A Top Designer Explains Why She's Leaving Fashion Week Behind


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A Top Designer Explains Why She's Leaving Fashion Week Behind

Claire Barrow has moved sideways, from straight up fashion into art and performance.

London-based artist Claire Barrow does not want to sell me any more jumpers. Or trousers. Or scarves, or gloves. I'm pretty sad about it, to be honest, but I think she's quite relieved. Having spent years showing her clothes twice a year at fashion week, then dealing with production, wholesale, stockists and shipping – and all the while keeping everything UK-based and as ethical as possible – last year, the former fashion designer decided enough was enough.


Deeply interested in the political and social implications of art, her clothes have always been more like a canvas for her drawings – fragmented sentences and ideas about human experience in the digital age. The process of mass-producing and selling these pieces off to stores never quite sat right. Which is why her decision to stop arbitrarily showing a collection at the same time as everyone else really does.

From today, Thursday the 16th of February, Claire presents her most recent work, "Dancing with Dreams", an installation combining film, dance, sound and costume, created in collaboration with Melissa Shoes and open to the public at their King Street exhibition space in Covent Garden, London. I caught up with her to discuss the ideas behind the performance, and how it feels to be free.

VICE: Hi Claire, tell me about how this collaboration came about.
Claire Barrow: Well, I've wanted to combine sculpture and video for a while. Melissa have a gallery space in Covent Garden and there were lots of ways I could use technology within it, so it seemed like a really good opportunity to do this.

What was your initial idea and how has it developed?
I pitched to them that I'd make five sculptures and have real people performing next to them, which has now translated into video projections of people dancing. Now, in the space, the sculptures are there in real life and the people are projections.


What was the inspiration?
I wanted it to look like and sound like a Lowry painting, mixed with high glamour. I looked at things like Ballet Russes for inspiration when I started thinking about this project, but I also looked to 90s music videos and stuff that I liked as a child. Things that got something out of me, that made me feel.

Nice. What kind of performance is there in the video?
It's a mixture of dancers and actors. Performance art can be quite shit; there are certain elements of it which I find kind of dated and associated with something that's inaccessible unless you're in that world. It can feel like someone's vanity project very easily, so I really wanted to work with people who are genuinely really talented. That was super important. You feel like you're getting something really special and not just watching someone muck about a bit.

Who's in it who's wicked?
Everyone. There's this really amazing actress called Sameena, who was in a film called Catch Me Daddy, and actually won a Newcomer award from the BFI, even though it's kind of the only thing she's done. She's northern and from a really working class background, where she still lives and works full time. We've also got this guy Harry Alexander, who's a ballerina in the Michael Clarke company.

Is the piece choreographed?
I did the choreography myself. I've always been really interested in that.

Are you in it? 
I wanted to be, but I'm still behind the camera. That is something I definitely hope to do in the future, though.


Who directed the video?
Joseph Bird. He's really new and hasn't made much except a couple of music videos [for Connan Mockasin and Rejjie Snow]. I met him through friends and we collaborate really well together. He's very raw right now; he hasn't done much and he's very technical. The soundtrack was done by Taigen Kawabe and Kenichi Iwasa. Taigen's in Bo Ningen – he's the singer – and he's rapping half Japanese and half English in it.

And does clothing feature heavily in the piece?
It's mostly costumes. I said I don't want to be part of the schedule and do fashion week in the normal sense, and this stands by that. It's not clothes you can wholesale; it's sculptures that are dressed in costumes and people in videos dressed in costumes. The art's for sale, but it wouldn't be separate garments – it's the whole sculpture. Then, with Melissa, I've created a few pairs of their shoes. They're sort of ballet-esque, with ribbons hanging off them and blowing around. While you're watching the huge screens with the film projection on it the ribbons are flying all over the room.

How does it feel not to be showing another season at fashion week? 
For me personally, it's ideal. It means I get to think about my work and I actually have time to make it. For a young woman it was a lot of pressure – you've got to work with factories constantly, people that are older than you, interns that are your age… it's tough. This last year's been a lot more free, and I think my ideas are coming out stronger. I don't feel scared to experiment with things now.

Thanks, Claire. Bye!

"Dancing with Dreams" runs at the Galeria Melissa for ten weeks, from Friday the 17th of February. It's free and open to the public at 43 King Street London WC2E 8JY.