Roberts | Wood: Melanphoria

  • Photography  Max Barnett
  • Styling  Sofia Lai
  • Words  Abi Buller

A collection of contradictions and the unexpected, Katie Roberts Wood’s SS19 garments are as intricate as they are intriguing. Titled Melanphoria, this collection is an exploration of physical form and emotional discovery. Using ritualised techniques and inspired by the anatomical world, the designer’s distinct methods of working with fabric is testament to her curious mind and visceral talent. With melting flowers and oversized prints, the result of Melanphoria is a hybrid of silk, linen and cotton that unfold as a meld of lightness intertwined with carefully considered elements of darkness.

Your new collection, Melanphoria, is a portmanteau of melancholy and euphoria. Why did you choose to create pieces inspired by these complex emotions?

I’m fascinated by the seeming opposition of two polarised feelings.  At least in my personal experience, the two emotions seem to be closely linked. I think it’s the intensity of that human experience that attracts me to this idea. It feels very visceral. I love that two extremes of a scale can be felt together, simultaneously. Sadness can be intoxicating and also incredibly beautiful. I think there is a huge value to be found in melancholy, euphoria, or any intensely felt emotion, whether it is traditionally perceived as negative or not.

You chose to create a film to communicate the inspiration behind your SS19 collection. How does this enable you to further express your ideas?

Film as a format of showing collections and ideas is something that I’ve wanted to explore for a while and would love to continue experiment with. I think it has this wonderful quality that can be both transient and long-lasting; another example of opposing ideas. The traditional format of doing a catwalk show really doesn’t feel relevant for us at the moment.

I’m really keen to develop ways of bringing our audience into the world I want to create through the brand. I chose to work with Amanda Camenisch because there is an instinctive understanding of this odd language of the strange and beautiful, which I love about her work. Film can capture an elusive emotion in a way that other formats can’t because you have the benefit of tools such as movement, sound, narrative and layering.

Having emerged on the fashion scene after studying for an MA at the Royal College of Art, what experiences have you taken from being a student into a fully-fledged designer?

Reflecting back on the last few years, I realise how little I knew at the beginning, especially before starting the MA. I had to quickly develop a diverse range of skills over the following few years, as well as emotional armour. I think that the MA experience helped a lot because even though surviving in the real world presents a different set of problems to those you have as a student, being thrown in at the deep end in either situation requires drawing on similar experiences. Basically, you have to figure it out as you go – you have to find a way to get it done, even if you feel you don’t have the resources. It taught me to be more resourceful and even more determined. And it taught me that you have to have a strong point of view – because your ideas will be constantly challenged. Basically, you need to develop very firm beliefs (and self-belief), because if you don’t you’ll be constantly second-guessing yourself.

The business side of having a brand requires constant decision-making, which can become very difficult if you don’t have a strong vision to keep you on the track you want to be on. I think I’m only just at the point of being able to have enough perspective to have any insight into this. The early years of starting the business were so intensive and all-consuming – until now it’s been hard to take a step back and review everything that we’ve been through.

Having previously trained in medicine, do you often draw on your past to inform your creations, and if so how?

Yes, the fascination with anatomy, which is essentially just how we are put together, lies in direct parallel to how I approach making clothes. Form, structure and texture are something that I approach in quite a scientific way; concepts like self-similarity, repetition and the micro/macro effects of the construction process are fascinating to me: how a garment is formed or engineered. I’m very technical in the way I design, creating all the patterns, as well as construction techniques. This is the starting point of everything. The mood and concepts all grow organically from this, but it starts with the ‘garment anatomy’. One of my signature pieces is the ‘x-ray dress’ technique, usually made in silk organza, where the garment literally has silk ‘bones’ running through it, which you can see through the ‘skin’ of the garment as you hold it to the light, like an x-ray. The ‘bones’ are actually formed from the non-stitching hand-linking technique that I developed as part of my Master’s. The linked fabric looks like hundreds of little vertebrae running through the garments.

How did the idea for the intricate ‘honeycomb’ fabricing technique come about? Referring to your ethos of ‘repititionas ritual’, what is it about this philosophy that is important to you on a personal level, and within your creations?

Repetition is a constant theme in my work and was something I started exploring on the MA. Specifically, these intense hand-work techniques that rely on repeating the same action over and over to construct a ‘whole’. To me, repetition is an unexpected vehicle. What I mean is that you might expect that repetition leads only to inertia, but I feel it’s the opposite and that it can actually take you somewhere new. There is a Pina Bausch quote that goes “repetition is not repetition… the same action makes you feel something completely different by the end.” This is something that I’ve found myself through practice.

The ‘honeycomb’ flower technique was born from an evolution of my hand-work non-stitch technique that allows me to create different geometric grids that makeup both the structure and the texture of the garment. I think what drives my design is this pursuit of a way to make things that combine both the textile and the substance of the garment. The textile is never just applied to the surface. It always makes up an integral part of the garment itself. The textile is also how the garment is made and formed, not just a decoration.

You seem to incorporate contradictory techniques into your designs, such as bows to bind garments together which can also let them fall apart – why do you choose to integrate transient structures into your pieces?

Transience and ephemerality are essential to the human experience. I don’t think we can truly experience beauty without them. But that Idea of being able to adjust and style the pieces to your taste is more about the wearer’s experience. I want it to feel personal and special. Specialness is really important to me because there’s so much product in the world that I think that my pieces need to be special to have a legitimate place. I want things to matter to people, to be of value and to serve a purpose, even if that purpose is to make the wearer feel amazing. I wouldn’t ever want to undervalue that.