How Fashion Graduate Aubrey Parnell Is Using 3D Design To Explore Fashion Without Limits

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Aubrey Parnell is a graduate of CSM, where he studied Fashion Design with Marketing. His final collection, The Fold, is inspired by the physics-defying paintings of René Magritte and M.C. Escher, taking place in a utopian world between the sky and the stars and inhabited by inter-dimensional beings. Parnell achieved this by meticulously creating 3D digital garments worn by animated avatars akin to mythical gods. Most of the looks are silicone 3D-printed suits with heavy embellishment at the skin-tight level, with diaphanous, ethereal outerwear taking the form of origami. The processes of creation for his designs included: cutting and folding fabric, bead embellishment, laser cutting and layering, 3D printing and casting, and virtual sculpting. 

Parnell originally wanted to make real clothes whilst also presenting their digital simulations. The designer’s process was upheaved, however, by the pandemic’s closure of the factory that made his chosen fabric (an especially stiff organdie) and the cancellation of the CSM final-year fashion show, which would have been an opportunity to showcase the Class of 2020’s hard work. Despite the setbacks he experienced, Parnell managed to create transcendent designs that were made possible through the endless creative exploration offered by 3D digital design methods. 

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What was the inspiration behind your collection?

I got into fashion design from mathematics: I loved geometry, trigonometry, origami. When I was younger I wanted to be a maths teacher. So a lot of the collection comes from making complex pleats and folds. It’s still fashion, but with quite a mathematical approach. I also like the concept of magic, aliens, otherworldly things. By bridging fashion and video gaming, my designs could have that fantastical, costume-y, sci-fi element.

What software did you use in creating your designs? Were there any challenges?

I started with CLO3D and Marvelous Designer, which is what I use when I do other people’s work (i.e. virtual product visualisation for small clothing and accessory brands alongside developing assets for video games – not just clothing but also environmental pieces like trees and flowers.) I was having trouble doing the pleats that I wanted because there were so many, I needed the folds to be exact. My design was so complex that no clothing simulator could handle all the vertices needed to make the garment. So I went to a regular 3D modelling software called Blender, which is a free one, and I used it to model to garment from scratch. I liked it so I ended up using it a lot. It was difficult because I had to animate everything by hand, frame by frame, which took ages, but it was much easier to model the pleats.

What led you to choose digital fashion design over traditional methods? Was it an unexpected solution to the limitations of COVID-19 or had you been interested in 3D design before?

I’d been doing it [digital design] for a couple of years now. Before I started university, I’d already been pattern-cutting for several years, since I started working as an assistant tailor at 14. Now it’s been almost 10 years. And so I was quite ahead of the game construction-wise. A lot of projects at CSM are theory and sketchbook based, they don’t teach a lot of construction. At first, I found it quite frustrating, but I came to accept it. The final goal for each project was a photograph of the garment. I thought if I could create something digitally, I wouldn’t have to spend money on fabric. I could just do it all on my computer. So I started doing that and turning them in and sort of tricking my tutors, *laughs* saying “Yeah, this is totally real!” That way I saved money and saved time.

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It must have been bittersweet to have your last year cut short; how did you feel?

You’re looking forward to doing this final collection, I knew I was going to spend so much money making it. I’d already ordered maybe half of the fabrics and started doing stuff when they gave us the news that the final show wasn’t going to happen. I told myself: “Well, you know what, I’m saving so much money on models and more fabric and everything else.” Though it was a bummer. I wasn’t quite happy with the way they presented it online, but it’s the first time they’re doing this, it’ll get more and more interesting as it goes on. I missed sharing the experience with my classmates. It was a weird feeling not being able to see them, this family you’d been with for 5 years in some cases. So it was sad to leave without saying goodbye.

How did you overcome the obstacles of designing in lockdown? Was it difficult to stay motivated and in touch with your creativity?

It definitely was for me. I talked to a lot of fellow students about this as well. Designing has always been something that’s about feelings, it’s this feeling that you chase. It’s something you’re doing together as a group, it’s exciting and creative and inventive. When you’re doing it by yourself, for your own brand, it can feel really selfish in a way, as if you’re not really contributing. Especially when you’re getting messages like “We need people on the front line to help fight COVID” and things like that. And so lots of my friends and I were feeling – not quite guilty – but as if we needed to create something that said something and wasn’t going to impact fashion in a negative way. In terms of designing in lockdown, I had hired a studio but I ended the lease and ended up doing everything from my own bedroom. It was hard to be in the same space the whole time, and also feeling like there was no break from this project. You just have to get over it, find the things that excite you, and chase those things.

