Forget Fashion Week FOMO, River Island are bringing the high-end to the high street with their latest Design Forum collaboration with up-and-coming designer Liz Black

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River Island’s Design Forum initiative has previously brought collaborations from London Fashion Week favourites such as Katie Eary, Eudon Choi and Joseph Turvey to the UK high street. So we were more than a little excited when we heard that this year the retail giant has partnered with Liz Black to bring that designer je ne sais quoi to the fashion hungry masses… And boy, does Black have some fashion credentials! After graduating from Central St. Martin’s in 2010, she went onto set up her own luxury womenswear label. Since then, she has caught the attention of Roland Mouret when she was selected as a semi-finalist for the Fashion Fringe Awards in 2011, and she’s recently been nominated in the ‘Creative Excellence’ category at the Scottish Fashion Awards. Oh, and she counts Lady Gaga as one of her celebrity fans.

So if you want to grab yourself an affordable slice of this up-and-coming designer, her 9-piece capsule collection is launching across River Island’s UK stores today. The gothic collection draws inspiration from Princess Anastasia’s rumoured survival during the Russian Revolution, with the power dressing silhouettes offset by tactile leather-look materials and fur detailing.

But don’t worry too much about doing your fashion homework, because we’ve done it for you! We nabbed an exclusive interview with the emerging designer, as well as a sneak peak of the Liz Black for River Island film, which is officially launching at the British Fashion Council Fashion Film event on Monday. Enjoy!

Could you take us through your fashion journey so far: since graduating from Central Saint Martin’s to the upcoming River Island Design Forum collaboration?

After graduating I started my own label, and I have since shown at both London and Paris Fashion Weeks. In my shows I am always trying to tell a story. My inspirations have been quite broad; from art to architecture. For example, last season my collection focussed on Salvador Dalí but a couple of seasons before it was Alice in Wonderland.

So wherever you take your inspiration from, you’re always looking for something that has a story to tell?

Yes, exactly. My collections always tell a story about something that’s going on, or something that’s relevant. So every season we show the collections at a showroom in Paris, and I always go to as many exhibitions as I can while I’m there. And, obviously, I eat very well too! But, for example, I saw the Salvador Dalí exhibition in Paris, and the Soto exhibition as well. So my collections will always be about something that is happening in my life, or something that has touched me in some way. I tend to get obsessed with a theme! But what is most fun for me is pulling together how to tell the story, rather than just assembling one garment.

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How did you feel when you found out that you were going to be designing a collection for River Island?

The British Fashion Council proposed the initial designers and then River Island shortlisted three final designers to interview. I still don’t know who the other designers were! But anyway… I went and it was really exciting to know that the British Fashion Council had even nominated me. I was interviewed by a panel of Fashion Directors, and it was a great experience. But I never really thought I was going to be their final choice! I know I shouldn’t say that, but you just never really expect to be chosen for these kinds of things. I really, really wanted it, but I just didn’t want to be hurt if I didn’t get it. Then the next day they contacted me to tell me that they wanted to work with me! So that was a very exciting moment.

What has it been like working with such a big brand?

This has really been my first experience of working for the high street. I’ve previously interned with Emilio de la Morena and Diane von Fürstenberg in New York, but I have never had experience with a high street brand. But the energy that this company’s got is amazing. We’ve had a lot of meetings and there have been a lot of people to meet there because they have amazing teams for every single thing. There are so many people working at River Island, and all of them have a really niche knowledge of a specific area. So we’ve been blending that knowledge with my ideas.

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How did you adapt your usual aesthetic to cater for a high street brand and a wider audience?

The collection feels 100% Liz Black to me, but then the materials are a little bit more affordable. For example, I always use leather in my collections, but for this collection we have used a material that is similar to leather instead. It was important to me that this collection felt like my own, because I want young people to like it, and then if they really like it they might want to look at my stand-alone collections as well. I’m actually really excited to see people in my pieces. I want to see people out and about wearing this collection! So maybe I’ll look out for the leggings, the cardigan or even the coat in the daytime, and then perhaps I’ll see the dresses when I’m out in the evenings. I’d like to see how people style the collection as well.

Can you talk us through the inspiration for the capsule collection?

The inspiration started with the cape that the Russian Princess Anastasia wore, and then I worked out from there. I took inspiration from everything: Fabergé eggs, Russian dolls and even the Disney film! So although it started with just one thing, I wanted to make sure I got the whole picture. It was actually an idea that I had had for one of my collections – I have folders and folders and folders of different inspirational subjects – but that was the one that most appealed to me at the time, and I wanted to tell her story because it’s something that I feel really strongly about. So I made a clutch for the collection that looks like a Fabergé egg, and then the dresses are all styled to look like corsets, because Anastasia is said to have sewn precious stones inside her corset when her family were leaving Tobolsk to ensure that the guards wouldn’t find them. So the corset actually became a main feature for the collection.

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What are your favourite pieces?

This is a really hard question because I’d wear every single thing! But I think if I had a specific budget to spend, the coat and the shoes are probably the pieces that I would buy first.

Did you enjoy making the film to accompany the launch?

The film production was amazing! The photo shoot was good as well, but the film production was out of this world because I’ve never really been involved with anything like that before. There were almost fifty people working on it. Seeing the transformation of my ideas was so amazing. The company and director, Mary Nighy, were absolutely brilliant.

Can we take any hints from this capsule collection about what the Liz Black Spring/Summer 2015 will be like?

Not really… My Spring/Summer 2015 collection is about insects! So there’s black mixed with a really bright palette, and then the dresses are inspired by spiders, flies, bumblebees, ants… Anything really! We are using microfiber, power mesh, leather, heavy cotton and organza. I really like working with organza because organza is very structural, and what I do is very structural as well.

Are you showing in both London and Paris this season?

This season I made the decision to focus more on the River Island collection in London, and then in Paris we are inviting everybody! When we come back from Paris in October we’ll have a London press day.

Have you got anything else exciting planned for the future?

I can’t say too much, but I have been contacted by a TV programme. My dresses are going to be featured on a show, which is very exciting. For me the most important part of the design process is seeing the finished dresses.

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The Liz Black x River Island collection was launched in River Island’s Oxford Street stores today, and will be available at the following stores from Tuesday:

LONDON, White City Westfield

LONDON, Bluewater

LONDON, Parkhouse


LIVERPOOL, Church Street

LEEDS, Lands Lane/Trinity



GLASGOW, Argyle Street


Prices start at £30 and go up to £100.

Words: Samantha Southern


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