Life after Graduate Fashion Week can get pretty exciting- think your dream job, and then think bigger. We've been catching up with our alumni, to bring these inspirational career stories to light, to encourage you to keep putting in those late nights at the studio and to get you excited about #GFW17! We can't wait to kick off the workshops, catwalk shows and live talks in June.
Our most recent interview is with the Scottish born Morwenna Darwell, currently a junior designer at Gucci living in Rome, to find out about how opposites are sometimes the most complimentary, creativity and why you should update your linkedin. Like now.
Hiya Morwenna, thanks so much for taking the time to sit down with us- it seems like you've had a very busy few years! Firstly, you’ve been quoted as saying “I like things that are a wee bit tacky!” What would you consider tacky, and what appeals to you about this aesthetic?
Yes, that’s true. I don’t know where I got that from, maybe it's associated with growing up on a farm in the beautiful Scottish countryside. I love "beauty" but it is already being done so well, whether in nature or in more traditional arts. To me beauty by itself can feel boring, there needs to be something in contrast with that beauty, something everyday, human and - yes - tacky, something with a bit of bite. To me, this is how we can broaden the domain of beauty, and make it exciting and new again. It’s that, the energy within the contrast between the two, that inspires me.
It would be great if you could trace a trajectory of your career journey so far, from starting at Edinburgh College of Art to junior designer at Gucci.
Actually I would like to start at Leith School of Art in Edinburgh where I did my foundation year. Although only one year, it was extremely thorough and really expanded my knowledge of fine art. Here I was also taught the importance of a strong drawing foundation, which is a skill I believe has aided me hugely in being successful in competitions and my career.
Following Leith I moved to Edinburgh college of Art. Actually I was extremely daunted in my first months here - it was the first time in my life I was surrounded by people interested and dedicated to fashion design with the same passion and enthusiasm I was. In time I found my feet; the teaching was excellent, and not only taught us the hard skills required to design but also taught us to challenge and question the industry we were training to be a part of!
From Edinburgh I moved to London where I joined the Fashion Masters at the Royal College of Art. The RCA was - if anything - even more intensive and exhilarating than my education theretofore. Being a Masters College, everyone is extremely talented and passionate, it was a wonderful place to explore and discuss ideas not only in your peer groups but also across disciplines and with the many guest lecturers. It was really a privilege to study at such an iconic institution.
Do you have a favourite moment from the past couple of years? Perhaps a funny moment to share?
In the middle of class one day at RCA panicking about my collection - which at that point needed to be on the catwalk in less than 4 weeks! - I got a phone call from an unknown number, I answered and heard a lady's voice say “Hi I’m from Gucci and we want you to come for an interview in Rome next week”. It came out of nowhere! I don’t think I have ever been so stunned.
How has participating in Graduate Fashion Week helped your career progress?
It helped to set myself a high standard. It helped to push my collection to the best it could possibly be! Knowing that to be successful your work will have to stand out in style, ideas and quality to the best graduates across Britain really forces you to think big! In your university you think you and your peers all have a unique style and everyone’s collections look unique from one another’s but I always tried to image if another student in a different university somewhere had the same idea as me, would my collection still stand out against his or hers?
You’ve won lots of awards and scholarships, and moved around lots. Which have you found the most rewarding, or interesting?
I think it would have to be winning the Micheal Kors competition at Edinburgh College of Art. Michael Kors flew me to New York for a 3 week internship. The designers at there were extremely welcoming and I fell in love with the energy of New York.
The competition's brief was to design a handbag range. I had never worked with leather before so I called a family friend of mine who was a clog-maker and I played around with scraps of leather in his workshop for three days.
Again, this contrast: working in this tiny clog workshop in the middle of the Scottish countryside juxtaposed with the mega glitzy and glam studios of Michael Kors in Manhattan, New York! This contrast makes me very happy: designers worlds apart but still nonetheless working authentically to produce items someone will wear and cherish, whether it be a handmade leather Scottish clog or a gold studded Michael Kors handbag.
Is there a city that you feel best reflects your work?
Not really no, I don’t think so - when I first moved to Rome I found it too conservative for me. But in time I have found neighbourhoods of the city where there are interesting grassroots art and music with an intriguing mix of old and new, extreme decadence versus extreme poverty, as well as various cultural juxtapositions. I guess with every city it's just a matter of finding your crew.
Graduate Fashion has always been described as innovative, creative and generally more revolutionary than the wider industry. What would you say graduate fashion has elements that other parts of the industry maybe don’t?
Yes, I'd absolutely agree. Unless you start your own business (which also has many restraints and limitations) you never really get time to just be freely creative and fully immersed in your own mind, your own world, in the same way that you do when creating a graduate collection. Also, there is a freedom about being a novice, not knowing too much about the confines of design within the industry. I think the industry should tap this fresh creativity more.
What’s your favourite thing about the fashion industry? What do you think should change?
Being creative everyday. Working with and being surround by the most beautiful and interesting textures and colours.
What advice would you give to graduates this year, that are a little unsure about what to do?
Firstly, cherish this moment. It is wonderful and you should feel so proud. Next, update your linkedin. Not necessarily with whole portfolios but at least with the basic information, schools, competitions and a couple of photos. This is how I was first approached by Gucci. Who knows where or what I would be doing now if I hadn’t decided one evening to give my linkedin a little update.
Do you have any exciting plans for the future?
What’s to come? I’m not sure, I think there is a lot of opportunity in the fashion industry that I am still unaware of, and so for the far future I would like to keep an open mind. But I know at one point I would like to have complete creative freedom again and find the time to work on my own collections. I’d always planned to develop my knowledge and understanding of design within a design house first, so I am delighted to be at Gucci. I still have a lot to learn, I am in love with the Roman sunshine, so I’m staying put!
Words by Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins
Imagery courtesy of Morwenna Darwell