How do you want to see the fashion industry change? Is it already changing or is this evolution merely superficial (for example in terms of sustainability)?

When I first started doing fashion and submitted my application to CSM I put in zero-waste patterns. And when I first came to the university, I did a lot of zero-waste patterning projects and no one seemed to care. I think part of it was a lack of understanding of how it worked or what it meant. Last year we shared virtual fashion at London Fashion Week and we got very mixed responses. Generally, people thought it wouldn’t really catch on. And then cut to 6 months later, everyone’s doing it. So I don’t know… Part of me is worried that it’ll be a phase, because I believe that the tools aren’t quite ready yet. I think there are some software and hardware things that need to be worked out still. Whether that’ll be accelerated because now there’s more interest or whether it’s a fad that’ll die out, it’s something that I’m always interested in and will continue doing. I do worry that general interest may decrease after this pandemic comes to a close.

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What is your plan after graduation? How do you feel about going into the industry during this uncertain time? 

I was looking for jobs as soon as I finished – and before I finished actually – and had some things lined up but a lot of it fell through, with people unable to hire due to a lack of funding because of COVID. Now I’m just doing a lot of freelancing and consultancy. That works for now but I’d like to find something more permanent because I love working as a team. A lot of people are in that boat now, most of my friends are either doing freelancing or starting a MA.

Is 3D fashion design the future?

I think we’d like it to be. There’s such a huge pushback because people want to feel a physical sample, try it on, feel the fit. I think fashion’s going to move in 2 different ways: I think people will be wearing more sportswear and then the other extreme, couture, that maybe could only exist virtually. I quite like this idea. Maybe I’ll just live in a tracksuit all the time and have virtual clothes. I don’t know if people will design 100% virtually. Certainly for major companies like Zara, who order the same styles quite frequently and just change minor things, virtual would provide a good alternative for them so they don’t have to sample the same stuff over and over.

What about digital fashion from end-to-end (meaning no physical product is made)? 

I love that, that’s what I’m mainly into now. I’m almost trying to get out of fashion. You see all these crazy figures like if we stop producing clothes now we’ll have enough for 100 years. It shows you there’s no really sustainable way to produce clothes, so I might as well do something else with it. I’m doing a lot of character and skin design right now for people. A lot of people are staying at home and they want to have their personalised virtual avatars. So I’m doing stuff like that for games such as Fortnite. People pay so much money for it, sometimes more than what I pay for physical clothes, which is crazy.

Lastly, what do you think digital fashion means for sustainability?

It cuts out the sampling, that’s a fact. Also things like transportation and material cost. But it’s always important to remind people of the cost of producing the machinery and then powering the technology that enables you to do the work. I mean if I could live on an island with solar panels or something, *laughs* have a little farm and do my virtual clothing, that’d be the dream.

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Parnell touches on the difficulties of being a designer during these times: in terms of the lack of stable employment opportunities post-degree, but also in coming to terms with whether it’s even right to create fashion against such a chaotic backdrop. (Though his 3D design skills give him an avenue to work with brands in the booming digital gaming arena.) He and other young designers feel reservations about creating new garments when there is arguably no need for them – we are already saturated with textile waste. Parnell’s existing knowledge of pattern cutting and construction gave him an advantage in this space. Whereas many of his peers were likely learning pattern cutting and construction at the same time as trying to teach themselves 3D design, he was able to simply apply his skills to 3D digital software. That’s why Parnell found creative release in 3D design; with ongoing sustainability imperatives and expanding digital design tools, designers can explore fashion unhindered by real-world limitations. His vision for the future of fashion is an interesting one: physical clothes being comprised almost exclusively of sportswear whilst the traditional fantasy of couture takes place in the virtual world. Considering how many fashion fanatics and industry outsiders already consume high fashion solely through a computer screen, it’s a plausible idea. In any case, even though digital fashion falls short of being the “100% sustainable” solution that we want it to be, it has the potential to revolutionise the industry in terms of both design and consumption.   

