Philippa Crooks is a recent fashion design graduate from Design Academy of Fashion. Her impressive graduate range titled Norman is a combination of menswear and womenswear that embodies timeless style and lasting quality without being too ostentatious for daily wear. With her design focus being comfort and versatility, painterly prints and splashes of tangerine add a sense of playfulness to an otherwise refined and practical collection.
We caught up with the young designer and illustrator to discuss what sparked her love for fashion, the themes that she explored in her student work and the best piece of advice she learned throughout her academic career.
How and why did you become interested in fashion design and illustration?
I come from a family of artists, so creativity is a very natural part of my life. I think my interest in fashion is partially tied to my love for design and aesthetics but is also related to my fascination with people. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been attracted to characters, clothes and style. The movies I enjoy attracted me because of the costume and styling. I used to play D&D with my cousins just so that I could imagine what my character would look like. I am endlessly amused by people watching. My room is a curated magpie’s nest because my eyes crave optical treats. Its a part of me that I can’t turn off, and I don’t want to.
It took me a while to realise that fashion was the career path I wanted to pursue. After school I was overwhelmed with choice, so I did a general BA majoring in Visual Studies, Philosophy and Psychology. I think of it as a loopy, indirect path which brought me back to what I really wanted from the start.
Please tell us about some of the themes and ideas that you’ve been exploring in your student work.
My graduate collection, Norman, is a playful examination of the ordinary. The name was inspired by the contemplation of normalness – the concept behind the collection. By noticing what we consider to be ‘normal’, we simultaneously appreciate and criticise what we have taken for granted. From this altered perspective we celebrate the mundane, and re-evaluate the usual. Norman amplifies normalness so that the ‘ordinary’ becomes ‘extra-ordinary’. The name also carries a nostalgic personal reference. Norman is the name of a garden gnome I knew growing up. A normal gnome named Norman… I find this relation to be fitting. A garden gnome is the ultimate trophy of kitsch, and perfectly symbolises so-called ‘normal’ life.
Aesthetically, I drew inspiration from my personal cultural tradition. I appropriate the heavier aspects of history, and render them lighthearted by representing them as a nostalgic fiction. For example, the cargo pockets used on the ‘safari shirts’ with a playful print, turns colonialism into a boy scout from a Wes Anderson film.
What has your experience as a student been like? What valuable lessons did you learn along the way?
Fashion design was my second degree, so I approached it with a bit more drive and focus than my peers who had come straight out of school. It was a huge advantage having the BA degree behind me as I was used to having to be disciplined for deadlines, and was in the groove of academia. I loved studying. It was challenging and rewarding learning the skills involved in creating clothing. And it was so much more than learning a craft! My mind was exposed to new ideas, I met fantastic like-minded people, and got a chance to create something entirely my own.
A valuable realisation that I had while studying was that I am completely accountable for what I get out of the course. It is not the job of the college or lecturers to present you with everything you need to know. It was a daunting, yet empowering gestalt switch and really drove me to put in my all.
Please tell us about your creative process.
It’s a tricky thing to describe, because that state of creating, that ‘in the zone’ feeling, often comes from a space of zero self-awareness. The process starts with observing. Stimuli from my environment, images and concepts, soup around in my head. These usually take a few days to brew until a delicious idea is formed. I usually solidify these sparks with sketching or writing. For me, the design process is continuous; the original plan often evolves in the process of making.
What’s the best piece of advice you received while studying?
There is genius in action.
I think the mass pandemic of procrastination is a good indication that many of us struggle with the notion of ‘just do it’. The fear of starting is so real, but so silly. The blank page is so intimidating, perhaps we are too precious with our ideas, but once you’ve scribbled a few lines you realise it’s not so bad after all. So often, the only thing getting in your way is you. Just start!
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