Travel often plays an important role in your collections. Why is this?
At a young age, I worked hard to get myself to a fashion and tailoring school in London. From there I was determined to make the most of the travel opportunities nearby. I found visiting new countries so exciting: new cultures, language, architecture, design, and I am there, first hand taking it in and often recording what I have seen. I always have my pen and a tiny bijou box of watercolours with me, very useful in museums where you are not allowed to take photographs, and in some locations where using a camera may cause offence.
Often it may be a colour in a souk, an architectural feature, something unusual, curious or beautiful that inspires me and enables me a starting point to build a story around, curating my experiences into my designs. For example, seeing the Bronzino portrait of Eleanora de’ Medici in the white, gold and black dress at the Uffizi, led me to Brussels and Belgian artist Isabel de Borchgrave and her life-size paper costumes of the Medici court. On contacting Isabel, she invited me to her studio where she was working on an exhibition for the centenary of the Ballets Russes’.
I then researched Diaghilev and Leon Bakst which gave me the inspiration for that season. In more recent years as a travel ambassador for the Innovative Travel Company, I have visited some very interesting places like Iran, Syria, Zanzibar and this year Inner Mongolia and China. All have been unique and given me exciting new material to work with.
Can you tell us a little about your recent trip to China and Inner Mongolia? Why did you decide to visit this region?
I decide to visit Inner Mongolia and China because I have a fascination, which borders on an obsession, with the Silk Roads. This started many years ago when I fell in love with Venice at the western end of the Roads, where most of the fabulous goods transported across very difficult terrain
by huge caravans of camels, ended up. With Innovative, I had already travelled to Petra, Palmyra, Iran (Persia), Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara on the Silk Roads and I was keen to see the other end: the Oriental gateway into China.
My research soon revealed to me the UNESCO site of the Mogao caves on the edge of the Gobi desert- 492 brilliantly frescoed caves, hewn from the sandstone cliff by monks as early as the fourth century, on the edge of the Gobi desert. The newly – discovered Rainbow mountains: 24 million
years in the creation of stripes of minerals in reds yellows blues, plus a chance to see the entirety of the Terracotta warriors that have so far been unearthed. I also knew that there would be extraordinary details of costumes and objects in the museums there that would be truly inspirational
in my work as a designer.
I also flew into other landform highlights of China that I was keen to see: the Avatar, the mountains of Zhangjaijie and the scroll painting landscapes of the Li River and Guilin.
How have you translated your recent travels into your current collection?
Antique Chinese embroideries inspired the Xanadu jacket, curved seams and metal closures on costumes of several different cultures, seen up close and in the museums, and calligraphy have all influenced this collection. Even the story of the Bao – a stamp to enable safe passage for travellers
on the ancient Silk Roads from one region to another has inspired the Bao skirt- hand- stamped in our own studio.
Do you have any favourite pieces from the AW19 collection?
My favourite piece is the Tala silk patchwork dress. It was inspired by a monk’s antique assembly robe and can be worn as a coat or dress. The colours were translated from an Asian costume: dusky grey -greens and reds. Patchwork also inspired the Song dress. All the names of the garments are from former dynasties or cities and caravanserai along the Silk Roads.
Can you talk about some of the prints that feature in the AW collection? How did your Silk Road experience inspire them?
The Silk prints that were developed were directly inspired by this vast land. The naturally occurring chrysanthemum stone led to one, scroll paintings of Oriental trees, another. The Rainbow mountains of Zhangye became the Alani silk rainbow striped dress and the line drawings of people in the
Mogao cave inspired the use of another print. The Karshi jacket idea was from the costume department in the fabulous Shanghai museum and evokes at the same time, ancient Silk Road tiles and rugs with its pattern. The same with the Emperor long shirt where a panel print was carefully cut and reconstructed to look like patchwork.
How did your travel influence the colour palette of the collection?
The colour of a rich Galliano yellow was from the dunes at Mingsha in the evening light, caramel from the caves, and brilliant gemstone colours of emerald and sapphire from treasures that were carried on the roads. A pale peony pink from some parasols in an old street. I always add flattering and easy neutrals like our blue-grey slate.
What were some of the most memorable experiences from your recent trip to the Silk Road?
Seeing the frescoes in the Mogao caves up close, but under torchlight for preservation reasons (Also photography is not allowed for the same reasons), guided by a resident university professor. I was lucky to be allowed to see more caves than is usual. Some of them .my favourites, were very simple and almost abstract and reminded me of the work of Matisse.
Setting foot into the Gobi at the dunes of Mingsha by the Crescent Lake( in the dunes and amazingly it never dries up!), and riding a Bactrian camel (two humps, prettier and fluffier than dromedaries) into the desert. Going up into the clouds at the Zhangjaijie mountains, a twenty thousand steps day, but so worth it to be in amongst the landscape that inspired the film Avatar.
Seeing the vast pits full of the Terracotta Warriors standing in proud lines near Xi’ an, but many of them falling backwards, with horses stuck in walls as they had been found. Fascinating to see the on-site hospital where archaeologists are restoring them- with proper hospital beds. Taking calligraphy classes in Xi’ an and then seeing the museum full of calligraphy on stone steles.
To experience a cruise on the Li River in Guilin, layers of peaked mountains stepping back from the river. A dreamy landscape straight out of a scroll painting that appears on Chinese banknotes, and then a relaxed afternoon around the pool overlooking the Li River at the truly fabulous Sugar Retreat, with a simply beautiful Asian fusion dinner. Staying with a young family up in the brilliantly verdant rice fields at Longji and then Shanghai, a very vibrant city with an acrobat show, a leafy colonial old French Quarter, the M 50 development of modern young artists and a fantastic museum
full of gorgeous costumes and objects which was truly inspirational for my work as a designer.
What advice would you give anyone wishing to travel to this area?
If I were to offer advice to anyone going in this direction, I would suggest involving the assistance of a great travel company who have people on the ground over there who know the best and most efficient ways to get you around. A few words of the local language will make your experience that much better, and taking minimal luggage but comfortable shoes for all that walking (20,000 steps a day in Zhangjiajie mountains)!
Where are you off to next?
My next trip is likely to be lesser known parts of Greece and its islands (for example Chios-mastic villages), though I’m very interested in Tunisia and I am in the process of checking the travel warnings…
Take a look at Jane Daniels latest collection that was inspired by her intrepid travels to the Silk Road here.