Words: Niamh McNeela
Sligo-native Rebecca Marsden has gone from strength to strength in 2013, featured for the second time as part of the Brown Thomas CREATE exhibition. We talk to the Limerick College of Art and Design graduate about inspiration, the creative process and what’s to come in 2014.
Was fashion always to the fore in your mind in terms of career choices? Your mother is an artist, would you have been influenced by her?
From the age of about 14, I started thinking about it seriously and I was aware at the time that there were so many avenues like merchandising and buying. As time went on it seemed that design was what I wanted to do. My mum was always bouncing from project to project and I don’t think it was necessarily encouraging but it did give me an insight into an artistic lifestyle! I did the four year course in Limerick College of Art and Design on the advice of my art teacher. Limerick is a great place with a different sort of a vibe. It doesn’t feel like a big city and at the art college, there was a community feel which I really enjoyed.
While you were studying, you worked with Korean designer Eudon Choi as part of a summer placement. How important are internships like these for a designer’s development?
They are so important and it was definitely encouraging. It’s actually a requirement in your third year and it’s all self-initiated. I chose to work with two independent designers although I could have gone to a big house or a big label. Realistically I’ve always wanted to do my own label, so for me it was important to work with small independent designers who were so accessible. I was in a position to see all the inner workings of the business; pattern cutting, design and all the little odd jobs. You get a feel for what it’s like to be starting out on your own, and there is a lot of work starting out!
Your graduation collection then, Cellular Collision, was quite an abstract concept. The shapes and textures featured seemed almost wave-like in their structure. Can you explain a little bit about the inspiration and process behind it?
It was quite an abstract concept but I think that was the nice thing about it. I didn’t pigeon-hole myself from the get go and had a lot of room for exploration. I devised a story-line to add a little context; it involved a marine biologist who had donated his heart to a girl. As her life progressed, aspects of his life begin to emerge within her. I worked with a lot of different processes for the construction of the pieces; covering, fleecing and rippling. I also worked with vacuum-forming, which is an industrial process. It was something I set up myself with the University of Limerick and they were so obliging. It was fascinating for them as well because I was working with malleable fabrics whereas they would use more rigid materials.
You obviously receive a good deal of coverage from your graduate collection, what happens after that? Are you approached by various people with opportunities?
One of the first things that came after my graduate show was the Volvo Ocean Race, which was an international design collective featuring designers from Dubai, Australia and Sweden. From that I was then contacted about the CREATE project in Brown Thomas. At the time, all I had was my graduate collection to show them as I hadn’t yet produced a commercial line. I met with them and it actually went really well. From that, I produced a diffusion line focusing mainly on knitwear. It was nice to try going from an avant-garde collection and, not necessarily toning it down, but making it more accessible. It was lovely to go back again this year; my pieces were of a heavier build but still focused on knitwear.
How important is it for you to stick to your guns, creatively? Would you ever tone down your designs to stick to a particular brief?
Regardless of what direction I’m inspired to go in, I do push it and it pays off. For my first CREATE project we had to decide what pieces would be best to display, I knew my stuff was the most adventurous going in there and I wasn’t necessarily banking on sales, I just thought it would be great coverage and an opportunity to get feedback. But I did get good sales and that spurred me on – the idea that there was an actual market for my designs. This year my sales doubled, the pieces were a little bit more commercial but they still had elements that were so intrinsically mine.
CREATE is obviously a great way for young designers to gain momentum and exposure, would you say that there are growing opportunities for creative people in Dublin? Or are most jumping ship, going to London or further afield?
There aren’t many people staying on, but at the same time those that do still have a presence here, people like Natalie Coleman and Danielle Romeril. There is a receptive market here, something you mightn’t necessarily get in the UK. The Fashion Council in Brown Thomas and the Crafts Council always do their best to plug Irish designs. But being based here can be difficult in terms of sourcing fabrics and production. London is a very exciting place and I do want to study there at some point at either Central St Martin’s or Royal College of London. You get an incredible amount of press for your graduate collection there and once the momentum starts you just have to go with it.
In the meantime, have you any exciting projects coming up?
At the moment I’m working on an accessories line and we’re finalising a venue for a pop-up shop. There are so many brilliant initiatives like the Innovation Awards and The Future Makers awards which are run by the Crafts Council. I’m also involved in an exhibition called RIAN Irish Design of the Century which is an exhibition touring internationally, starting off in Manchester. It’s been non-stop since graduation, which is the way I love to work, but at the same time it would be sensible to take a break every now and then!
See more of Rebecca’s work on her website.