it, I loved to just play around. Sewing the fabrics was doable because it’s really thin paper with fabric in-between. But it was also experimenting and figuring out what types of silhouettes you could make with paper fabric. It was a good journey.
Tempe: Where did the idea of using paper come from?
Henriette: In the London Tube you see all these ripped posters from the process of changing them over, and it made me think of using paper. In my rst year I went to a lot of shops and nice fabric sellers for inspiration and always thought they were nice but very flat, and I wanted to do something 3D, something textural, like it’s growing out of the fabric. Then I started stitching paper on fabric and it was very weird, it looked very thick and heavy, so later on I went thinner and worked out how I could glue it, there’s many steps and you have to develop it. I just wanted to make textiles seem alive, like it’s a garden.
Tempe: That really comes across, it feels very much alive and has so many layers, like a painting. Are there specific painters who have been an influence?
Henriette: I’ve always loved Matisse, there are many painters I like. I looked at Gustav Klimt, particularly the ‘reform’ dress he made for his wife Emilie Flöge, there are a couple of wonderful images he made of her in their garden and I used those pictures a lot.
Tempe: You mention a garden as a recurring motif, did you have a garden you played in a lot growing up?
Henriette: I grew up in a city in the east of Holland and the nature there is really nice. My parents do have a nice garden, it’s not exceptionally amazing, so I can’t say I always grew up in gardens [laughs]. But I just like the idea of a garden as a nice peaceful place and I really like being in parks and gardens. When I was in New York recently I missed having a personal park, because there’s only really Central Park. It’s just a feeling, it’s a place I always want to go.
Tempe: When you were a child were you interested in fashion at all, or art? Henriette: Not really, I think I was dressing up a lot and making worlds, making things. Fashion was just a far away thing I didn’t realise was there. Sometimes you hear designers say that they started drawing women in nice dresses from the first day they could draw, I never had that. But I think I always liked making things look nice. In the end I realised that fashion was a direction where you could combine so many things, because ne art is too broad for me. With fashion you can create worlds but there’s also a focus to it because it has to be wearable. I love that balance. But I realised it quite late, when I was sixteen or seventeen.
Tempe: Now you’ve finished your final collection you are back in Holland, after living in London and then New York, how are you finding being back home?
Henriette: It’s like a little village compared to being in New York and London. I have to say I love it. But I believe you always have to go for adventures and put yourself out of your comfort zone. I love London, you feel like everything is happening there and the people are so characterful. It’s not even that pretty and it’s expensive and challenging, but it’s wonderful.
Tempe: I know what you mean about London, moving here I definitely felt that too.
Henriette: Yes, if you come from a smaller town it’s a very different, amazing experience.
Tempe: Living in London, did you often find yourself inspired by the people around you?
Henriette: Yes, very much. I didn’t have this in New York to be honest, but in London there are so many characters. You see grandmas who are still punks, and you see the most wonderful quirky interesting people with green hair and everyone is walking through each other, mixed together.
Tempe: What do you think you’ll do now? What’re your plans?
Henriette: After studying there was quite a rollercoaster of things happening, and in the further future I’d love to have my own studio somewhere and work for different people. Now I just want to gain more experience, that’s the main thing. That’s why I went to New York and I did a project for Dries Van Noten, and I hope to go back there too.
Tempe: You worked at Dries?
Henriette: Before going to New York I was there for two weeks because they needed someone to do patchwork, his studio is in a warehouse in Antwerp which is a very quiet place, but being there is like coming into a bath of taste, which is a bit overwhelming. I think his style is so tasteful and artistic, he’s really good.
Tempe: And Dries is very inspired by nature and gardens as well.
Henriette: Yes, this is true. He takes his flowers from his own garden to his studio.
Tempe: So ultimately you want to have your own studio where you can create textiles for different people?
Henriette: It’s difficult to know exactly what you want but I’d love to have a studio with a screenprint room and – this is in the future – but also I’d love to do things for interior or styling or movies. Having my own brand and really producing things, I’ve realised how much production there is and you have to be such an amazing organiser to make your own clothes and sell them. I’m really happy I chose a bit of specialisation. I’d also love to teach in an art school when I’m an old lady.
Tempe: I love the idea of working on film sets, there’s so many different options having specialised in textiles.
Henriette: Exactly, some teachers see it as quite specific, but I see it as being very broad in terms of the different areas you can work in.
Tempe: Yeah, I think that as you go on one thing will lead onto another. You might start out in fashion and then you might end up designing sets or wallpapers or anything.
Henriette: You’re just saying my whole dream future [laughs].
Take a hit of S&M, mix with overblown power shoulders and a heavy dose of retro orals and you’ve got a vague taste of Richard Quinn’s clothes. Beautiful, dangerous, and fabulously unhinged. For his final MA collection, Quinn sent faceless models out in head to toe looks (literally – they breathed through tiny eyelets in the rose-printed fabric), spinning fties and fetish into the ultimate damaged fairytale. A self-confessed obsessive who interned at Christian Dior in Paris and Richard James on Savile Row, Quinn cut, dipped, and screen-printed his way to the Central Saint Martins graduate show, realising the holy grail for hardcore believers in more-is-more. That Quinn cites the whimsical designs of John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier as favourites makes a lot of sense. But with goals to open a multi-purpose London print studio, it’s clear he’s as hooked into real life as he is fantasy.
Tempe Nakiska: Nothing about your collection feels like the clothes are wearing the women, there’s a feeling of power and impact both ways.
Richard Quinn: Impact was definitely number one on the list. Even when we were in fittings, everything was always full on, I wanted to contrast elements you would normally never put together, I wanted every woman to be a different textile.
