Rioter: Hannah Wallace interviewed

This year's winner of the Gold award at Graduate Fashion Week Hannah Wallace talks about her outstanding graduate collection, which takes inspiration from rioters and astronauts – and the layers of protection they must wear

Feature by Morgan McTiernan | 30 Jun 2015

Hannah Wallace, a 25-year-old menswear design graduate of Manchester School of Art, was named winner of the George Gold Award at this year's Graduate Fashion Week (GFW). Previous winners include Matthew Williamson, Burberry's Christopher Bailey, and Stella McCartney.

Wallace is surely on the path towards a great career in fashion. Upon graduating this June, she begins an internship with George at Asda in Leicestershire, as assistant designer in the men’s outerwear division.

Wallace was originally enrolled at Gateway sixth form college in Leicestershire to study philosophy, sociology and health and social care when she realised that she wanted to undertake a fashion design course, as she found "the practical and creative teaching methods much more intriguing."

"I’ve always been into drawing, illustrating and sewing and would often alter my own clothes, so I went for it!" she explains. "I then went on to study a two-year BTEC in fashion and clothing at Leicester College, another two-year foundation degree in fashion at New College Nottingham and finally on to a BA fashion degree at the Manchester School of Art." 

Of her design process, Wallace says that she likes "to do a bit of trend research and forecasting to see what is different and then interpret a concept into my own. Looking at culture and youth subculture, I continuously sample, toile and experiment with different textures, scale of silhouette and techniques to create something distinctive." She says her work is best described as "outlandish, urban and technical," and that her brand and graduate collection, Pluto Close, was inspired by "the uprising of rioters against the government, and astronauts; especially the protective layers that are necessary to both types of individuals, as they are thought of as second skins."

Her research has comprised "a combination of subculture, science and engineering, and I have individually translated my research through design methods such as digital prints, scale and construction. The ability to combine and individually recreate significant rebellions throughout history touches upon discovery, change, conflict, uprising, progression, innovation and protection. The courage and freedom that a rioter possesses have influenced my eccentric designs."

Eccentricity is indeed a quality that carries through her graduate collection, which features black balaclavas, silver puffer jackets and mesh shorts. The pieces combine futurism with a rebellious urban style, for example in the puffer jacket, which "focuses on the insulation of the jacket and the crossover in references taken from a space suit and a masked rioter." Describing the creation of her fabrics, Wallace comments that she "heat-bonded emergency blankets to a lightweight nylon. I used the emergency foil reflective blankets because of their many uses and colour. Derived from NASA technology, the aluminium helps redirect infrared energy which is crucial to any rioter. 

"The long sleeves and cords are an exaggeration of traditional silhouettes and were inspired by the skyscraper tower blocks taken from my research," she adds. Using "a diverse variety of waterproof and water-resistant material as well as making and binding [her] own fabrics," she contextualises British urban street with space-age technology to materialise her ideas. 

Wallace mentions that the designs throughout her collection have "discrete similarities that display my imaginative and innovative style of work." Her "vast variation of research" has allowed her to develop "a collection that is interactive and insulated, as well as breathable fabrics that enable flexibility and capacity in construction" – and to create an innovative menswear brand. The name Pluto Close was taken from a block of maisonette flats on a council estate in Leicester, Highfields. It echoes one of Wallace's original concepts – space and astronomy – "so the connection was inexorable," she says. "I also wanted to reflect residential areas which were notorious for rebellions and upheaval within my research. The digital prints, logos and silhouettes in my collection have been inspired by the scale and layout of the architecture on the estate."

In enhancing her graphic skills Wallace worked with Matt Smith, a graphics student, who designed her logo and shot her collection lookbook. Since graduating and winning the prestigious prize at GFW, Wallace has had buyers from London and Japan interested in stocking her graduate collection. Winning the George Gold Award and Creative Catwalk Award have been serious achievements: "I have received a significant amount of press, which is needed in order to get yourself out there," she says. "It’s an amazing feeling to know all your hard work paid off. I’m still excited about my win and look forward to the wonderful opportunities coming my way." She also comments on the importance of interning while studying. Over the summer before she entered her third year at Manchester School of Art, she interned for Vivienne Westwood and Aitor Throup, and during these placements "learnt many new skills, and strengthened many skills too, such as pattern cutting, sampling, fabrication and photography."

Wallace's work is not available to purchase just yet ("at this moment in time I don't have the resources to mass reproduce the garments," she explains). However, her work is available to see via her website – and we cannot wait to see what Pluto Close grows into.