Ellie Rousseau: Underdog

Having interned with J.W. Anderson, Ellie Rousseau is making a name for herself with her fun and fluffy menswear. She talks us through her graduate collection, Underdog, which explores perceptions of street wear and gang culture

Feature by Morgan McTiernan | 06 Nov 2014

Ellie Rousseau is a menswear designer whose collection presents a modern perception of street wear. Designing for the young modern male, Rousseau combines knitwear with luxe sportswear in creating a unique and individualistic look. She explores the depths of street wear and highlights social issues and perceptions relating to the conceived ideas of 'street.' 

Having graduated from Manchester School of Art in BA (Hons) in Fashion earlier this year, Rousseau interned with Northern Irish designer J.W. Anderson throughout two collections in 2013, where she worked on the menswear SS14 and the womenswear Resort SS14 collections from beginning to end. Currently based in Antwerp, she is working with designer Devon Halfnight Leflufy on his AW15 menswear collection.

The creation of identity through clothing is what drew Rousseau to the industry. "People use fashion to express and represent who they are," she comments. "The fashion industry is such a captivating place to be, always evolving within itself and I think that’s great for a work environment."

Throughout her collection, she creates an aesthetic where her clothes illustrate a narrative. And being a conceptual designer, research plays an important role in her design process. "I start by collecting imagery to explore themes and concepts within a narrative," she says. "I will also examine garment types to inform silhouettes and details [which are] then mixed with fabrications and trims."

"People use fashion to express and represent who they are" – Ellie Rousseau

Rousseau's unusual combination of materials adds another dimension to her work; she is noted for combining "knitwear with premium sportswear fabrics to really push the boundaries of the athletic aesthetics within contemporary menswear." She creates her own genre of street with her paradoxical designs of pastel colours on oversized boyish silhouettes, commenting that her use of "odd combinations of materials and graphics that typicality aren’t seen in menswear – pastel coloured fluffy sheep curls and a cute knitted Boston terrier, for example" creates "a level of humour" within her work, "while also staying true to typical sportswear fabrics."

Rousseau is very much open to technology to achieve the high level of detail within her work, and the facilities at Manchester School of Art have allowed her to hone her skills in garment making. "I mainly use programs to aid my design such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and DesignaKnit," she says. "I use both domestic and industrial knitwear machines to produce my knit, while multi-head embroidery and laser cutting machines also play a part. I’m always open to learning new technology to develop fashion." She says that she likes her workspace to be "a clean space so I can think straight to begin with; then I disperse elements of the collection I’m working on around my workspace to remind me of the initial conceptual themes and silhouettes."

Describing her influences, Rousseau is drawn to designers such as Astrid Andersen, Bobby Abley and Nasir Mazhar, who innovate in menswear by not being restricted to the traditional norms of menswear design. "Fun. Fresh. Fluffy" are the three words Rousseau chooses to describe her work, her aesthetic – as with that of the designers she mentions – redefining the boundaries of male clothing. 

For her graduate collection, 'Underdog,' Rousseau was drawn to the "strengths and sensitivities found in the male youths and the street." The narrative of her clothing is identifiable in her exploration of the strengths and emotional tension within gangs. "Ideologies of unity within gangs, street sports, dogs and the levels of aggression/sensitiveness were displayed via typical street wear silhouettes," she explains, "with graphic visuals of pentagrams (symbol for cult unity) and a humorous Boston terrier among an application of pastel tones against harsher industrial hues." The pastel tones and fluffy fabrics advocate the sensitivity within gangs, where her collection questions the hardship and fearful notions of being in a gang. The pentagram symbol, a repeated motif, is derived from the idea that a gang acts as a brotherhood and unifies its members; the symbol later develops into a patchwork seam construction throughout the collection.

The materials used in her collection were all adapted from traditional sportswear – materials such as Airtex, silks, mesh, perforated leather and nylons. Undoubtably, a standout piece is the Boston terrier dog-emblazoned oversized sweater – the dog, a symbol of aggressive gangs, paired with the softness of the materials and the colour palette used, gives it almost a 'cuteness,' a surprise in the context of gang culture. The graphic print of the Boston terrier was applied to the knitwear using the Intarsia technique and adds an almost sensitive note to the collection, which is further enhanced by the hand dyed pastel sheep curls seen throughout Rousseau's garments.

Rousseau's designs have gained much publicity – she has been featured in Urban Outfitters SHEET ’zine in print and online and, due to being featured, the imagery of the Underdog collection was seen in Urban Outfitters stores across Europe. Her work has also been published in Hunger TV and As You Are magazine, where her individual approach to street wear and sportswear is being recognised. Devon Halfnight Leflufy’s AW15 collection will be showing at men's fashion week in Paris in January, and Rousseau hopes to go back to university to study a Masters in menswear, specialising in knitwear.

Having just begun her career in fashion, Rousseau has already made an impact on creating a new genre of street wear – and her designs showcase a vision to create a line that resembles a modern idea of sportswear and street wear.

Instagram: ellierousseau http://www.wowowrousseau.com