At press days, you’re always looking for something that catches your breath. At Anisa Topan PR’s lively SS16 press day, I saw it: a collection by Central Saint Martins fashion print graduate, Frances Rose Knee.
Hessian jumpers sewn with clusters of crystals; dramatic trains exquisitely handpainted with seagulls, rings, flowers and horse skulls and packets of crackers; surreally chunky knits; oversized beanies perfect for sticking dried flowers and strange, totemic, homemade sculptures in, if that was your thing – as it seems to be Frances’. The collection was tragic and romantic, homespun and heartstopping, all at once.
‘My final collection was based on different collectors and hoarders,’ Frances tells me. ‘Print is about the imagery on the clothing, and that’s what I’m about as a designer – telling stories through clothes, handpainting, drawing; using natural methods of decoration rather than digital. So I told the story of each of the collectors’ obsessions through their objects.’
So it is that on pieces inspired by the Collyer brothers – two rich Americans who were found dead together in the 1940s amidst 140 tonnes of junk including books, newspapers, pickled human organs and the chassis of an old Model T – Frances devised eyes and oranges and violins and huge overblown bouquets, chosen for their specific references to the brothers. On pieces inspired by Ida Mayfield, motifs are Crackerjack boxes and raw fish, the only two foods the reclusive millionaireness allowed herself to eat.
Knee’s icons skim – and in some cases fall headlong into – madness. ’I’m interested by real stories and how people’s minds work; by people’s fascination with objects – and my own fascination with objects,’ muses Frances. ‘I’m not a minimalist. I wanted to base my collection on something I wouldn’t get bored of because there are always new possibilities.’
Transferring those ideas onto clothing took another type of thinking. ‘I didn’t want anything complicated because I’m not a pattern cutter. But I was inspired by Marie Antoinette and the Watteau pleats that would fall from the nape of the neck. I thought such a big piece of fabric would be a great way to showcase my illustrations.’
They are; Frances’ trains are spectacular, particularly next to those rough jumpers. ‘I chose hessian because it’s really basic and it looks a bit grubby. Swarovski gave me all these beautiful jewels and I wanted the contrast between the hessian and the jewels.’
The contrast continues into longjohns beaded with crystals (‘They’re what I imagined the Collyer brothers would wear as twins’) and chunky knitted baby socks: ‘With the floaty things, I knew I wanted more cosy knits.’ She laughs: ‘Then I made the models wear dainty heels with them.’