We first met Jemma Beech at the H&M design awards a few weeks ago, and were won over by her innovative use of colour, and her near-obsession with fringing and tassels – which made for a collection that buzzed with movement and energy. Initially applying for Architecture, before securing her place at Central Saint Martins, Beech’s use of structure and silhouette is apparent throughout the collection. It’s her use of tassels, weaving and fringing however that really caught our eye – especially a colourful pair of flared trousers, with long fringing that had an irresistible Studio 54 vibe, making us want to channel a colourful Edie Sedgwick forever. We’re all about supporting new talent here at Wonderland, and we hunted her down post show to get to know the collection and Beech herself a little bit better.
NEW THREADS: JEMMA BEECH
The Central Saint Martins grad talks pushing boundaries, crazy colour and being bold.
What is your earliest fashion memory?
At school I was always doodling around, drawing people and clothes – I guess fashion has stemmed from there for me.
When did you start designing, what drew you to fashion design?
I’d always really been into art and initially I was torn between fashion and architecture. So I applied for both and had actually accepted a place for a BA in architecture before finding out I’d got into Saint Martins for a foundation year. I had a friend at school who’s sister had done costume design at CSM and then ended up working on the sets for the musical lion king, I thought that sounded pretty awesome and reading more about CSM I kind of set my heart on going there, so when I found out I had got in it was a done deal.
I initially did a foundation year, trialing several pathways from fashion to jewelry and after that year it confirmed I wanted to do fashion, but after dipping my toes in the many different options within fashion I wasn’t sure what to specialise in. So, I took a few years out, went and worked at Harrods on the floor and in the buying department, whilst juggling internships at Mary Katrantzou along with a few others, and decided to apply for knitwear in the end; initially a bit of a random choice for me, but whilst developing my portfolio I experimented with knit and loved how versatile it was.
How did your time at CSM inform and impact your work?
CSM teaches you to push your boundaries and to experiment. You have to be highly motivated and there is also a competitive atmosphere, which worked well for me. I think a key part of Saint Martins, is being inspired by other students. When everyone’s work is so different, it’s interesting to watch their projects develop as well as your own, as you then get ideas of how you can push your designs further. You are taught to question your work and think about what you are trying to get out of it.
How did you find your time there?
Once I started CSM, I was overwhelmed I’m not gonna lie. You’re surrounded by all these amazingly talented and creative people and I felt that coming from my retail background, I was rather simple in comparison. But you are thrown into projects and the more you do, the bolder you become. We had some great collaboration projects along the way, not only with the external tutors but also with other fashion pathways such as menswear, fashion communication and print. All of these project taught you something new, and reminded you that you were in such a great establishment, so why not utalise all that’s around you.
How does London influence your designs?
I’m from the country, literally the middle of a field in Shropshire, on the borders between England and North wales. Inspiration was pretty limited, so as soon as I finished school I was like I need to go somewhere that is the polar opposite, I wanted to be surrounded by buildings and people, in the hustle of it all.
London has influenced me in so many ways, not only with the people I’ve met, but the opportunities I’ve had. If you want to do fashion, it’s hard to do that from anywhere else but London. There is so much inspiration here, its endless.
Have you worked for anyone else on your journey?
I have interned for several brands. Mary Katrantzou back in 2010 when her label was still pretty new. I’ve also interned at Stella McCartney in their Press Office, as I wanted to gain a broader understanding of the fashion industry, not just the design element and most recently I did a six month design placement at Dior, in the Knitwear department. That was a great experience and I learned so much working with the design team, seeing the collections develop from the initial research stages to the final product.
How did it feel to be selected for the H&M Design award finalists? What did you learn from the process?
Amazing! When I got to the semi finals and saw everybody’s collections in the room it was pretty nerve wracking, as there were so many talented designers, so to be picked for the finals was pretty great as the competition was tough.
At the finals, each of the eight finalists had the chance to show four of our looks at the Orangery in Kensington Palace in front of some of the key figures in the fashion industry, including Nick Knight and Olivier Rousting. I had the chance to show my work amongst some of the best graduates from all over the world and it was great to see the difference in collections and portfolios, as we all had such different styles.
I learnt a lot from the experience, firstly that there are some great people and companies out there who are really trying to help new designers, by giving us opportunities like this on an international level. The H&M awards are such a great platform for emerging talent, so to be able to have that opportunity was great.
Talk us through the use of colour in your collection?
I’ve always been rather hesitant when using colour in my work, but for my final collection I wanted to go bold. The colour palette was based around Morocco and when I went there a couple of summers ago the first thing I was struck by was the vibrant colours of Marrakesh and I really wanted to capture this in my collection. I took inspiration for the rich, deep colours from within the Majorelle gardens whilst using flashes of brighter colours like yellow, light blue and pink to contrast and uplift the collection.
Where did the tassle motif stem from? What were the inspirations behind this collection?
The initial focus was Orientalism in 19th century art and after a trip to Morocco I was fascinated by Jemaa el Fna and the vivid dye pots of Fez. I wanted the tassels to look like they had just been dipped into the dye pots and then woven straight into the garments.
For my textiles I looked into cultural craftsmanships; exploring tapestries, weaves and embroidery. I wanted to make a rich collection with an eclectic combination of textures, in a refined silhouette. I embroidered scenes from Morocco and drew inspiration from Arabic letters for the seam placements on the garments, making the letters curve and flow around the body creating these beautiful shapes.
What’s your aim as a designer?
To make garments that the more you look at, the more depth you notice within them.
Do you have someone in mind when you design?
To begin with no, as I find this limits me. I like to be inspired by my research and samples before I start thinking of silhouettes, when I get to that stage then yes I guess I’m drawn to designing feminine shapes. I wouldn’t say I have someone in mind exactly, but I do design pieces to be worn by someone who’s confident, as they are quite sassy pieces.
Can you talk us through your creative process?
I begin by researching a theme; research is key to me – the more depth, the more inspiration. Then I start sampling textiles from knits to embroidery, experimenting with yarns and techniques and sketching ideas as to how these can be developed into garments. I am constantly looking at my research, for not only textile ideas but also silhouettes. I am always reworking my concepts, as your initial idea can always be developed and once I start experimenting, I find it hard to stop but I find most things end up coming together in the final moments.
Tell us what has become a signature element you?
I have a heavy focus on creating feminine silhouettes but also heavily textured pieces. I like to build upon things, be that weaving elements on my knitwear or embroidering over prints…or all of the above.
What does the future hold for Jemma Beech?
Right now I’m just working to save up some money and then hopefully move to back to Paris! I would like to go work in luxury fashion for a few years first, get a bit more experience behind me before maybe trying to set up my own label.