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MBFWA The Innovators: Elissa McGowan

Jamie-maree Shipton

Wed May 01 2013

MBFWA The Innovators: Elissa McGowan

IN part two of our MBFWA Innovators profile series, Jamie-Maree Shipton heads backstage to chat with Elissa McGowan. 

In the lead up to our chat, I only managed to find a bit of information about new designer Elissa McGowan, and what information I did find didn’t do her or her designs justice.

The complexity behind the inspiration for Elissa’s collection is something you don’t come across in fashion too often. It’s an instance where fashion delves into another world and where the creations result in something dreamlike and beautiful.

It was no wonder then that the main inspiration for Elissa’s collection was surrealist painting, the ideology behind surrealism and in turn the subconscious of creating such surrealist expression in both paint and fashion.

The collection was fittingly titled ‘Pure Psychic Automatism’, which is essentially the definition of surrealism.

Instead of a paint brush, Elissa’s canvas is developed with a needle and thread. It is with these tools that she explores texture and sculptural cuts through a psychedelic and surreal approach. The time involved in the creation of Elissa’s collection is equal to that needed to create a surrealist masterpiece, and I find her backstage still working on it.

I am initially intrigued about what it is about surrealism that Elissa finds so appealing in her design process.

“I reference nature a lot and I think there is a parallel between a realism in nature, in terms of its forms, and it being quite organic. So for me, it was a natural progression to look at surrealism,” Elissa explains.

She applies a painterly approach to the development of her garments, ensuring her organic shapes are employed within the constraints of cleanly sculptured lines. It is this juxtaposition between organic and sculptured line and shape that represents the surrealist element of her collection. Elissa makes her organic and painterly lines exist in a sharp tailored garment, something that would not occur often within the realism of nature.

“I did a lot of layering, cutting and bonding. I used a lot of silks and sheers and worked within the realm of building up layers in the organic sense. I also worked with the idea of sculpture and drape, which is something you also see in surrealism through the dripping of paint,” she says.

Elissa says one of her main sources of inspiration was the artist Francis Bacon, who “uses a lot of fleshy tones, but highlights and frames with darker elements and accents.”

Her collection is a successful representation of the complexities inherent in surrealism. You may see one thing, but something else is always coexisting at another level of the art. For example, a lot of the painterly patterns draped across Elissa’s garments appear to be watercolour images constructed by a printer, but once I get a closer look, I see the patterns are actually created through the layering of fabric.

The effect is otherworldly. With so many layers, you would assume there would be a heaviness to the garments. But in fact, they are airy, delicate and light.

As I end our interview, I ask Elissa what she wants people to feel when viewing her collection on the runway.

“I think each to their own. I try and create a bit of a dream sense, but I do want the women who wear my pieces to feel strong and like they know themselves,” she says.

Elissa’s collection definitely transported MBFWA viewers to a dream sense, creating an atmosphere of whimsy that left myself, and the other show-goers, with a feeling of awe over such a beautiful collection and such beautiful craftsmanship. No doubt there will be big things to come for Elissa McGowan.