In October 2017, British fashion designer, Phoebe English (Nugent 04), filled the Raphael Gallery at the V&A with a retrospective show detailing highlights of her collections over the last six years for the V&A Fashion in Motion Series: a sequence of live catwalk shows at the V&A featuring leading fashion designers from across the world.
Phoebe has established a luxury womenswear and menswear label creating garments with an attention to precision and beauty. She stages her collections within imaginative fashion set designs which offer an immersive experience to the audience. Regularly referencing lost or little-used fabrication techniques, a respect for construction and the ‘mark of the maker’, Phoebe aims to set the label apart from mass made fashion and trend led design – a permanence in the transience of fashion. An intricate balance between craft and design remains at the heart of each collection.
Phoebe shares an insight into how she went about curating her show in such an historic space.
“The Raphael Gallery is a vast space. I found it quite challenging to design the show, due to the size of the Gallery. Much of my work is detail based and consists of intricate time-consuming textile techniques, which I feared would get completely lost in the space. In the end, I decided to tackle this design issue by problem solving with doing the opposite: instead of trying to make the work look bigger and flashier in such a large room, I would make it even smaller.
We selected two outfits from each of my collections (there are 14 collections in total) and remade each outfit in miniature, three quarter scale to be precise, to fit onto small puppets. We designed the room into smaller sections, making seven large circular platforms directly down the centre of the room and built stands on which to display the puppets. In the end, we had 28 models and 28 identical miniature puppets all on display at the same time.
A friend mentioned that it felt like the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles because the puppets became a mirror image of each model. It was interesting to see how the small puppets actually had such a magnitude of presence in that big space. It was quite magical on the day, especially as the show was accompanied by live harp music, which echoed around the ceiling.
More than anything, I wanted to portray visually the fizzing anticipation and excitement of walking through the incredible doors of the V&A, ready to discover the amazing artefact within: just as I had felt during my first visit, aged 15. I really wanted the show to feel magical and intriguing to the audience.”
Four showings took place throughout the day of her exhibition, each of which were full to the brim with guests, one was streamed to a live Facebook audience. It was a pleasure to see so many people celebrating Phoebe’s work. Her ingenious staging and use of puppetry perfectly captured her creative flare, which sets her fashion apart as a label that is truly individual.
Phoebe was awarded numerous awards on graduating the Central Saint Martins MA Fashion programme including the L’Oreal ‘Professional Creative Award’, the ‘Ungaro’ Bursary and the ‘Chloe’ Award. Her inaugural collection was picked up by Dover Street Market London. In June 2013, Phoebe was awarded the coveted ‘Venture Programme’ by the Centre for Fashion Enterprise, a 2 year mentoring and sponsorship programme. At the beginning of 2015, Phoebe was listed as a Forbes ’30 under 30’ in their influential Art and Style category. Phoebe has also been awarded the British Fashion Council’s prestigious NEWGEN award for her menswear collections.
Anna Semler (Nugent 05)