Anita Quansah's Textural Music
A stunner of a jacket floats down the runway of an haute couture show in Paris. No ordinary garment, this adeptly tailored piece has been invested with an exquisite patch of embroidery, applied with an inspired and skillful hand, and all eyes are upon it. It's this very kind of adornment – the fruits of superior craftsmanship - that elevates mere apparel to a coveted and exclusive artisanal creation and sustains the reputation of the most prestigious fashion houses.
Just who are these gifted individuals who make fashion so beautiful and endlessly intriguing, just the way we like it? Many are trained to work for Lesage and Lemarié for example - the Paris embroidery and plummasier maisons, respectively. And then there are the others, passionate individuals who hone their craft through self direction and experimentation.
One of these extraordinary talents is Anita Quansah, a British fashion designer who uses vintage and recycled fabrics with hand and machine embroidery to create gorgeous textures for clothing, jewellery and interiors.
I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Anita about her work:Your work is so lushly textured, built up with layers upon layers of rich fabrics, colour and various levels of opacity - it's not hard to see the influence Monet and Klimt's paintings have leant to your techniques. Did your style evolve to become this through experimentation or experience, for example; or is this approach your natural inclination and so you were drawn to their work which guided you further in that direction?
I love to paint, I love art and painting of different genres, but I was particularly drawn to these painters because of the way colour, texture and nature played a vital role in their work. I sought inspiration from nature and looked for artists that used this theme and how this was conveyed in their work.
When I first started experimenting with this technique I was very much guided by nature and the ever changing beauty that surrounds it, the colour, texture, the shapes, patterns, tone, placements and proportion, then as time went on every aspect of that change was depicted in my work. I tried to emulate and capture that essence of beauty in my designs by combining the unexpected with various textile techniques such as fabric manipulation, appliqué, hand and machine embroidery to create undulating raised floral textures that seem to float on the fabric. I would say this happened naturally, as each placement of fabric was not planned, neither is the colour nor the build up of texture, so natural inclination took over.
Isn't the unconscious the most intriguing part of creativity? It's interesting you say that nature is such an influence on your work; some of your textures remind me of newly fallen autumn leaves after the rain, when they're wet and kind of fused together in richly coloured layers and really beautiful.
You create your textures using mostly recycled fabrics - what lead you to forsake the new for the abandoned?
Whilst at university in London, I started to gather and experiment with recylced, vintage and reclaimed textiles. There were too many discarded textiles that needed to be reused and reworked on. Once I graduated, my love of transforming found textiles increased. Some of my finds were damaged, worn out pieces from the vintage and charity shops and flea markets which I mixed with the new to create rare treasures which are totally one of a kind, innovative, colourful and abstract work of art which can be worn as a garment or used in an interior space.
Also, I believe that by working with recycled and reclaimed cloths and materials, I am doing my bit for the planet.
My use of felt stems from my time at university, too. Whilst there I was taught how to hand make felt. Because some of my pieces require a lot of felt, I couldn't make my own any more, so I resorted to using ethically handmade felt by a company here in England.
Designing the jacket for Christian Lacroix was a joyful experience. It came about when I took part in Indigo Paris and was selected as a winner of an exhibition stand at Premiere Vision and Indigo, a big textile show in Paris. At the show, one of the buyers from Christian Lacroix visited my stand, loved the collection and on the spot scheduled an appointment for me to come back to their Paris design house to show them my collection. On the day I showed my collection they took quite a few design swatches, which they finally narrowed down to one that they really wanted to use. This design was then sold to them and became an exclusive piece, which shall not be repeated and then sold to anyone else. Then a cut of the jacket was sent to me in my studio, for me to apply my design. Once that was completed, I was then told that I shall be reproducing that same design again, for a client who saw the design on the runway and wanted it.
The whole experience was fun. They were good clients to work with, they were precise with what they wanted and how they wanted it. You are made to feel welcomed when in the design house. The people are lovely. I was mesmerised by the beautiful creations in the showroom in Paris. The colours, details, and most amazingly the final piece which I worked on was right there amongst other beautiful creations. Monsieur Lacroix himself was very kind and understanding. I occasionally visit them with my new collections in Paris.
What a dream experience. Christian Lacroix is my favourite couturier and I'm so happy to hear the fantasy doesn't begin and end on the runway. It must have been such a validation of your talent to be considered on par with the Houses's extremely high standards – Lesage, even - and to contribute a piece that was sold to a Lacroix client. How did this change your perspective of your own work?
It changed a lot. I learnt to appreciate my work a lot more. It made me realise that my designs can also be appreciated by high end couturiers. If buyers from Carven and Lacroix and other textile design houses can approach my stand at the trade show and love and appreciate my work, then I am very happy and delighted. I have always feared people’s reactions to my work and getting very positive feedback has encouraged me to work harder to develop my technique. Working on this piece for Lacroix allowed me to push my creative level to the extreme, it allowed me to be freer, yet structured in my design style creating a sumptuous piece for him that is textural with a contemporary edge.
There seems to be a rule that self-doubt must be in inverse proportion to talent. Now that you're free to create as you wish, do you have a particular path in mind in terms of what you want to achieve?
I want to continue developing my technique to make my designs even better. Currently I am developing a jewellery line as well as a fashion line. I have in the past experimented with the idea of having my designs applied to interiors, but I think I shall be focusing on these projects for now. Of course you want to reach that certain goal which is to have your designs in high end boutiques and stores across the world, but people are becoming more aware of me now and in time I shall be approaching the big stores. So watch out!swelle.
The following dresses and tops can be purchased from Shrimpton Couture, as can that dreamy concoction in the header photo: