Amy Vanderwal, emerging designer inspired by rebellious youth culture and mentored by Oliver Spencer, won a scholarship at GFW17 last June. Since then, the menswear graduate has been busy creating a collection to be released for Tu clothing, learning that mistakes are a natural part of progression and why menswear is the most exciting element of the industry right now.
Firstly, a huge well done for winning the Tu Menswear Scholarship at GFW17! How was the whole experience for you?
GFW was such a whirlwind! After an incredibly work-intense year, the atmosphere in Truman Brewery over those few days is like no other – everyone is just buzzing to see all their hard work pay off and be able to finally showcase it to friends, family and industry. It’s such an amazing couple of days and a great opportunity to network and make yourself known by industry professionals. Winning the award was incredibly overwhelming. I was only being interviewed by the Tu design team and Oliver Spencer just hours before I was up on stage at the Gala Show accepting my award!
How was your time at Nottingham Trent University? How did they prepare you for life as a graduate designer?
I can’t speak highly enough of NTU. I had the most amazing 3 years there and was surrounded by such an inspiring and dedicated group of people – both friends in the studio and the tutors also - I really couldn’t have pulled my collection together without that support system around me. The tutors were so insightful and full of incredible knowledge, and the fashion girls just kept me sane through A LOT of stressful times!
What inspired your collection for GFW17? What encouraged you to focus on menswear?
My graduate collection was inspired by rebellious youth culture and a photo series by Iain Mckell called “The New Gypsies”, which focuses on the anarchistic Punk-hippie counterculture of the 1980’s. He looked at these larger than life gypsy characters who rebelled against Margaret Thatcher’s attempt to break up the working class hotbed of communism. I was inspired by these traveller families he photographed, and their children, which lead to the idea of hand-me-down clothing – nothing quite fits how it should - inspiring oversized contrasting silhouettes throughout the collection.
Despite the negative propaganda, the gypsy life has romantic connotations and I was taken by McKell’s portrayal of “punk in the landscape”. Ever since starting university in first year I knew I was a menswear designer. I’ve always been drawn to masculine silhouettes and the overall aesthetic. I think right now is a very important time for menswear – it’s being recognised for something other than just jeans and a t-shirt. It’s finally found it’s place within the fashion industry and I’m very excited to be a part of that.
So what have you and Tu been doing since winning your scholarship? How is your relationship with the company and your mentor Oliver Spencer?
I have been with Tu for 6 months now and the progression I’ve made in the development of my collection since starting is insane. I’ve designed both my SS18 range and AW18 range, met with numerous suppliers, agreed on styles, colorways and fabrics, approved samples, attended fit sessions and now it’s all in the manufacture process and completely out of my hands! – it’s all coming together really quickly and is set to launch June 3rd in line with GFW! I’ve learnt that it’s an incredibly fast paced industry. I’ve also had numerous mentoring sessions with Oliver, who is so full of knowledge and experience and has been incredibly insightful throughout the whole process of the designing my collection. I’ve also worked at his studio for a week, helping out in preparation for his AW18 show which was an amazing experience!
What do you feel is the next step in your career?
I’ve had a great time at Tu so far - it is such a lovely environment to work and you are very well looked after. I do see myself as a commercial designer so I know that I am starting out in the right place with such an amazing platform. I think I’d like to move to London at the end of my scholarship as there’s so much opportunity and creativity there! Perhaps something may come from working along side Oliver Spencer this year? Who knows!
Fashion is beginning to focus on sustainability, as climate change becomes more and more of a concern for the younger generation. Do you try to incorporate environmentally conscious techniques into your work?
I think at university it was more difficult to do so as such techniques can also be more expensive and as a student you treat every pound as if it’s your last. However at Tu, we are encouraged to work closely with our suppliers to consider all of the economic, environmental and social impacts of their activities so it’s definitely something I consider highly when I’m designing.
Your collection for GFW17 was punk inspired, and you are continuing this theme for your collection with TU. What encouraged you to choose the punk era as inspiration?
I’m really into my alternative/rock music and attend a lot of gigs and festivals. Although I’m not into punk music as such, the culture and the way they portray their identities fascinates me. I feel that Punk essentially defined youth culture and encouraged a deeper exploration of identity, which remains to be so impactful on fashion and will always inspire fashion and culture one way or another.
If you could collaborate with any company or designer, who would It be and why?
Raf Simons - I will always love everything that he does. Like myself, he seems to gain a lot of his inspiration from music and the energy of youth cultures and his collections are a perfect example of how styles and shapes can express identity and a different image of masculinity.
If you could give some advice to our graduates showcasing at GFW18, what would you say?
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. I was always so scared of getting things wrong and looking silly, but in hind sight, making mistakes are all part of your progression and they just help you become a stronger and more knowledgeable designer! Put your heart and soul into your portfolio - that’s what gets you the job. And finally, use GFW to network with as many people as possible - you never know who you might run into conversation with and it could be the stepping stone into your dream career!
Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
I normally like to focus on what’s in front of me rather than ahead, but I’m certain that I will always remain working within the fashion industry. I can’t imagine a life where you aren’t able to go to work and be creative every single day. I think I would like to try out a lot of different areas within fashion to discover which role suits me best, but for the time being I’m just finding my feet and intend to continue to grow and learn as a menswear designer for many years to come.
Words by Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins