As our final-year BA Fashion students share their work with the world, we speak to Rachel Callender (BA Fashion: Fashion Design Menswear) about her exploration of family and memory.
Flicking through family photograph albums, the images imprint on our minds creating a familiarity to a place and time where we were not. We hear the stories of what we see. We were never there but now feel as though, perhaps, we were.
Rachel Callender’s final collection makes manifest this peculiar feedback loop. Looking at her family photographs, she returned again and again to her parents in the 1970s before they met. Her father had moved from Trinidad and was living in London while her mother was growing up in Roehampton. “I’m quite a sentimental person,” the designer says, “I love family photo albums and I collect lots of things that mean something... Going through these photos is a way to see my parents in a different light, to see their lives before me.”
While her collection is a re-thinking of the memories within her family, Callender’s own inspirations are also heavily influenced by the 70s, from the style and music of Mick Jagger and Miles Davis to the era’s gender fluid approach to fashion. She began isolating motifs and moments captured in the photographs – a revere collar here, the cut of trousers there.
Callender brings these elements together but also plays with them, distorts them, to create that indescribable feeling of grasping for an unreachable past. One material that reoccurs throughout is shirring elastic used to gather and alter the familiar lines of garments. As a result, the final looks almost vibrate, more difficult to discern at their edges reflecting the nature of time and memory itself.
Incorporating the unpredictable elastic forced the designer to relinquish a little control over the final outcome. Similarly, completing the collection in social isolation away from the College meant that some fabric and print choices were not as expected. The prints throughout the collection are taken from her mother’s photographs of flowers, however the situation called for Callender to use leftover sublimation papers which brought a faded quality. An unintentional but conceptually seductive outcome.
The designer mentions Louise Bourgeois’s Ode à l'oubli (Ode to Forgetting), a textile piece made from scraps of fabric collected over the artist’s lifetime: “Bourgeois abstracted a lot of things that meant something to her. The meaning is lost for the person looking at it, and in a way I’ve been doing the same, the original print is lost perhaps but I know the story and where it comes from.”
Her collection is constructed from second-hand memories, a reflection of the past that she never herself experienced. It feels inherently romantic, an amalgamation of two people before their paths crossed and their lives intertwined.
“I never really thought of it in that way. It’s either my own ‘romanticisation’ of that time, the way they grew up or it’s the sentimentality that I have for them, the context, everything they lived through.”