Most collections that cite the 60s as their starting point usually end up taking their main cues from Pierre Cardin and Andy Warhol’s Factory Girls. Not Northumbria University fashion design graduate Ellie Campbell however, who, with her unique twist on Jane Fonda’s 1968 Barbarella costumes and Mattel’s original Barbies (the collection is titled Barbierella — see what she did there?), is taking classic 60s styles and making them accessible for a 21st century girl. Utilising plastic fabrics, and taking inspirations from the space race and the newfound liberation of women, Campbell contrasts the aesthetic of the dream Barbie doll with the technological advancements that the decade is famous for. As if her detailed and imaginative pattern cutting wasn’t enough to demonstrate her technical skills, Campbell expertly completes her garments with finishings worthy of 60s Parisian couture.
Campbell’s season-less womenswear takes inspiration from the ingenuity of Mattel’s original Barbie outfits, with the slightly oversized fittings and raw hems; Barbie is a style icon after all. Her strong silhouettes, which include sleek aquatic bodysuits, oversized trapeze-like coats and bubblewrap-like plastic fabrics (yes, bubblewrap), are reminiscent of 60s space looks, but aren’t in any way nostalgic. Keeping pale pinks, turquoise, white and silver at the core of her aesthetic, along with the plastic and synthetic fabrics, Campbell keeps her collection tight and clean, much like the bodysuits from Barbarella. Manipulating classic 60s elements to provide a unique, futuristic collection, Campbell takes the idea of “plastic fantastic” to another level.
What’s your first fashion-related memory?
If I am honest, I wasn’t the most fashion-forward child growing up, but I always liked to experiment! I’d say the first time I really thought about fashion as an industry was around the age of 14. On a school trip I was involved in a bin bag competition where you had to make an outfit from a bin bag, I did quite a good job of it, and that was the moment I thought, I can make clothes from anything I put my mind to!
What made you want to study fashion design? Have you always been drawn to the arts?
At school I did textiles, I was kind of thrown into it at GCSE as I went to a technology college, and from there I started to really care about the subject and loved creating things that I had designed. I have definitely always been interested in the arts, it was always a hobby of mine from a very young age which has now became a career, it was always what I had excelled in at school.
Your collection is reminiscent of the 60s futurism – what inspired the collection and what are your main aesthetic references?
The main reference started as Mattel’s 1960s Barbie dolls. Although I was never a “Barbie Girl” growing up, I was intrigued by the way the clothes were constructed; the way the fastenings were always too big, as well as the oversized silhouette of her interchangeable outfits. The 1960s powered the collection forward; the plastic fabrics, the new found liberation of women and the space race. This brought me to the classic Sci-Fi film Barbarella (1968), starring Jane Fonda, which sparked my imagination and is the basis of the body suits you see throughout the collection.
Your colour scheme is full of pale pink, taupes, turquoise, white and silver – what’s the story behind your colour palette?
The colour scheme came fairly naturally, they’ve always been colours that I am personally drawn to. When collecting fabric samples for the collection I noticed they were always the colours I went to instinctively, and they also compliment the subjects that were inspiring me and my collection such as Barbie and Barbarella.
What was your experience at Northumbria University like?
My experience at Northumbria University was good, it is an extremely hands-on course which always suited me as I preferred the more practical side of fashion. However, it is quite a commercial university which I sometimes found hard to get used to. At my time at Northumbria I had a placement year where I did two internships. The first was at Pearlgate Ltd, a small high-street supplier, and the second was at Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, a high-end designer. Both of these placements helped me grow as a designer and taught me a lot, and Northumbria taught me the meaning of hard work; an experience that I’d never change.
How do you feel you’ve grown as a designer since starting your degree?
I’ve grown a lot as a designer, and I think I’ll keep growing too. I used to design very differently, a more androgynous style, very sharp and architectural. I think I was designing more for myself. My final two years at university I realised I didn’t want to make clothes that I would wear on a daily basis, but I wanted to design garments that pushed boundaries and were one-offs by trying different fabrics and techniques.
Do you think that going to an art or fashion school is necessary for becoming a designer?
I think it does help as they have a certain reputation within the fashion industry and I think they are more liberal and open to exploration. However, I don’t think its impossible to become a designer without the art school title, as long as you work hard and have dedication to the subject, that’s all that matters.
What’s your design process like – are you quite spontaneous with your ideas or do you plan everything?
A mixture! I’m a bit of a list freak, and I always have a plan for the day. However, I enjoy a more spontaneous design process such as sampling and trying out new techniques. Another part of my design process is that I like to work on the stand, creating new shapes and forms to design from rather than designing from already established silhouettes. I think sometimes when you make mistakes, that’s when you get something really different and unique.
Do you think the fashion industry gives enough support to up-and-coming/graduate designers? And if not, how do you think they could improve?
I think the fashion industry is very competitive, but it does do a lot to help graduate designers. For example, Graduate Fashion Week hosts a lot of universities, showcasing fashion students and their collections and portfolios. There are also awards and grants for certain graduates who excel within the subject. The problem is there are so many students each year that not all can be seen and heard, and sometimes amazing graduates slip through the net. I’m not sure how this can be improved, but it’s defiantly something that needs to be thought about.
Your graduate collection look book is gorgeous – how did you come to work with Rebecca Elizabeth Tate and what was the idea behind the shoot?
Thanks! We actually met on Instagram, and we thought it would be great to do a shoot as we both live in the North East. Rebecca wanted to go for a more moody look, as if a space girl had been lost in an abandoned room. The main reason for the stripped back and raw look was the garments, as we wanted them to shine and be the focal point.
What’s your plan now you’ve graduated?
To be honest, I’m not completely sure! I would eventually love to have my own company, but I want to work within the industry first. I want to learn more and and grow as a designer and pattern cutter before I think about my own brand.