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David Longshaw is a cult London designer renowned for his quirky illustration work which he weaves into the story of every collection he designs, in fact for David every collection begins with a story from which he then draws his inspiration giving him a truly unique design reference point. He also creates a comic strip ‘Francesca & Arthur’ for Vogue Italia. Chasseur interviewed David for this issue about illustration as a storytelling tool in fashion.
Hi David, Can you tell us about your current collection and what is in store for AW2013?
The summer spring 2013 collection is based around the story of Eva and Doug who go on holiday. These are two characters I created specifically for the collection; Eva is a peculiar looking girl whose best friend is Doug, a blue ‘Teddy bear’. Doug is feeling down (hence he is blue) at heel so Eva takes him away to the English seaside to cheer him up. Their journey is shown in the collection through the graphic prints I designed and used and because Doug is cheered up most by the industrial landscape that he sees on their journey it is these that feature predominantly. It’s a very long thought and deep narrative that I then process into the prints and designs. Creating a story for this and every collection as a starting point, gives me a unique inspiration meaning that what I design is not something another designer could have done in the past or present. I want my customer to be able to relate to the clothes I design and I think the element of the narrative of the collection is providing endless opportunities for the wearer to enjoy and interact with my clothing.
As for AW13, I don’t want to give too much away but I will give you one exclusive hint; my starting point is a black and white animation film that will feature brand new characters from me, currently in development!
How do you achieve balance between your unique creative vision and the commercial aspect of the business of fashion?
I hate to say it but it really hasn’t been as hard as people might imagine. I won the Elle Talent Launchpad which was a big boon for me. Also, I actually enjoy how the two aspects collide and making it work. Being trained at Central St. Martins and RCA in London I’m much more attuned to the creativeness that comes so naturally from London, that energy that is so specific to this city, whose industry is one which proactively nurtures and encourages one as a designer to be as creative as you like. I always focus on the vision of my collection over any commercial aspect but saying that, upon graduating I immediately went to work in Milan and there I also learned much more about fashions commercial side which the Italians of course are very focused on, so I have been fortunate to experience the best of both worlds you could say.
How important do you feel the aspects of fashion and fantasy, and how the two interact with one another are in fashion design?
The two are forever intertwined! Even if say a designer’s collection is minimalist, it’s still a fantasy, one the designer has created for the wearer to step (or buy) into. We also convey a lot about ourselves through the way we dress so whether consciously or subconsciously we are trying to create a fantasy image, an example being say some people dress to appear more well off than they really are; a fantasy for them. For me fashion IS fantasy all the more because I am creating for each collection my own little made up characters that have their own stories. I create a mood and world for people to then choose from and make of what they want at their own will. With the addition of accessories and new character additions, each collection becomes like Pokémon cards for adults, something you can ‘collect’ and then with each season build upon that collection.
Your illustrated characters and their stories, such as Maude, are an integral part of your collections and process and have become part of your brand. Tell us about these?
Maude is an ever present character amongst the multitude, she is my mascot although I create a new character for each and every collection. I have also created ‘Francesca and Arthur’ for Vogue Italia. Maude (made from off cuts of cashmere from Richard James, given to me during my time there on work experience), was the beginning of it all though, the idea that each collection I design would be part of a story around an integral character of my own creation. She opened so many doors for me. When I first debuted Maude she was spotted by Jenny Dyson and Colin McDowell who used her in a tribute to Isabella Blow during the first London fashion Week after her passing. Maude has also featured on Vogue.com’s 12 Days of Christmas series for many years . She is a tongue in cheek way of commenting on the fashion industry, a light hearted look at the world we live and work in and a reminder that fashion should also be about fun and enjoyment! My illustrations and characters are all part of my love of storytelling, through these illustrations and stories I communicate and explain my collection by creating a world the buyer can enter.
When going into fashion, in particular with such a specific design ethic, what challenges did you face?
There are always challenges, especially when you start a label with no backer as I did. You have to think about every single step, luckily with my experience working in Italy I had an advantage but it is always a worry that the collection won’t sell and that I won’t be able to afford the next one! The greatest challenge for me is staying commercial enough; finding the right balance between my vision and the viability of the market. I will always want to do another collection so I’m acutely aware for every one that I’m working on that it HAS to work and be a success in terms of sales in order for ‘David Longshaw’ to stay in business. So yes, every collection is a challenge but as I said earlier; I love a challenge!