Joint winner of this year’s L’Oréal Professionnel Creative Award, Sarah McCormack talks about her final collection and the paranoia of perception.
Andrew Davis of The Face – and one of the judges of the L’Oréal Professionnel Creative Award – described McCormack’s collection as “a very modern take on couture”. Coming down the runway it seemed simultaneously intricate and unfinished, as though if you returned another day the garments might be entirely different. “I think of them as constantly evolving,” explains McCormack, “there’s no finality to any of my pieces. You could keep adding forever, but no, I’m not going to touch them again.”
McCormack came to MA Fashion (Womenswear) following an undergraduate degree at the University of Westminster. Having learnt a technical foundation, she was eager to define her own creative practice:
“On the MA I learnt that things don’t have to be perfect… Learning technique first was so important to me. Even though my work might be more fine art or sculptural, it has to be well made and intentional.”
Working on live projects with brands, she was challenged to make work that fits a brief. But often, the results were too idiosyncratic with feedback from tutors saying that she wasn’t moving her aesthetic far enough to meet someone else’s. “I repeatedly realised that I’m not what I think I am,” she explains, “whenever I’m making something, in my head I think ‘this is serious and technical’. But actually, it’s weird, wonky and funny. That’s not my intention. Realising that was quite scary because it questions your perceptions, like someone who goes on X Factor but can’t sing.”
McCormack’s process is intuitive and non-linear; with her final collection, there is no discernible starting point. At the time, she was navigating anxiety, both at the world outside the walls of the College and the environment within. Her work has always been a way to process the external world: “It’s a way to understand what’s going on around me.”
For this collection, one image in her mind was studio smack’s digital reinterpretation of Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. In studio smack’s words, the animated landscape depicts “the excesses and desires of 21st century Western civilisation”. Having encountered it at Gary Card’s exhibition, HYSTERICAL, McCormack was stopped in her tracks: “It’s all vomity and psychedelic. It made me feel sick, it was intense, real. It felt like a representation of everything I was, and am, feeling.”
Her clothes reflect what’s going on in the world and the final collection was, no doubt, dystopic. It presented a ruptured future but inflected with, almost pretty, delicacy. As though, through her hands, anxiety had become exquisite.
Unpicking her process, thinking and making are intertwined. She recalls creating a fabric rose: “It felt like an endless spiral, feeding into this idea of couture and a kind of longevity. But it also it looked like an eye, paranoid surveillance. It wasn’t planned, it was intuitive, an automatic link.” Does she enjoy making? “I love it so much. That’s all I do,” she says, “I’m very process-heavy. That’s the most enjoyable part for me.” She hesitates to use the word “therapeutic” but admits that “with the very action of doing something you’re catharsizing something else”.
McCormack leaves her Masters not only as joint winner of the L’Oréal Award but also as a Sarabande Foundation scholar both of which give her time to think about her next steps. “I can pay off my overdraft, that’s nice,” she says, “the show itself was the reward but to have your effort acknowledged is really good.”