Menswear designer, Poppy Russell has always been drawn to how music and society influences fashion. Her designs, shown at Graduate Fashion Week in 2015, portrayed popular but questionable newspaper articles, with political slogans. Since graduating, Poppy has been a Design Assistant at Topman, and is currently working in PR, preparing to launch her own business...Smokey Jackets!
As graduate of Arts University Bournemouth, you participated in GFW15 and then were selected to showcase your menswear collection as part of the Best of Show! How was that moment for you?
It was amazing, you put so much time and effort into your graduate collection so to receive such great feedback from it was really encouraging. It was such a honour to be part of the Best of Show and have that opportunity for so many people in the industry to see my work.
What was your time like at AUB?
I loved AUB. I went there for my foundation year initially and then ended up staying on for the degree course because I liked it so much. The university really encourages students to collaborate across pathways so you get to use equipment and materials that you maybe wouldn’t be able to elsewhere. The tutors on my course were great as well, Anne Chaisty (who was Course Leader at the time) was so supportive and helped me a lot with getting my graduate collection to what it was.
During GFW15, your collection was modelled conventionally- until they reached the end of the catwalk and the models exploded into dance! What was the concept behind this?
The concept of the collection was to create a body of work that was inspired by different aspects of all the subcultures between the 1960s and the 1980s. Northern soul was a huge part of that and dance felt like the best way to make the clothes come alive on the catwalk. Anne found Lauren, a northern soul dancer who has since starred in the Gucci 2017 campaign, and we worked with her to create the dancing aspect of the catwalk show - I wanted the models to have fun with it.
It’s clear that you’ve adopted an interdisciplinary approach in your work, with an impressive portfolio featuring fashion films, styling and design all making an appearance. Which medium do you prefer?
I love all of it – I really love seeing something that I’ve visualised come to life and sometimes that means following the project from initial idea to the final video or photo shoot. I get something different from each medium and by learning those different skills, I think it helps me work as a creative because I can approach a project from a more holistic viewpoint and consider all those angles.
What messages do you hope to portray through your work?
Every project I did throughout university referenced a previous subculture or era. I’ve always been drawn to how music and society influences fashion and vice versa. That was harder to do when I started working for companies after graduating because you’re working to their brief and concepts but if I can, I’ll always try and bring some nostalgia to my work.
For a while you were a freelance assistant designer at Topman. What was your experience like there?
I learnt a lot while being there – I was originally brought in as a freelancer to work on the Topman Design show and then I ended up staying after the show and working with the trousers and accessories department, which I loved! It was the first fashion role I had that was office based as opposed to being in a studio so it was quite a big change for me.
What is it about menswear specifically that you enjoy designing?
I like the challenge – womenswear can be quite out there and provocative and women will always buy it because they’re perhaps more confident in what they wear. I don’t think men are as comfortable so you need to create something that’s different but not scary. It’s all about the subtle details and making the garment functional. You have to be clever about it.
The industry is undergoing lots of changes, primarily due to the influence of a younger generation of designers. What change would you like to see, or be part of making?
I’d love to see unpaid internships becoming illegal. I’ve interned a lot over the last 2 years and I know a lot of people from interning that have become almost broke from doing so in an effort to try and make it in the industry.
I’m not saying every company should page a daily wage – I get that some companies just cannot afford that. But reimbursing travel and food cost should be the minimum. Otherwise those interns are paying £10+ a day and ending up out of pocket to work for free.
If you had to give one piece of advice to fashion students hoping to show at Graduate Fashion Week 2018, what would it be?
Just do what you want to do. Don’t try and guess what will get you picked for the catwalk show – the work you produce needs to be true to you. If you try and second-guess it, the best-case scenario is you get picked but don’t have a collection you believe in and can’t talk passionately about it. The worst-case scenario is you end up not being picked and left with something that doesn’t reflect you or your design style.
Lastly, where do you hope to be in five years?
I’m currently working in PR and have been given the opportunity to work with some really great people and explore a whole new area that I’d never considered until now. I’m also carrying on with freelance work alongside this and am in the process of launching my own company – Smokey Jackets.
Interview by Alix Flannery