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By Anastasia Vartanian

Next Gen Fashion Journalists Reject Mainstream Publications In Favour of Social Media – Here’s Why

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With the turmoil of 2020, some of us may not be feeling the same excitement surrounding fashion shows that we usually would come September. But George Serventi, a 2019 graduate of Central Saint Martins’ BA Fashion Journalism course and founder of Fashion Fight Club, devised a way to inject some fun back into fashion week whilst providing more honest coverage, unhindered by the traditional obligations of advertisers or sponsors that characterise mainstream fashion journalism.

Serventi describes his timely decision to give participants a FROW seat to the SS21 collections (no guest list, the game was open to anyone with an Instagram account), saying: “Coronavirus restrictions mean most are attending LFW digitally, following the collections from home – Fashion Fight Club is a way of getting the community spirit back into LFW. Just because we’re not physically together doesn’t mean we can’t interact and feel involved in the online events.”

On his inspiration, Serventi explained: “Footie die-hards get Fantasy Football, Fashion Fight Club works the same for fashion fanatics.” The project, executed through the Instagram handle @fashfightclub, went like this: in the lead-up to London Fashion Week (18th – 22nd September), fashion fans were encouraged to post their predictions for the best fashion show – or the “winner” – from the roster of each day’s showings. Then, on each day of shows, looks from the designers’ collections were posted and opened up to votes from online enthusiasts – i.e., anyone who wanted to take part. Once LFW had wrapped up, the votes had been counted and each day’s winning designer was announced, the players who had made the most correct predictions at the beginning of the week were congratulated.

 

An example of the reviews posted on the Fashion Fight Club page. Illustration by George Serventi, words by Nini Barbakadze, a Fashion Journalism student at CSM.
An example of the reviews posted on the Fashion Fight Club page. Illustration by George Serventi, words by Nini Barbakadze, a Fashion Journalism student at CSM.

 

Aside from the interactive game aspect, the account also offers fashion commentary, with compilations of fashion students and professionals sharing their predictions for the specific designer’s show in video form. This was accompanied by 100-word reviews from different participants after the collection went live. This community of fashion commentators is “London’s next generation of fashion writing talent, most of whom studied at Central Saint Martins and work in the publishing industry,” according to Serventi. He hopes to carry this initiative on through subsequent London Fashion Weeks.

The concept of an interactive game for LFW is new, but de-centralised fashion discourse is not. Many fashion fans have become disillusioned by the inability of traditional media and legacy titles to critique the industry rather than just market it. Social media has given an outlet to countless fashion professionals and fanatics who want to share their opinions – some even growing an audience from it, highlighting how hungry people are for fashion criticism that feels authentic. Serventi did not mince his words when asked about the state of current fashion journalism: “It’s not critical enough. You wouldn’t expect a film critique to read like a press release so why do show reviews blow so much smoke up designer’s arses?” 

It’s understandable why journalists could be hesitant to write a scathingly honest review: they have to answer to editors who answer to management in a business model where advertising is the cornerstone of magazines. Causing a certain brand to withdraw their advertising would have a direct effect on the publication’s bottom line, meaning magazines are in a sense beholden to the brands who buy ads in their pages. Contrast this with fashion critics on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Youtube who are independent (sometimes even crowd-funded through sites like Patreon) and can essentially say whatever they want. This leads us to ask the question: is there an irreconcilable conflict between being a publication that both advertises and also critiques fashion?

 

Illustration by George Serventi, review by Jessica Worth, a Fashion Journalism student at CSM.
Illustration by George Serventi, review by Jessica Worth, a Fashion Journalism student at CSM.

 

The importance of fashion critique lies in the fact that journalists are mediators between consumers and this massive, complex industry. (Perhaps less so now, as the internet has made it possible for brands to communicate directly with their audience, though I believe there’s still a need for those who “decode” fashion for the public.) The average consumer may not have the time to be fully acquainted with the ins and outs of fashion, placing their trust instead in editors and writers who live and breathe the industry. This is true both in terms of collection reviews, where journalists provide context regarding the designer’s references and process as well as their informed opinions on the clothes, but more importantly with regards to exposing how the industry operates. Lots of shady practices are hidden behind fashion’s glamorous veneer, and sustainability “achievements” can be greatly over-inflated with greenwashing narratives. 

