One to Watch: Royal College of Art graduate Rose Danford-Phillips

Royal College of Art graduate Rose Danford-Phillips might be a new face in fashion, but not one that shies away from making a statement as she paves her way in the industry. A fusion of florals and structured tailoring can be found throughout her collections as she draws inspiration from her past and delivers it into the present. Contemporary womenswear with a distinctive edge that craves to be worn by those who are unapologetically themselves whilst hinting at a story just waiting to be discovered through the garment itself. Being a leader of fashion’s next generation, Rose shares her personal insight into life as a Designer from being mentored by Stephen Jones, her emphasis on the current climate crisis and advice for those at the beginning of their careers.

What’s your biggest source of inspiration when designing?

When designing my collections I always start by an evocative concept that inspires me – for example my MA collection was inspired by the concept of nature taking over minimalist spaces and infecting them with life – my models were wild nature warriors, completely covered and joyous. I’m often inspired by the intersection of nature, women and myth, and then channel that into both fantastical and wearable pieces.

Both of your parents work in the horticultural industry. How much would you say your childhood has had an impact on your work and the Designer you’re today?

Because of my parents work, I grew up surrounded by gardens: Roots and Shoots, the charity my mum started has a wildlife garden I spent all my time after school in; West Dean, the grounds of a university my godparents transformed into a stunning working kitchen garden; every single holiday – which revolved around what gardens my parents wanted to visit (Heligan, Rosemoor, Tresco Abbey, a million more).

I was so surrounded by nature and plants it’s impossible for me to avoid in my work! I think I have quite a different approach to florals than other designers – I abstract them into swathes of colour, I make vines from spidery lace and feathers, I laser cut plastic roses and melt them into a naturalist shape. It’s not about flowers, or even leaves – it’s about the feeling of nature, the gestural movement of plants, the complexity and richness of
biodiversity.

“My aesthetic is also defined by the home I grew up in: my dad loves classical interiors, and because we didn’t have the budget for the real thing, he faked it. I grew up in a home with richly coloured walls stencilled with patterns from cathedrals, with fake painted marble floors, faux gold leaf doorways and mural sky ceilings. As I’ve got older I’ve added to the house too – I covered our kitchen with murals of tropical fruit trees and birds, painted dramatic portraits for the walls, gold and silver leafed the bathroom walls and which encouraged my dad to also go further and more dramatic with the decoration. If you come into my home you can really see where I come from, and that my aesthetic is completely natural for me.”

Your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest personal achievement was my last collection – it had been over a year since I last worked on my own work, I had learnt so much during that year working on collaborative projects. I could really see how much I have developed and refined my skills – for example when I started at the Royal College of Art I couldn’t pattern cut at all, but the new collection has strong tailored pieces.

I was very lucky this past season to be part of the House of Peroni, which was an incubator for very young fashion brands. They really helped support me and my fellow designers, including incredible mentoring, a beautiful studio and taking us to London Fashion Week – it was essential to give me the confidence and knowledge to start my brand and elevate my work.

Why did you choose this career and what would you be doing otherwise?

I didn’t set my heart on being a fashion designer, it just sort of happened. When I was a teenager I thought I’d be a botanist, but I’m dyslexic which killed that dream! Then I thought I’d be a painter, but when I went to my foundation at UAL I couldn’t stop making hats and accessories, so I decided to do the Fashion/ Textiles pathway. Although I wanted to study fashion when I visited the Chelsea open day it seemed like a much nicer, more welcoming campus than any of the fashion ones – and I do like a good bit of fabric – so I went there instead. After a while it annoyed me that I only got to make swatches, when I wanted to make whole garments with the textiles I made, and I realised I should do fashion as an MA to make that a reality.

“If I wasn’t doing fashion, I have no idea what I would do; maybe be an artist, but definitely something creative, and with some sort of craftsmanship. It’s not that I can’t ever see myself doing other things, but that my life has led me here and I can’t imagine it going another way – although I can definitely imagine ending up not in fashion and doing interiors or sculpture or maybe something completely different.”

You’ve already been mentored and worked with a handful of renowned designers such as Stephen Jones and Viktor & Rolf. If could work with any other industry figure who would it be and why?

I’ve been really lucky to have some incredible mentors over the past few years, so if I could be mentored by another industry figure it would be someone who isn’t on the creative side, but on the business side of fashion. If I could collaborate with an industry figure it would be Tim Walker – him and his amazing team create the best worlds in fashion photography, I’d love to work with him to create mine.

Do you feel that the industry highlights the crucial stage between a young designer graduating to then presenting a collection at a catwalk show?

