JUXTAPOSITIONS OF CONTRASTING TRAITS IN DESIGN
Fashion design and its core design principles are often utilized as social tools for advocacy and activism; the facilitation of sustainable and ecological methodologies through observations of the study of circularity and implementing initiatives to empower those practices; defying gender boundaries through redefining and redesigning the conventional human body and its forms. Fashion designer Shanti Bell exposes the contrast between strength and masculinity in delicate yet robust silhouettes, fluidity and rigidity intertwining as she confronts the roles placed upon the youth of men in society and the weight afflicted upon their shoulders. We explore the origin of this concept and the design motifs behind its creation with Shanti Bell. Her latest designs for Netflix’s original TV Series ‘Bridgerton’ becomes an alternate shift as she designs for the female silhouette while embodying the relationship between the characters and depicting their personality traits.
Fashion designer Shanti Bell is a menswear designer, contemporary furniture maker and multidisciplinary creative. She recently graduated from Central Saint Martins where she studied a BA in Fashion Print and is currently studying her Masters at the Royal College of Art with a specialism in Fashion: Menswear. Her work constantly engages with the material of wood and carpentry techniques. She is most intrigued in exploring how a relationship between furniture, sculpture and garment design can be created, exploring how the collaboration of these different fields can each inform each other. Shanti Bell was among the three British Fashion Council, United Kingdom to have been selected for the collaboration between Netflix’s popular TV Series ‘Bridgerton’ of which we recognized her collection for its beauty and grace in representing the characters of the series through intriguing concepts that understood the complexity of the personalities involved. In our conversation with Shanti Bell, she reveals her design journey, principles and explores more on the collection.
Q | How did you begin your journey in the fashion industry?
A | I have always been a creatively curious person and find the expression of art a really powerful and fascinating medium. I was drawn to fashion as a particular field of visual expression due to its relationship with the individual and human body and I became invested in exploring how I could challenge the boundaries of what a garment could be and how they interact, and intervene with the human form. I think fashion is such a strong form of expression and there is a space where it can be harnessed as a tool to work beyond its parameters of just being a garment but to so much more. However, I don't restrict myself to just the field of fashion but find that the thinking from other creative fields when applied in collaboration to fashion can produce really exciting outcomes.
Q | Your speciality is in menswear; how and why did you begin this collection and the advocacy for it?
A | My main specialism is Menswear and my most recent collection was my BA graduate collection. The ideas behind that collection titled ‘The Weight of Masculinity’ was exploring the burden and pressures that society subconsciously and un-subconsciously place on young men of ideas of what is ideal masculinity. I wanted to challenge the idea that masculinity means strong and in turn that it can mean both strength and vulnerabilities working in balance, together. Through research I explored the impacts of these pressures on young men, their mental health and how it made them feel and I felt it was an important topic to explore and express visually as within my own personal circles I could often see the weight of masculine expectations effecting the young men within my life.
Q | Can you tell us about the design motifs behind this concept and how you have reflected the notions of masculinity and the concept of this subject?
A | My approach to this concept was to visually display young men through the lens of sensitivity and gentleness through the use of curved wood and sculptured shapes. I wanted to capture young men carrying this burden but in turn using it to empower them and displaying a shifted perspective of masculinity. I also took inspiration from objects within society which we use to carry weight and used them to inspire the garment shapes and construction methods to further display this weight visually.
Q | What was the difference you found designing for women for the Bridgerton collection considering your experience in menswear?
A | Designing for women was a completely different experience in comparison to how I usually work. There were many other factors which I had to consider that I don’t usually, however it was a challenge I truly embraced. The brief for the Bridgeton project asked us to draw inspiration from the themes of Regency and Scandal which I initially found challenging but I also saw it as an opportunity for me to explore my own version of these themes and use my way of working to generate a new take.
Q | Can you talk about the concept behind your Bridgerton collection, the character you chose and how you interpreted the characters and reflected those specifics in your collection?
A | My concept looked at how magazines and newspapers (which are usually full of scandal) have been stored, stacked and placed throughout history. I wanted to recreate the effortless draping and falling of newspaper pages within the dresses I created to reflect garments which felt fluid and sculptural. I chose to design for Phoebe Dynevor and Claudia Jessie as within the show of Bridgeton they play sisters and I was interested in creating garments which were uniquely different but had a relationship with each other. I looked at displaying this relationship through the use of pleating and the tailored pattern cutting aspects I incorporated within both designs.
Q | You were mentored by Richard Quinn; how did this experience, as well as working alongside Aurélie Fontan and Edward Mendoza - although not together - help you in the creative process?
A | It was really great to work alongside the other scholars and see how different we all approached the same brief, the creativity of their garments was truly inspiring to see. I found working alongside them and also being mentored by Richard Quinn encouraged me to always want to better the work I was producing and continue to explore and push the boundaries of the garments I was creating.
Q | The pandemic has been especially hard for the fashion industry; in your opinion, what do you think needs to be done/changed to overcome this hurdle?
A | I think adapting and responding is key to progression within the current circumstances, where the fashion industry works with the restrictions as opposed to against them. The industry has needed a shift for quite some time and possibly the space of the pandemic is allowing that important shift, what I hope is that this time is being used to listen and adapt accordingly. Also to include, there are many young designers who are being refreshingly creative and using the space of the pandemic to create change, which I find inspiring.
Through portraying the narrative that unmasks the overlooked notion of fragile masculinity and acknowledging the burden instilled upon the youth of the male population, Shanti Bell exposes the veracities that need altering. The fluid silhouettes and strong textures, Shanti designs the juxtaposition intricately. Her grasp of human characteristic and innermost consciousness of an individual is reflected through her work; as seen in her Bridgerton collection that embodied the delicate personality of Daphne Bridgerton and the persevering Eloise Bridgerton and the threads interweaved between their relationship, Shanti’s designs, through colours, pleats and patterns resemble a unique distinction portrayed with verve and vivacity. Designer Shanti Bell beautifully adapts the concept of her work as it seeps into the creations of her design.