Rhiannon D’Averc caught up with Francesca R Palumbo, a designer with Hundred Showroom, to talk about her exciting Beauty in Poison collection – one of the most interesting uses of knitwear we’ve seen.
So, tell me, how long have you been a designer?
Well, I graduated last year from Middlesex Uni and then I started my own collection, which was a continuation from my graduate collection. So, it’s been a year of being out of uni and being a designer.
What have you been up to so far?
I took part in Britain’s Top Designer at the beginning of the year and that was a great experience as well, getting to showcase my stuff at that fashion show was the first time my collection had been shown again since uni so it was really good, and the judges had really good opinions so it was really good to get that feedback. Uni was really great, I studied Fashion and Textiles and that was really good, exploring loads of different mediums. I don’t really like to stick to what I’m told I can do, I like to see if I can’t do it, why can’t I do it, and go and do the opposite and see if it works. Sometimes I have made mistakes but it’s all part of the process and I’m quite determined to work out what will work and what won’t work.
And when did you first realise that’s what you wanted to do?
It sort of started from a young age. I was into dancing and stuff and I really enjoyed with playing with making costumes for dancing. I liked the way you could create a character from putting outfits on. So that sort of sparked my interest in textiles, and then when I went to uni I realised that my true passion was knitwear and that was the route I wanted to go down.
Great, I wanted to ask you about the knitwear actually. So what made you choose that specifically?
On my course you had to choose what you wanted to do, and I really liked knitwear. I hadn’t done any knitwear until I went to uni and I just loved the way you can do anything with it.
Your collection isn’t traditional in any way.
Yeah, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to challenge people’s idea of what knitwear is and be like ”it’s not just jumpers”.
Tell me about the inspiration for that collection.
That collection was inspired by oil. I was looking at consumption and the silhouettes are from looking at the animals trapped in the oil, so that why they’re all quite sleek. It’s quite sad to look at, when I was doing the research it was quite sad to look at the poor animals getting trapped. And the colours were all from oil and oil spills and that’s why you’ve got the surface. I’m just trying to raise awareness of something I don’t think is talked about much.
Is that really important to you in your work?
Yeah, I really like to bring awareness for something and have a meaning behind my collections as well as creating nice stuff. So people can wear it and it have a purpose and it’s not just nice, it has some story behind it as well. I think that’s important.
So what kind of political and social causes are you inspired by at the moment?
Well, a big thing for me, even when I was designing the oil collection, is making sure women feel empowered. My stuff is very see-through but girls should feel happy wearing that and shouldn’t have to be judged. And this [next] collection is looking into more about women empowerment.
I read as well that you have an interest in sustainability?
Yeah, so making sure we go forward and make it sustainable and ethical. I’m trying to be like that with my designs.
Why do you think it’s important to embrace those causes through your work?
I think it’s important because as designers we have voices and we can talk about things and I think it’s important to raise voices for people who can’t speak out, and we all just need to raise awareness and make sure that things are talked about and things are brought to people’s attention and not just forgotten about. Because things do go on in the background, and I think it’s important as a designer to have meaning behind something that people can understand, so people can relate to it.
What about from the consumer side of things, do you think it’s important for someone to buy clothes that reflect these kind of ideals?
I think fashion is changing and I think consumers are more concerned. I think it’s really nice to have a story behind, because if someone compliments your dress or something you can say ‘Well actually this is raising awareness for this’, or ‘This is doing this’.
You use really interesting drapes and falls, how did you develop that?
It’s all through stand-work. I drape them on the mannequin, I see what fits the body, how it hangs, and then I hand sew each piece together so everything is unique. I like the idea of having something that nobody else will have, like I can make another one but it won’t be exactly the same, so everyone can have a unique piece of work.
Tell me about your internship with Julien MacDonald.
Yeah, I interned with Julien MacDonald as part of my second year at uni which made me realise the potential of knitwear, and then I was with Mark Fast, that was really as good as well.
Is there something you could pick out like a big thing you learned from them?
It was more just overall such a good experience, just overall learning I think.
Tell me more about your Beauty in Poison collection – tell me about the shapes and what kind of girl would wear them?
I think anyone could wear them- they are not all necessarily for one thing and I think you could wear garments underneath, or if you’re confident you could go out wearing nothing. I’m not one for saying what you can or cannot wear! I don’t really have a muse, any woman that I come across and anyone who does inspirational things is a muse. From my friends to big designers to people just in society, everyone can wear it and I want my collection to be inclusive. It doesn’t matter who you are, what shape, what size – anyone can wear my clothes. I don’t have a particular person in mind, as long as you have confidence and feel happy in it, that’s what I want.
What about your personal style?
My personal style is pretty all over the place. I just like wearing things I feel confident in.
Five or ten years in the future, what would your dream be?
To have my knitwear brand. To push boundaries and take knitwear to new places, and really show what can be done with knitwear because I don’t think that anyone’s really interested in the whole potential that can be reached with knitwear.
Is there anything you want to try with knitwear that hasn’t been done?
I really want to push what materials can be used. I have used metal before and metal wire, so I really want to push what I can put through sewing machines and what I can create, and what rules I can break as well to see what can be produced with knitwear. To push it and see how far I can go with it, where it could end up.
Do you have any ideas for your next collection yet?
It’s definitely focusing on women empowerment and things that have been happening in my personal life, so it’s more about pulling yourself together.
Do you have any shows planned?
I’m going to do one with Hundred Showroom, so that’s the next thing I’m going to do.
How has being with Hundred Showroom helped you in your career so far?
It’s been really good, I’ve only been there a couple of months but it’s really helped me and it’s really good to get work out there and get the message out.
If you could have a celebrity wear your clothes, is there one person you would pick?
Not really, I have a few people I wouldn’t mind. It would be great if somebody wore something to the Met Gala, it wouldn’t matter who but it would be amazing because that always gets such cool styling.
How does it feel to see your clothes walking down the runway?
It’s an amazing feeling, I love it so much, I love the adrenaline and I love seeing people’s faces as well. They think ‘Here comes a knitwear designer’ and I love to see people’s surprised faces and their reactions like ‘It’s not a jumper!’. It’s like yeah, it’s still knitted but it’s not what you think it is, and I love challenging people and showing it’s not a knitted jumper like your grandma would make. It is amazing when it comes down the catwalk.
Any message you would like to give to our readers?
Just be yourself and be true to yourself.
See more of Francesca’s work at hundredshowroom.com/designers/francesca.r.palumbo
Photographs by Emily Grace Morgan – models Tia Hurd and Maya Gregg