I don’t think the industry highlights much at all – either you’re already a big brand, or you’re a student prodigy and there’s not much in-between. If you aren’t ready to start a brand immediately after you graduate then everything is much harder people aren’t checking for you, you have to build everything alone without that natural hype. The industry also doesn’t profile the process – it’s all about the end product – which is understandable, but it’s also quite shallow. When you’re the sort of brand I am, you have to do it yourself – tell your own story, show your process, work with interesting people and then hope for a good dose of luck.

How important is it as a designer to have a digital knowledge and understanding in a time where there is so much disruption with social media?

It’s super important to be good with social media now, although I personally don’t like that the lens in fashion is so based around it. It dilutes the impact of work. I find it very alienating – the highs are high, and the lows are really low (and there’s a lot more lows than highs). Sometimes I think what’s the point in making cool things, when not many people see them, and when you don’t have a show, the only outward facing way people see your work is Instagram – it’s so much pressure, but the end result often feels hollow. I have met some really interesting collaborators, musicians and stylists on Instagram, and I think the more personal side of it is great – when you aren’t throwing things into the void. The best part of it for me is talking to customers, almost all my private orders are from Instagram, and I like that I can have a good conversation with them.

The climate crisis is becoming increasingly more apparent. How much awareness and responsibility towards sustainability do you think the next generation has?

I think we have every responsibility, and the awareness is coming – we can’t continue doing what we have done. When I was a student, sustainability wasn’t at the forefront of my mind – it wasn’t emphasised by my uni, but I was still quite sustainable because I had no money so I have to scavenge for things. When I started my business, I realised I had to push it,
but every time I researched different options, to try to find the right materials and factories, I kept coming up with nothing that could work for me. It’s difficult to start a small business in the fashion industry – almost nobody wants to bother with small minimums.

However, I have realised that even if it’s hard, it’s so important I have to keep at it – keep researching, keep asking, keep developing better processes and practices, and chip away at the parts that aren’t sustainable. Make it an essential goal to make a fully sustainable and ethical business. The industry is set up to consume, to throw away, to waste, but the innovations are out there, and it’s our responsibility to find and use them, and to make fashion a better industry.

As we all know this industry can be incredibly tough and as a designer there can be multiple setbacks. What motivates you to persevere through this?

I have had disappointments and missed opportunities, but each time I’m upset for half a day, and then I spend the rest of the day planning what I need to do to get through next time, or to apply to the next thing, or how I can do it without that help. I always talk to my friends about it too, they are lovely and help me feel much better!

When something is disappointing, it’s always tempting to give in, but there are many ways to succeed, and people go at different paces and it’s important to remember that it’s ok not to be an overnight success. Ultimately I am motivated by wanting to make my own work, and if I stopped now I wouldn’t get the chance to make my best work – I know that the future has so much potential if I keep going and keep making.

Thousands of fashion students will be graduating this year. What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give them as they begin their careers

In my 2 years since graduating I’ve learnt a few lessons, from myself, and from my friends. Firstly, don’t panic if nothing happens immediately after you graduate – this is such a hard time, whether you want to start your own business, get a job, or don’t know what you want to do. It takes a long time to get your first job, and even more to start a successful business.

“I’m definitely not ‘there’ yet – and it’s important not to get disheartened or blame yourself for it, and to keep motivated so you can grab every opportunity you find. The way the industry fetishises new talent can make it really isolating if you’re not one of those people (and 99.9% of us aren’t), so in this time it’s good to remember you have your whole life ahead of you – you’re playing the long game. More than anything, keep making and creating, and keep (or start!) collaborating – it’s essential to surround yourself with a great community of people, because you’ll get each other through everything, and you’ll have fun with it.”

What have you currently been working on?

I’m currently working on my new collection for SS2019, which I will hopefully show at London Fashion Week in September! Right now I’m juggling designing and painting the prints, pattern cutting, sorting out private orders for AW2019 and and moving into my new studio. The new collection is inspired by Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and explores the relationship between women, ritual and the frenetic joyful energy of Spring.

How do you see your brand evolving and what can we expect to see from you in the future?

I see my work evolving into something more confidently raw and emotional – where I can really fuse my art and fashion practices, while still making beautiful commercial pieces. At first when I started the ‘brand’ I got advice – and took it – that I need to refine and dilute my aesthetic into something more easily digestible and simple. It was good to try this, because it helped me realise that is the opposite of what I want to do – the brand needs to evolve into something more fantastical, more artistic, more rich. I want to make gorgeous, sumptuous-but-modern garments, and create a feeling of joyous, fantastical maximalism.

Jordan Wake | Writer | @_jordanwake_

All images are from Rose Danford-Phillips | @rosedanfordphillips

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One to Watch: Royal College of Art graduate Rose Danford-Phillips