INTERVIEWED BY: Clare Coulson
For some designers following a brief to create an innovative collection inspired by the issues surrounding sustainability would be incredibly challenging but for Rachael Hall, 24, it was a gift. ‟It’s something I am really interested in. I think I am very eco aware – I recycle wherever I can and I find it quite scary that people don’t and aren’t aware of it, especially young people,” admits Hall. ‟Where I work at the weekends I will take all my recycling home with me because they don’t have recycling facilities there. It’s not very hard to do!”
Applying those themes to fashion though is far more complex. ‟As a designer I am really conscious that there is a real throw-away aspect to clothing in most fast fashion. Even if at the moment everything I am making is hand-made – I will be part of that industry when I graduate. But I think by understanding how much work goes into making something, you understand it more and you truly value it so I really wanted to look at consumer awareness with this project.”
Hall completed her fashion BA at Ravensbourne before discovering her passion for knit. »We did a mix of womenswear, print, knit and menswear and I found that for whatever reason I like knitting best. I really enjoyed making my own fabrics, the textile bit of it.«
The Royal College was a natural choice then, with its focus on technique, craft and construction. ‟I don’t think I really considered anywhere else. It’s not really about showmanship – you look at how you put garments together more intensely and it’s much more understated than Central Saint Martins.”
Hall took a multi-faceted approach to the Esprit brief ‟to take a fresh and unique take on the issue of sustainability” by researching natural dyes such as cochineal and eco friendly processes. She eventually settled on using indigo and turmeric throughout the collection as they were the most colourfast. The stunning result are vivid yellow fine cropped knits and ribbed scarves as well as a bold degrade indigo blue, zip-front coat which was constructed in wool and then needle-felted to give it a bobbly texture.
Hall replicated this technique in a super chunky jacket that was originally constructed with plain wool and then, for a few laborious days, slowly needle-felted with chunks of creamy thick yarn. ‟I knitted the base and then cut all the pieces and felted it by hand – it’s really, really labour intensive – it took days and days of solid work.”
‟I was very conscious of Esprit’s affiliation with Gostwyck wool. I wanted to emphasise that by recreating the texture of the sheep so I used needle felting technique so it looks like sheepskin.” The designer then chose to add another layer of sheep imagery, which was used on a wool jumper and printed silk pieces.
‟It’s really saying to the consumers these are the dyes, this is what they are made from, this is what you are wearing to increase awareness,” explains Hall of the layers of meaning in her collection.
The opportunity to design for the high street was an exciting aspect of the project for Hall. ‟When you are making something that is going to be niche, you can sometimes overwork it,” says Hall referring to her more intricately worked college pieces. ‟But knowing that these pieces need to be wearable is in a weird way quite a relief. With knitwear people tend not to buy crazy pieces but something simple like a cropped jumper or a roll-neck. I just had to make them a bit more special.”
Despite her imminent graduation, Hall, who grew up in Australia before relocating to Kent, is still undecided about what path her career will take. An internship with Eley Kishimoto during her degree made her realise how tough it is for small labels – even for successful ones: ‟It brought it down to reality for me I think. I’d like to work for a high end but still commercial company – the MA has been very intense and self involved and you are talking about yourself all the time but that’s not what the fashion industry is about.”
Hall is a big fan of fellow Royal College of Art alumnus Burberry’s superstar designer Christopher Bailey. The collections are really exciting to me and friends who have gone there are very happy and they are allowed a lot of freedom.”