Eliza Collin: Bathsheba

  • Photography  Camille Summers-Valli
  • Styling  Claire Lemaigre
  • All clothing by  Eliza Collin
  • Words  Abi Buller

PYLOT spoke to Eliza Collin about her new collection, sustainability and the importance of choosing materials from the heart. Using ethically sourced materials and untouched campaign imagery, the ethos of her brand is driven by a desire to create meaningful and lasting clothing which acknowledges it’s ecological impact.

Can you describe the process of creating your new collection, Bathsheba?
Bathsheba started in 2017 as part of a group exhibition called WithKin in Melbury Abbas, Dorset. Curated by George Ridgeway, this exhibition aimed to acknowledge ecological intimacy and hypocrisy in light of new relationships between individuals and communities in their surrounding environments.

Dorset has a strong tradition of sheep farming; tons of excess wool produced each year by this industry isn’t used in favour of softer Australian Merino wool. I was given the wool from two different breeds of domestic sheep – the Jacob and Dorset Poll –  that were local to Melbury Abbas to realize work for this exhibition.

Working with leather is an unsustainable and damaging practice. I wanted to see how the wool I had could imitate leather. This is how we created Cow Felt, which materialized into the Jacob/Poll Felt Jacket and Wrap.

As an artist and designer, my work is concerned with issues surrounding production in relation to materials and people. Fashion’s intimacy offers a critical space to address our everyday material relations and the politics of the processes these engage. Bathsheba rejects the hyper speeds of post-capitalist consumption, in favour of prioritising sustainable practices and accountable processes.

How did you select the materials you featured in this collection?
Inspired by this process, I continued to work with an array of mainly found and reclaimed natural fibres. These varied from silk to cotton and bamboo, which I individually hand dyed using natural dyes including beetroot and turmeric. Paneling the organic shapes together, I created pieces using irregularity to influence the designs. In consequence, each piece is entirely unique. Soft to the touch and safe for the environment, Bathsheba is the first of many eco-conscious and natural collections I plan to produce.

My relationship with materials as a designer is integral to the philosophy of how I work and what I make. I attempt to bridge the disconnect between material providence, human labor and eventual consumption. Within my work cycle, each project feeds the next, supporting the continuation of my exploration into sustainable luxury.

Why is it important to you to create eco-conscious garments?
There is this very strong tendency for people to endlessly consume nowadays, and consumption leaves traces. I want to make lines of production that are clear, and can help maintain a more sustainably conscious lifestyle. In turn making consumer behaviour less drastic, in an ethical way. Using the desire within consumption, the same tools of consumption itself, large-scale change can be achieved.

I regularly put myself through long arduous processes of traditional craft making and have found myself meticulously mapping routes and stories surrounding ancient production. The demise in dedication to process and the rise of brand identity spells a damaging break that  will only be further criticized as we move forward into more advanced material futures. My own work brings these issues to light and presents solutions.

What makes Bathsheba different to your previous collections?
Up until now, I’ve been working on commissions with performance artists and musicians, such as Simone Gray-Ritson and Rhoda Boateng. I would like to continue working with performers and dancers. It excites me to see my work respond to movement. Bathsheba began with the materials instead of the commission or concept. The design didn’t ignore the existing shapes I found in the selection of fabrics. The silk came from a king-sized satin duvet cover I found in the charity shop Lamas Pyjamas in Bethnal Green and most of the cashmere came from textile reclamation bins. I also spent more time experimenting with natural dyes and how to manipulate the colours than I have before – each piece started off white and ended up being transformed through colour.

How do you ensure each collection balances sustainability with a style-conscious aesthetic?
I find it unethical to sacrifice sustainability for style but I don’t make the selling point about sustainability. It’s about the sensuality between the wearer and the materials. I find it more intellectually challenging to create a sustainable product without sacrificing my style, because my style is based around the observation of every aspect of production. The most discreet details and the labour of my discipline are what keeps it stimulating for me. I keep it simple and don’t labour the point. The details don’t have to obviously link back to my sustainable endeavour, they just have to be executed using sustainable techniques. It’s the norm not the concept for me.

In the images shot of the Bathsheba collection, why did you choose to work with Camille Summers-Valli and include no beauty retouching?
When I met Camille in 2015, she had previously focused mainly on documentary photography. Her subjects were gentile and unique. There was realness to them, which is usually lost in fashion photography. I wanted the campaign to have this softness and genuine touch. After working with her for my 2015 campaign Orlando and seeing the incredible work she has produced to date, I was excited to work with her again to realise Bathsheba.

Photographers generally don’t retouch documentary work, the impurities enhance the subject. I wanted to emphasise the naturalness of the garments reflected in the model in an honest feel in the photograph, that delivered a  feeling of intimacy, comfort and warmth as well as a certain sharpness.

In what ways do you hope to develop as a designer and as a brand in your future collections?
I am currently working on a new collection in Palermo, Sicily, which uses materials such as reclaimed tailoring, linens. Staying true to my aesthetic I will let myself be influenced by their pre-existing shapes, which need to be mended, re-purposed and combined with other materials to give them life again. Alongside this I’m working in collaboration with Doppelhaus Ltd on a series of imitation felts for a new collection to be released during London Fashion Week.

I see myself gently merging these two paths, developing more ways to repurpose materials in beautiful and intricate ways to regain their desirability, while creating the luxury we crave through materials we have in abundance.

See more at camillesummersvalli.com, instagram.com/cleartheskinny, instagram.com/elizalicollin