Shivani Chavda is a fashion designer and illustrator who graduated from De Montfort University last year with a BA in fashion design. After winning 'Young Designer of the Year Award 2011' and 'The BFC Warehouse Designer Competition 2011', Shivani went on to work with Warehouse in developing her collection for the high-street, which was then sold across stores nationwide. After working with her stunning graduate pieces in our latest tropical-inspired editorial, FUSSED catches up with Shivani to discuss winning the award, her amalgamation of art and fashion, and get some top tips for upcoming graduates.
Firstly, we love your BA collection in our latest editorial - can you tell us a little about the inspirations behind the collection?
Thank you! As a designer I treat fashion as wearable art, and I used this idea as the starting point of my collection. I’ve always been a lover of surreal art and all that is unexpected and unordinary, so it seemed only natural to take inspiration from this. One artist I was inspired by in particular was Salvador Dali, and the strange elongated creatures that feature in many of his works. They looked so unusual and yet so powerful and elegant at the same time, and I wanted my collection to do the same. Another area of surrealism that inspired me is metamorphosis. I love the idea of taking one thing and merging it into another to create an unexpected juxtaposition, an element of surprise and something that’s not always as it seems. My collection was a platform for me to create my own surreal creatures. I wanted my prints to look like some sort of vibrant dream, and the models to be transformed into wildly beautiful creatures of the unknown.
I took the inspirations above through to my fabric choice and the feel of the collection. Being wearable art meant that the collection had to be something of great luxury. I wanted the person wearing it to feel as special and as valuable as a highly prized work of art. Animals are wild, free, powerful and yet graceful and fluid in the way they move. I wanted to capture this idea in my collection. I used my bold prints and vivid colours to create a sense of beauty and power, and printed on luxurious fabrics that move well and cascade over the body with ease, allowing the wearer to glide with grace. Flashes of skin can be seen in slits and in sheer chiffons to reveal a little more of the wild side that I aimed to portray. The result? The merging of all that is beautiful about a woman with that of an animal.
How did you get started in fashion?
I’ve always been artistic from a really young age, but my first memory of when I turned my hand to fashion was when I made clothes for my little sister’s teddy bear at the age of 10. I was always interested in making things, and often took old silk pyjamas and turned them into evening dresses for the bear. Of course, at the time, I had no idea what the future had in store for me, but I first realised it was definitely what I wanted to do as a career during my art foundation. I specialised in print, graphics and fashion, as they were my favourite, but all my work revolved around fashion. I created graphic advertising for my designs, and used the print methods learnt on various fabrics rather than paper. I knew that fashion design was the be all and end all at that point.
Would you say you have a signature “style” behind your designs?
I’d say my style was fun arty elegance, though I think my use of print is my signature. I spend a long time creating them by hand and work back into them with different media and layers to add depth to my illustration work so that they take on a life of their own and bring that life to the fabrics they're printed on. I also love placing my prints and working closely with the stand and my chosen silhouettes. The relationship between my prints and the body are very important to me and I plan how I want each part of the print to sit or move, and where.
What is it about illustration that inspires you?
Seeing fashion as wearable art drives me to create pieces that makes the wearer feel like a work of art themselves. I love the power of art and how it has the ability to make you feel and think, and stare into it endlessly. I also love the idea of taking something special and placing it into everyday life, and I feel that fashion is a beautiful way of doing just that. I think art shouldn’t just be enjoyed in galleries but wherever you can! Illustration in fashion is my way of making that happen.
What do you think the purpose of fashion should be?
I think that we have evolved fashion to go above and beyond merely dressing ourselves. We use it as a form of expression - a means of displaying our identity whatever it may be. Fashion takes something that is part of our everyday life, getting dressed, and makes it an occasion, a chance for creativity and exploration. I think it’s constantly fluid and ready to be changed by whoever dares to. I think fashion should make you feel good, like fine art, like a great song. I think it’s something that enriches our everyday lives. Fashion makes me feel. I love it!
How valuable was your University experience? Would you do anything differently if you had the chance?
I would say my education was incredibly valuable. I may have complained a few times about having to learn all the technical stuff at the start, but by my final year I fully appreciated that you need to learn from the ground up. Understanding how everything works, how it’s put together and how different fabrics behave is so important to the design process and I learnt all of that whilst studying BA fashion. I also had some inspiring tutors that helped me discover how much I was capable of, and I will always be very grateful that they did. I think everything happens for a reason, so I wouldn't change a thing!
How has working in the industry differed from your University experiences?
I’d have to say it’s a nice change to be working as a designer in the industry because your main focus is the designs and fittings, whereas at university, you’re in charge of the designing, pattern cutting, toiling, sourcing of fabrics, making, photoshoots, styling and the final illustrations, which didn’t leave much time for sleep! But as I said before, it was necessary to learn to do everything; it’s just nice to work on one area when it’s your job. Although, saying that, I was so used to being in charge of everything that it was quite hard to relinquish control at first.
Congratulations on winning the Warehouse graduate competition! Can you tell us a bit about the competition and what you achieved as a result?
Thank you! The Warehouse and BFC graduate competition has been running for three years now and is based at graduate fashion week. The competition looks for a graduate designer to launch within the brand and re-create their graduate collection for their top high-street stores. Having won, I was given the unbelievable opportunity to join Warehouse immediately and work alongside them in re-creating my collection for the high street. I was involved in all aspects of the re-creation from initial fits and print samples to the marketing, VM and photoshoots. I also got to showcase my work at LFW in the BFC Lounge and had my collection sold in the Warehouse concessions in Selfridges and Harrods. It was an amazing experience to have had!
What have you been working on since the experience?
I’ve just completed a print design internship at Vivienne Westwood and I’m working on some new designs for another collection!
What are your aspirations for the future?
I would love to have my own label, and the chance to create collection after collection!
What advice would you give to graduates looking for a career in fashion design?
I’d say if you haven’t already, find out what makes you stand out from the crowd and push it forward, make sure everyone can see it. Also get experience wherever you can - it’s invaluable, and you will learn more than you expected in a short amount of time. Be open minded and take opportunities as they come. If they don’t come, hunt them down!
Images: Emily Smeaton for Warehouse