Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Posted by Bethan Holt, Fashion Junior at Large

Regular readers will probably be used by now to my making tenuous and not-so-tenuous connections between art and fashion. Fashion brands are always trying to hop on board with art world projects; see all the coverage of fashion parties at the recent Art Basel Miami Beach for proof of that. Mother of Pearl is the perfect brand to make sense of, and properly honour the links between these two worlds. It helps that the brand's founder, Maia Norman, was married to one of the world's most famous artists, Damien Hirst, meaning that there was an easy metaphor to be made from the marriage of art and fashion. Maia and her Head Designer, Amy Powney, have followed the brand's usual pathway of collaborating with an artist for SS13, this time it's multitalented Francesco Simeti whose delicate wallpaper prints provide the art focal point with super fun bobble hats, peplum skirts, hi-tops and opulent embellishment bringing the look into fashion focus. Don't know about you, but I really want to be the girl in this look book.

I spoke to Amy about the unique challenges of designing for Mother of Pearl and she has provided us with some brilliant insights....

FJAL: Can you talk me through how a Mother of Pearl collection comes together? From deciding an artist to collaborate with to having a rail of pieces.

Amy: Maia and I sit down together at the beginning of a season to discuss artists. Maia will usually submit different artists and we work through them deciding how we could translate them. Once the decision is made we ask the artist and hope they will agree!

Once we have them on board we begin the design process like any other studio. Starting with design and mood boards, the artist naturally lends itself to the preliminary research and begins the basis in which to develop colour palettes and print. I usually research silhouettes from different eras but always with the Mother of Pearl 'easy' silhouette in mind. Then comes the toiling process with fittings, fabric and trim decisions until the concept comes together, continually keeping in mind the aesthetic and concepts of the artists along with the brand's identity, which can be quite a balancing act!

After the above is underway, then comes putting the final samples together, which changes and twists through the process until the collection is hanging on the rail, then the model, then photographed and finally back to the rail for sales!

Mother of Pearl SS13 with Francesco Simeti prints
FJAL: What are the challenges for you as a designer working on a collection which is so heavily influenced by the art collaboration?

Amy: Although it is a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with such prolific artists, as you can imagine it can be a nerve wracking process to ensure they are happy with the collections you are designing and producing. The artists we have worked with range from having a very small to very large understanding of the fashion industry which can be complicated in both ways. Sometimes the artists are very free with their work and others want to keep the collaboration close to their chest, the most important thing is that to date all the artists have been very happy with the collaboration!

Fundamentally, with the incredibly fast pace of our industry, which is very different from the art world, there is never a huge amount of time to develop and ponder a collection which I think poses the hardest task. If an artist wants time to think something over, or wants to continue to develop a concept, the impact on this is a timely one, in the form of 'back to the drawing board' and numerous late nights!

The final challenge I would say is as a brand as opposed to an artist, the commercial factor of a collection is imperative! You have to outreach to customers internationally and cater for many shapes, sizes and personalities. Naturally, this adds a large amount of logic to the design process which is fundamentally different in the art world and this is sometimes a challenge to achieve the creative levels necessary in such a prolific collaboration and a commercial value that aspires to the wearability and desire from consumers. Hopefully we are balancing the two!

Most importantly however, is that despite any challenges from a collaboration, there are a huge amount of 'pros'. It is an absolute privilege to work directly from an artist’s work which in other design cases would quite possibly be used as research and adapted but here at Mother of Pearl we are allowed to indulge in the real thing!

Pastiche, 2009 by Franceso Simeti (image via
FJAL:  How did you "adapt" Francesco Simeti's work for the collection and how did you choose which area of his work to focus on?

Amy: Francesco's work was incredibly easy to choose from, he works directly with print in his pieces and creates such wonderful collages that is was a natural transition to move into fabric and print design. We concentrated on pieces with strong visual impact including Pastiche (2009), Hillside (2011), Volatilli (2008) and Decoy Flowers (2009). Whist we used some of these direct from the canvas and replicated as repeat prints, for other concepts we broke down these artworks and used to create our own collages, maintaining an individual collaboration with Mother of Pearl's aesthetic in mind.

FJAL: What was on your moodboards aside from Simeti for SS13?

Amy: African gospel singers, images from Farm by Jackie Nickerson, vintage ski wear, a little Mexican pattern work and a picture of Freida Kahlo with a baby deer.

Frida Kahlo with a baby deer (image from
FJAL: Mother of Pearl is known for its sporty shapes. But this season you've gone for some more structured and glamorous pieces, plus all the embellishment. Why was that?

Amy: I think no matter whether we direct the collections towards more or less of a sporty aesthetic through seasons the collection is always based around easy silhouettes, styled and worn in a sporty way. 'Sportswear' through the ages has ranged through many different concepts and styles and so will Mother of Pearl. Whilst we are inspired by comfort and sport, we are by no means attempting to create sportswear. Alongside this element of the brand our main concept is creatively collaborating with artists which move and change the directions of the collections. I feel this is key in keeping a refreshed aesthetic season on season.

FJAL:  Does every artist you work with have different levels of input and ways of working?

Amy: Definitely. Each artist has a different way of working and wants to be involved in a different way.

FJAL: Do you think trends are important?

Amy: I think they are important when designing the commercial aspect of the brand in some ways, however I would never begin a collection by looking at trends nor would I let that sway the collection's direction. Having said that, I think on a subconscious level trends imprint themselves in the back of your mind and you naturally move and sway to trends.

FJAL: How do you see the relationship between fashion and art?

Amy: This question has been put to myself and Maia many a time due to the nature of the brand's collaborative concept. I feel that there is such a crossover between the creative elements of the two disciplines and boundaries between the two are constantly being explored, yet at the same time there are so many differences in the two industries. It is a relationship that is constantly redefining itself and therefore almost impossible a question to answer.

FJAL: What are your favourite pieces in the collection?

Amy: The matching peplum top and frill skirt with pink pastiche print along with the pink sleeveless shirt with disco collar!

One of Amy's favourites. She was wearing the disco collar when I met her at
the press day, so I can vouch for her devotion
FJAL: Do you have a "dream" collaborator?

Amy: Jeff Koons

FJAL: Could you ever see Mother of Pearl collaborating with another discipline, an architect, for example?

Amy: Yes I am open to all possibilities, that's the exciting element of the brand!

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