Though being aspirational is in high fashion’s DNA, the lack of genuine criticism on the part of big fashion publishing players coupled with the already exclusive nature of luxury has created an increasingly out of touch industry. This chasm between the average fashion fanatic and legacy titles such as American Vogue was exacerbated by the pandemic, countless instances of police brutality and social unrest, as well as crises across the world. (Magazines cannot be fully blamed for this, bearing in mind the long lead-times of issues, but that in itself poses the question of whether the traditional magazine business model is relevant in a time where we consume media so immediately.) 

Serventi believes legacy titles are out of touch “because they’re being hijacked by a handful of fashion victims whose only way to retain authority and control over their little piece of the fashion industry is by making sure no one else gets a shot at it. It’s not in their best interests to hire talented up and comers or write about initiatives that are different and new because the industry is so competitive and small there’s just not enough room for everyone.” (Though there is perhaps not enough room in the shrinking magazine realm, Serventi and others appear to be carving out a new avenue of fashion commentary for themselves via social media.)

Another example of fashion week coverage outside of the traditional realm of fashion publishing were the Rave Digital Twitch streams on Friday 18th and Monday 21st September, coinciding with London’s showings and still available to watch. The two rounds of 2-hour streams were hosted by fashion journalist Jessica Bumpus and Ravensbourne University lecturer Adam Andrascik, featuring designer Adam Jones alongside Ravensbourne Fashion and Promotion students. They noted that Burberry was the first major fashion brand to host their latest collection on the live streaming service Twitch, which is already a popular platform amongst the gaming community, though the fashion set has been slow in taking to it. Rave Digital’s premiere broadcast – featuring fashion students’ designs in a video game setting – was streamed to Twitch in July, highlighting that innovation in fashion often comes from outside the main structures of the industry. 

 

Outfit by Alexander Knight, screenshot from the game
Outfit by Alexander Knight, screenshot from the game

 

Bumpus, having had extensive experience in the industry – including an 8-year stint at Condé Nast – has a more pragmatic and less cynical view when it comes to the relationship between editorial and advertising, pointing out that “it is an ecosystem at the end of the day, and I think everyone knows that in some respect… without the advertising there isn’t a magazine.” However, like Serventi, she understands the importance of opening the fashion conversation up to new voices. She said: “I think it’s great to get the point of view of the students because fashion’s an industry that’s all about forward-thinking and the future and we always talk about the future talent and the students and how important they are. So I think it’s really good to see what they think, it gives them that spotlight and also it’s really refreshing to hear what they say and the fact that in some ways they’re quite unfiltered and can say “I don’t like that.”” That’s why the recent Rave Digital Twitch streams felt authentic, with the panelists sharing their opinions on the fashion shows, the students with their fresh points of view and the industry professionals with their wealth of experience, creating what Bumpus called “an exchange of ideas.”

In our conversation, Bumpus described how much fashion journalism has changed since she graduated from London College of Fashion in 2006 with a Fashion Journalism degree. Being the former fashion features editor for Vogue.co.uk, she noted how they were one of the first to do fashion news online, at a time where websites for magazines weren’t very highly thought of and “people thought they were kind of magazine counterpart sites where you just get the subscriptions and sign up and they didn’t realise there was actually content.” She went on to explain: “When I started we used to write short news pieces because you used to sit at a PC so you didn’t want anything that you’d have to scroll down because that’s not how it was done, whereas now you can sit on a bus or train or whatever and you scroll on your phone or tablet device and – because of Instagram – you’re used to the idea of scrolling forever, so you’re happy to read 2000-word-and-beyond features on your phone, which you’d never do before.”

So yes, fashion media has certainly changed, but Bumpus believes that it’s really the medium that changes, whilst at its core fashion journalism is about what it’s always been about: “I’m a true believer in good writing, because ultimately it’s just the device that changes.” On his hope for the future of the industry, Serventi told me: “More inclusion, less deifying of industry titans.” De-centralised fashion discourse should certainly help with this, since traditionally – fashion being the “ecosystem” that it is – “industry titans” like LVMH would get the most coverage from legacy titles seeing as they had the most spending power when it came to ads. One can hope that with the growth of online fashion commentators – facilitated by platforms like YouTube, Twitch, Twitter or Instagram – who don’t have much of an obligation to any brand, the focus can be primarily on talent and creativity.

 

By Anastasia Vartanian