It’s very rare to find male designers that specialise in embroidery and embellishments. There are lots of male fashion designers creating garments but when it comes to finding a guy that actually uses his hand to thread a needle and get to surface designing it’s as difficult as buying Swarovski embellishments on the cheap. Recent graduate designer James Bowen Embroidery tagged me in one of his many vibrant designs on Instagram and I messaged him and asked to be interviewed. He specialises in prints, fashion photography, loves Grace Jones and of course works with embellishments and embroidery.
How did you get into textiles?
I never really had the passion to get into textiles growing up, I think I kind of just stumbled into it. Whilst in the first two years of college I studied maths and sciences and wanted to work within the science field, until I began to discover graphic design and advertisement, so I studied a 3rd year in college.
I then went to study a foundation diploma in art and design at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, in Swansea, Wales. In hopes to learn more about being a graphic designer, until I met Anna Lewis who is the fashion and textile tutor at the university. It was during Anna’s lectures and workshops, showing us her designs along with other designers including Alexander McQueen. I think at that point I knew I wanted to get into fashion and textiles and naively wanted to become a mini McQueen. It was just a completely different design field I never thought of before and there was so many possibilities you could do with fashion and textiles.
Anna also encouraged me to apply to Loughborough University’s Textiles: Innovation and Design course, I graduated in 2017. I don’t think Anna knows how influential she has been to kick start my initial interest in textiles. So thank you Anna!
Tell me about the different textiles you work with?
I work with a range of different textiles, from faux fur, leathers, velvets, silks, sheer fabrics. Specialising in multimedia textiles. At Loughborough University, I was encouraged to design and experiment with several different types of textiles combined with different types of process, such as laser cutting, devoré, traditional and digital printing, embroidery, machine and hand knitting.
Every new collection I design I always try to incorporate a range of textiles and processes to create a diverse and tactile collection of innovative surface designs.
I always create my designs around a concept, each collection is different from the last. I hardly ever revisit an old theme or concept, but try to develop new ideas to push the boundaries of my textile designs. Although some colours and materials are revisited, such as a recurring use of the colour gold in my work, influenced by my Thai heritage, inspired by the gold foiled Buddha’s and Temples.
For my graduate collection ‘Metamorphosis of the Human Form’, luxury fashion fabrics were inspired by the concept of Metamorphosis. A biological process by which an animal physically re-develops. The collection explores the story of the human form in the final stages of metamorphosis, evolving into a new surreal second skin.
The colours and textures are influenced by aposematic animals and through my own development of experimental drawings, photography and digital work.
What’s your favourite type of textiles and why?
Currently I am enjoying designing with vivid faux furs and sheer lightweight fabrics, combining these materials with hand and digital embroidery, 3D beading and printed textiles.
I’m always in awe of how fabrics such a tulle and silk organza can with stand the hash force from the embroidery machine or the weight of hand embroidery and beading. Working with faux fur has also been new for me, at first I didn’t know what to do with it, or how to create something new with the material, but in the end I got there. I just love the new textures it creates when combined with digital embroidery.
Where do you buy your materials from?
I always do a lot of research into materials before buying, I visit the fabrics shops on Berwick Street, Goldhawk Road, Dalston Mill Fabrics and online stores.
For quality silks and sheer fabrics I normally buy them from MacCulloch and Wallis. Fabrics for toiling and experimenting I get these at the fabrics shops on Goldhawk Road and at Dalston Mills, you can also find some quality fabrics from these stores too!
The luxury faux furs are from Mohair Bear Making Supplies. Leathers from the Identity Store and Walter Reginald in London. All my hand embroidery threads are from DMC and machine embroidery threads are gunold from GS UK Direct.
For Beads and embellishments I always get them from MaxBeads and I get my fabrics digitally printed by Contrado and sometimes Silk Bureau.
What other textiles would you like to work with?
I am always keen to learn and discover new materials and textile processes. I’m crazy about knitwear so hopefully next I would like to develop my machine knitting skills more, and master the art of gold work and improve my hand embroidery further.