Tempe: It certainly seems like you’ve created a world for these women to exist in. Richard: Yeah for sure, and I de nitely think of it as a starting point, it can always get crazier.
Tempe: What were the main things you were thinking about when you envisioned the collection? There have been quite a few Leigh Bowery comparisons...
Richard: Everyone always says Leigh Bowery but it actually came from [artist] Paul Harris. It’s interesting to look at Leigh Bowery’s style, but it’s more so to see where his style actually originated from – even some of the S&M books we were looking at have such a Leigh Bowery context, but they were made 40 years before he was doing it, he utilised a lot of things that already existed, and pushed them further. There’s this Paul Harris book, it’s basically upholstered gures and there’s this one picture in the book where all the gures are different textiles. Seeing that image was the moment when I knew what I wanted to do.
Tempe: Were you also thinking about fetish and S&M?
Richard: Looking back, I think I would have added more in; I’d love to do floral latex and stuff like that. But if I had loads of it in the MA then [everyone] would have been like, “It’s S&M!” But I do think there is a nice play on this and references like Dressing for Pleasure are quite nice. There’s an image of a woman all in leather on a floral couch, which I looked at a lot.
Tempe: I’m interested to know what the vibe is like between students, is there a feeling of competition or is everyone creating such a different concept that it doesn’t matter?
Richard: I was in my own little world. Being in the textiles studio, I wasn’t in the main area anyway, and the beauty of textiles is everyone is doing something different – different scale, different textile. When you’re constantly thinking about developing your own work you’re not thinking at all about what anyone else is doing.
Tempe: Can you take me through the process of making the textiles, there were quite a few techniques involved?
Richard: The mackintosh and the S&M look are all calico that’s been painted and treated. Because I had the Stella McCartney scholarship I wasn’t allowed to use any leather and fur, which was fine because I didn’t really want to use those materials anyway, I think as an MA level textile designer if you go into a cupboard and go, “I want that black leather” it’s really lazy.
Tempe: What other processes did you use?
Richard: If you see how army helmets are printed, they actually dip the helmet, like marbling, and I played with dipping the print onto surfaces like that. I also used foil – those energy blankets you get at the end of marathons – and they were really hard to work with because of the temperatures involved. Oh, and the heat pressed gloves too. I did one and it worked, and then I spent two weeks working on them while the teachers were away and when they came back there were about 30 of them [laughs].
Tempe: Would you say you’re obsessive? Richard: I’m very obsessive. I don’t think I notice how obsessive I am ‘til someone tries to help me or I outsource something. I automatically think that everyone else will be as bothered about finishings as I am, stuff like coating the mackintosh you have to wait for the layers to set and it was really hard to let someone else do it because they would fuck it up. With stuff like prints as well – the prints are based on existing prints from the 60s, and I rejigged and collaged them in different layouts. With the nine-colour screen-print I was adamant that they had to be hand-drawn on the lm, but you’d get people saying, “No, just separate them on Photoshop” and I knew that the quality would diminish doing that. I was like, “If I’m going to spend £120 on this fabric I might as well be printing the right thing.”
Tempe: Otherwise, what’s the point?
Richard: I’m a really calm person but the one phrase that really sets me off is, “It’ll do” or, “Nobody will notice.” When it’s on the catwalk they might not notice, but in the showroom someone will. For the sake of a small amount of extra time, let’s just do it properly.
Tempe: Do you think consumers today value that degree of integrity and quality of design?
Richard: Yes, when you’re speaking to a consumer who wants something different and gets fashion. You can tell them, “Yes, it’s slightly more expensive but it’s all screen- printed in the UK and all hand-done by the designer, and it will fit you perfectly” and they will get it – especially when it’s one of six or ten. I think a clever designer makes stuff that people desire. The word ‘wearable’ just depends on the person.
Tempe: Was fashion what you always wanted to do?
Richard: I always had an interest in it, but it’s not like I was dressing up with my sister or anything like that. I was doing a fine art A Level and I became really obsessed with photo shoots – big-scale photo shoots, like Tim Walker. Then I started looking at the fashion and realised you could actually create all this. I started studying graphics and found it really boring, it was almost like I was trying to style stuff that I would want to produce. All the graphics I was creating were more like prints, so I was told I should go into fashion print.
Tempe: Earlier when we were chatting you mentioned wanting to open a print studio, what’s the idea?
Richard: I want to open a creative space that everyone has access to, a space that students from the main colleges and textiles courses can come to where they can afford to print, as well as being a functioning textiles studio where I can have my own fashion development, my own cutting and sewing, and where everything can be made in London. I would also like to train people up, doing short courses in the art of screen-printing. I think now more than ever before people want to know about craft. Even if it’s printing a tea towel, when you show people how screen-printing is done they’re dumbfounded.
Tempe: Knowing how something is made means they connect with it more, too.
Richard: Exactly. And if I was in first year and someone from the MA course who’d just graduated said, “I’ve got my own studio, come along and you can print your own stuff, you can have help with the line up,” I’d be like, “Yes!” It’s just really rare, it’s definitely a gap. There are such great young designers around but it can be really tough resource-wise. When I was doing the MA and trying to get things done outside, even to get a small sample for a flocking look I had in mind was like £150, so I couldn’t do it. To have a place where it’s actually accessible would be great.
Tempe: What do you think can make a recent graduate stand out in trying to break into the market?
Richard: I always think fashion should be exciting. I have always loved [John] Galliano and [Jean Paul] Gaultier, their shows from the 90s were insane – they were real shows, the pinnacle! – and everyone references them. So when you get a designer showing a presentation as a watered down version of what they want to sell, I just think, “No.” You need to offer something different if you’re going to make it.

Photography ELLEN FEDORS

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