Spotlight: Fern-Rebekah Bywater

Liverpool graduate Fern-Rebekah Bywater takes inspiration from the built environment to create her sharp, structured womenswear. She tells us about using weird materials, the future of fashion, and how she hopes people feel when they see her designs

Feature by Leonie Wolters | 28 Aug 2015

It’s a space many young people are familiar with: after graduating from university, there is hopefully a reasonably secluded basement or attic at mum and dad's, which can contain the wholly reinvented postgraduate you. Recent Liverpool John Moores University Fashion Design graduate Fern-Rebekah Bywater traded a Liverpool student flat for her parental homestead in Northampton, but, unlike some, she doesn’t display any signs of millennial lethargia. Her architecturally inspired graduate collection was very well received, and she has since landed an internship with a London-based personal styling business.

Perhaps Bywater could give other basement-dwellers some much-needed advice. "I think it’s extremely tricky to go from three years of independence to moving back in with your parents," she says. "I’m fortunate to have a really close relationship with my family and my brother, who has also just returned home after completing his Architecture MA in Edinburgh. So despite it being a shock, I have gotten used to it. As for advice, just remember your goals; it’s important not to get too comfortable and to still push for what you worked hard for at uni." Those goals? Bywater's current dream is to become a womenswear designer at a brand such as Céline, Acne or The Kooples.

It also seems that spending time with family isn't Bywater’s worst nightmare, as they played a pivotal role in her artistic education. "As children, my brother and I would go to an art class with my granny," she explains. "I think it is her we get our creative streak from. We would go to stately home grounds on days out, and I felt like a real artist because the whole class would have easels. I’d love to see the work I did then!" The stately homes led Bywater to consider the buildings around her as a source of inspiration in years to come – her graduate collection, Spatial Configurations, relies heavily on cues from the built environment. As its starting point, Bywater used the stark lines of work by Nasreen Mohamedi and Piet Mondrian recently exhibited at the Tate Liverpool. "When people used to ask what the vibe of the collection was I’d say, ‘You know when you stand in the shadow of a building and feel cold? I want people to feel like that when they watch the show’ – it made perfect sense to me at the time."

"I can't wait to see fashion in 50 years... I believe we’ll be logging on to the computer, buying a garment and 3D-printing it out at home" – Fern-Rebekah Bywater

This feeling that Bywater hopes to evoke with her range of womenswear has its physical counterpart in austere colours, sharp folds and lines, and materials that are crying out to be fondled. "I used architectural shapes to create an industrial aesthetic," she says. "It was a design mix of textured wool, painted leathers and translucent silicone." Materials are crucial in her process: "I do a lot of sampling and really enjoy exploring new fabrics and developing texture through print or fabric manipulation. I often have a material in my head before I start designing what will be made out of it." Using techniques such as screen printing, devoré and digital printing, Bywater then turns her raw materials into finished garments. "I spent a lot of time in the print rooms in final year developing freehand painted fabric," she tells us."It might have looked unplanned but to pull that off it needed to be really considered."

Bywater knows well the painstaking work that goes into making something look purposely accidental, and reflects on the potential ease of creating garments in the future: "I can't wait to see fashion in 50 years and I really hope I’ll still be working in it. I believe we’ll be logging on to the computer, buying a garment and 3D printing it out at home!" Already, innovative technologies play a large role in Bywater’s work. "I love pushing the boundaries with non-fashion fabrics and really enjoyed working with silicone in my collection," she says. "It was ordered from some industrial website in metre sheets and I don't even really know what its true purpose was. If I could expand on my collection with more outrageous ideas, I would take this further into accessories and shoes. There is more room for craziness there. I do wish ready-to-wear fashion would be more like that, but you would never walk down the street in something like that, or very few would. So in terms of becoming a successful designer things have to be considered for wearable reasons." Pondering the construction of unrealistic shoes must have affected the way Bywater looks at the cold, hard realism of the high street: "Absolutely, I pick the garments apart from their button choice to the stitching, to the lack of lining. Obviously, I praise them too and look at designer pieces and envy their finishing. I love to see what the shops are choosing to make pieces from and their quality in comparison to the price – sometimes it’s quite shocking!"

The same gap between dreams and reality plays a role in day-to-day-dressing. Bywater loves Instagram powerhouse Susie Lau’s colourful, layered style, but confesses to some diametrically opposed, hard-to-shake tendencies. "I think every fashion student is guilty of wearing too much black, I definitely do. I have an obsession with pinstripe at the moment and I absolutely love the way people dress in Berlin, in particular at [legendary Berlin club] Berghain. On the Sunday I was there, I was lucky enough to get inside and everyone’s style was unique but somehow the same, the majority all in black with a pair of Docs or trainers, the odd heeled boot but no heels. It’s such a vivid memory because I remember thinking I’d never seen so many well-dressed people in one room!"

Hopefully, Bywater will indeed spend the next 50 years or more considering different dreams, and turning them into solid shapes and structures that women like to wear.