I have also been intrigued to learn how to use a hand tufting machine. Combining traditional and digital embroidery with this process could be interesting.
I’ve spoken to a lot of textiles designers and many have found it difficult to find jobs in the industry. Has this been the case for you? What kind of job would you like in textiles?
Yes it can be very difficult, especially in the fashion industry for embroidery and embellishment jobs. A lot of brands ask for lot of experience and most just offer unpaid internships. Speaking to past and recent graduates, you can be interning for a while before you can find a paid job. Most end up freelancing or setting up their own business. The industry is mainly saturated with print designers. However I have been extremely lucky, as Loughborough University offers a year out in industry. I was lucky enough to intern for Alexander Mcqueen, Mary Katrantzou and Philip Treacy as an Embroidery and Millinery Intern, also as a Fabric Development intern at J.W.Anderson. Through these internships I gained invaluable experience and knowledge about fabrics, embroidery techniques and pattern cutting.
This experience has allowed me to gain freelance work for designers, since I have graduated. I would love just to continue to work as an embroidery or print designer for a high fashion brands for the next couple of years. I am then hoping to do a Masters in fashion or textiles at RCA or CSM, hopefully then I would like to establish my own start up brand or a textile studio.
Currently I am also an Embroiderers Guild Graduate 2017/18, chosen as 1 of 8 emerging embroidery designers, who will be exhibiting our graduate collection, as part of the Graduate showcase at the Knitting and Stitching shows this year.
Where do you apply your surface decoration? What other surfaces would you like to apply your textiles on?
I mainly design fashion fabrics for womenswear, before I start to design I always have to envision what my designs would look like as a garment or where it could be placed on the human form.
I’m hoping to expand my embroidery to design to menswear, I don’t think there’s enough of it around as I would like to see, especially the affordable high street brands; it’s just very safe. Or even for genderless fashion, I don’t see why textiles for fashion should have any gender labels. I think designing textiles for luxury accessories would be my next goal to apply my textiles too.
I’ve found it quite difficult to find male designers that focus on embroidery and embellishments. Do you know of any and who are your favourites?
Yes I agree, when I exhibited at New Designers 2017 I didn’t meet hardly any male designers who specialised in embroidery and embellishments, most were either print, weave or product designers. Although I do know a few male embroidery designers that I admire, such as Francois Lesage, Brodeur Bear and James T Merry, they’re all amazing and equally different in their designs.
Who would you like to collaborate with?
I am mainly influenced by artists and photographers in my work, I am influenced by the era where artists and fashion designers used to collaborate, such as Schiaparelli and Dali, YSL and Warhol.
People such as Nick Knight, Bridget Riley, David LaChapelle, Grace Jones and Bjork to name a few, I would love to collaborate with. As for fashion designers or brands I would love to collaborate with Margiela and Rei Kawakubo from Comme des Garcons. Along with new designers such as Richard Quinn and Namila, I thought both their SS18 collections were really interesting. I also believe it should be important and encouraged to collaborate with other artist and designers from other fields of creative work.
How do you feel about promoting your work on social media?
I feel social media is important these days for any emerging or established designers, it’s a great platform to share your ideas and designs to a wider audience, and to meet like-minded people. I’m always intrigued how people are going to view my designs; yes you are going to get some people who will like and dislike your work. As I understand my designs might be a bit too unusual for some people to enjoy. I always take any criticism on board, it doesn’t really affect me. When I create and post my textile designs on social media, I’m always hoping to inspire other artists and designers.
What do you love about textiles?
I love the endless possibilities you can create through textiles, you can create anything you want, if you put your mind to it, no exaggeration. Through interior design, fashion, automotive interiors, textile art, you name it. Everywhere we look I’m sure we can all find something that has been designed or made by a textile designer, I don’t think many people appreciate that. As a textile designer, I’m a firm believer in more is more aesthetic, just go crazy and surreal with it! These are the types of textiles I love and find interesting the most.