Spotlight On Jessica Campbell: Denim Dreams

Straight after completing her degree and wowing at Graduate Fashion Week, we catch up with menswear designer Jessica Campbell to find out more about her work

Feature by Alexandra Fiddes | 01 Jul 2014

Born in Ballinamallard, County Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland, 22-year-old graduate menswear designer Jessica Campbell has always been creative. She tells us, "Throughout school I would try to develop my ideas into wearable garments as I always wanted my work to have a reason or function behind it." She much prefers having her work on view in the real world, being used, rather than "being hidden away in a gallery."

From early on, Campbell was focused on pursing art and design as a career choice. "When I was 15 I completed a work experience placement with designer MaryRose McGrath at her studio in Belfast. She was (and still is) such a great mentor to me and I came away from the experience knowing that I definitely wanted to be a designer when I was older."

After finishing school in Northern Ireland, Campbell made the move to the Northwest, to study a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Manchester School of Art. She says, "Moving from A-Levels to Foundation Art was a big change for me. When I was at school art and design was about creating beautiful pieces whereas Foundation Art taught me more about expressing my creativity.

"I was encouraged to experiment with different methods and media," she adds, "which led me to be a lot more open-minded about my work and art in general. After a year of doing whatever I wanted in the name of art, it was good to have some structure again from the BA (Hons) Fashion course."

The tutors, she says, although hugely supportive, ultimately wanted students to make decisions for themselves and become independent thinkers. "This was difficult at times, but in hindsight it has made me more confident in developing my own ideas and skills."

“I tend to work like a costume designer – I like to develop a character” – Jessica Campbell

The city of Manchester has itself has been an influence on Campbell's work and its development. "Manchester is so culturally and historically rich it is hard not to be influenced by it in some way or another. During one university project, we were encouraged to take our research from MOSI (the Museum of Science and Industry.) Even though we all began with the same research source, it was amazing to see how many different outcomes my course-mates created."

Campbell also takes her inspiration from diverse sources, often completely disassociated from fashion. She creates initial designs based on research, then finalises these as she experiments with sampling and finishing. "I try to develop it [the idea] into a narrative or story. I tend to work like a costume designer – I like to develop a character then try to imagine what they would or should wear."

Campbell adds, "I feel that garments should reflect a person’s personality to an extent, and by working in this way I feel I can create an experience for the wearer that will last longer than a trend."

Campbell's final year menswear collection was inspired by Northern Ireland and her experiences of growing up there on a farm. Local folklore and ghost stories have also influenced her work. She tells us that she has, for example, been inspired by "the tale of the ghost that lives in my house back home. I have taken inspiration from the life of this Irishman, Andrew Fraser, and his transition from farmhand to soldier during WWI, leading to his untimely death." Spooky!

This ghoulish element has been realised throughout the garment details, such as the off-set pockets and the traces of braces on a shirt that are no longer present. The collection also contains "oversized shapes and silhouettes which have been ‘roughly altered’ to reflect the tradition of ‘hand-me-downs.’"

Through her work Campbell "challenges obvious traditional craft techniques and uses them to create contemporary fashionable outcomes" and prides herself on creating beautifully finished pieces with hidden design features and detailing that may only become evident when worn. Manipulated denim is the main element of the collection, which is complemented by touches of fabrics such as wool and linen. Throughout the collection, Campbell has played with traditional techniques like rag-rugging, which has been used to replicate the look of fur on a parka and also on a pair of jeans. Additionally, she has used potato prints (in her own words, a "subtle ode to Ireland!") to create a polka dot pattern that is used on a pair of jeans and on a denim jacket. She has also, "hand-knitted a jumper using hessian, wool and string, which I then dipped in indigo dye to keep with the denim theme."

The graduate designer describes her incredibly striking and tactile denim collection as "sharp menswear with a softened edge reminiscent of a past era of DIY and tradition" which seems entirely appropriate but doesn't quite give it enough credit, as although the garments' aesthetic is beautifully handmade and rustic, the overall look is exceptionally 'high-fashion.'

Last month, Campbell's stunning final year collection also caught the eyes of the judges at Graduate Fashion Week, where it was selected for the Gala Show and shortlisted for the prestigious menswear award.

What's next for the newly graduated designer? "I'll soon begin work as a costume design assistant for a TV series set in Belfast. It is now in its third season and I can’t wait to be involved in such a successful show. In the future I would like to work for a menswear company or would like to progress in the film industry as a costume designer."

She would also like to travel as part of her job but while having "my own studio by the seaside where I would design and develop ideas – then, when the film is shooting, I would be on location to do fittings, alterations, etc. That or working for an established designer such as Paul Smith or Tom Ford would be amazing..."

We're sure with such a talent, big dreams and a determination to succeed, Jessica Campbell might just get that studio...

To see more of Jessica Campbell's work check out or follow her on @Jessica_ACC