Quarantined in Quiet

Ashley Dawson takes a glimpse into the lives of London’s artists during the time of COVID-19.

It’s no secret that the global tragedy that is the COVID-19 pandemic has caused mass devastation and loss of life across many countries to date. From the moment the news broke in late December to today, three short months later, the world has been on the edge of their seats scanning their TV, computer, and phone screens for any updates on the virus and its trajectory.

That’s in plain view – that is known; but what about the unknown ramifications of a worldwide social shutdown? Economies and industries all over the world are taking a hit as nature takes her course and human beings are forced to “social distance” and quarantine themselves against this novel illness. The bright, colourful storefronts that used to brighten London streets have turned grey, and the sound of friends chattering and footsteps on the pavement have gone quiet. What has this done to London’s active role in the fashion industry? How are small designers, photographers, and artists coping with this astronomical and upending change?

I wanted to take an afternoon to ask a few prominent London artists a set of questions concerning COVID-19 and their businesses – to really spread the word about what they’re suffering through in silence.

 

According to one prominent London fashion photographer, Lauren Marsh, it has caused massive cancellations not only for her but for all of her peers. I sat down with her to get a glimpse into how the outbreak has disrupted photography in the fashion industry:

How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your business?
Shoots have been mostly cancelled for me and for everyone in the industry.

How do you think people view the fashion industry during times of crisis like these?
I think it goes to the back of their minds, as health is a lot more important now than anything else. I do believe people will start to get bored, though, and crave fashion and art more if they’re stuck at home.

What is your long-term plan if this outbreak and forced isolation is long- lived?
I’m hoping that the government will begin to back freelancers more, and that rent can be put on hold. Otherwise, I will start burning through my hard-earned savings. I was contemplating doing online courses for people who are bored and have time to learn right now – I just need to know what people are interested in learning!

 

It seems that many photographers like Lauren are turning to online courses and e-commerce to help make ends meet, and I’ve seen a multitude of artists begin to offer online tutorials and educational classes for lower costs. Indeed, this is the dire situation that most artists around the city are describing at the moment. From designers to photographers, and from writers and editors, freelancers in London’s fashion epicentre are worried about their bills and ability to provide for themselves in such an emergency. One such designer just outside Yorkshire, Danielle Ferreira, paints a picture of scarce resources and increasing doubt.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your business?
Sourcing fabrics is harder. Given the current climate finding fabrics from within the UK is my safest option. But I’m now worried about courier services and how they may change in the coming weeks.

How do you think people view the fashion industry during times of crisis like these?
I think we are viewed as a non-essential trade, which in all honesty is the truth. This doesn’t mean that I will stop designing and creating, though- to me it’s so much more than just an industry.

What could every citizen do to help small businesses in the fashion industry right now?
The same as before: support local, small businesses as we are the people who will most feel the effects of the fall-out from this situation.

What does your day-to-day work at home look like right now? Or is it at home?
I often work from home as I have a little one to care for, too. Access to my studio has now been put into question but I, like everyone else, am observing the social isolation so that was to be expected.

How has this sudden global change affected your first few months of business?

It has affected me taking on new clients for the next few months. I’m a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, though, so if I have to wait a little longer to really launch into my business I’m happy to. You know the old cliché, “everything good is worth waiting for.”

We all have a lot of time inside on our hands right now – how has this extra time affected your designs and has it allowed you more time to get creative?Absolutely! I’m taking the time to really think over designs and revisit designs that I want to alter. An artist is never completely satisfied with their work so this opportunity gives me the time to add to/rethink designs.

I can hear it in her voice and in that last line: hope. Despite the tragedy and hardship unfolding around them, these artists are resilient. Sure enough, the common denominator in every creative I interviewed was that of strength in the face of the unknown; nothing will and can ever stop them from creating art, no matter the circumstances. In some cases, artists described not being able to create seeming like “death itself.”

 

One such artist, a sort of local London legend, took this stance, maintaining that the art of fashion is what keeps her going every day. Sophie Cochevelou has become known in the London fashion industry for her over the top, grandiose use of colour and children’s toys in her designs, so it doesn’t surprise me that she’s not letting anything stop her from continuing to make art.

Tell us a bit about your business – what makes you unique in the world of London fashion and art?

I am an independent fashion, costume, and accessories designer based in east London. I make unique pieces using upcycled material, discarded toys, and a lot of colours. I never make something twice.

What inspired you to start your creative business and what drives you every day to keep it going?
I studied costume design at Central Saint Martins and never managed to get a proper job, so I felt I would just create my own business. I just like to make stuff and that keeps me going. If I don’t create I feel I am going to die (no I am not dramatic).

How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your business?
The sales on my online shop dramatically dropped as I do bespoke pieces for events that have cancelled and people don’t have the necessity to dress up if they stay at home. My commissions for costumes for gigs or music videos have also been postponed. Furthermore, as I don’t make a full living from my creative practice, I work on the side as an extra for film and TV and all shoots have stopped for now.

What about this outbreak is different than any other catastrophe that impacted your ability to run your business? The difference is the uncertainty of the situation, that we have no idea how long it is going to last. Every day comes with more measures and restrictions so we have to constantly readjust and reassess our way of working.

How do you think people view the fashion industry during times of crisis like these?
Obviously, we are not key workers so we are not seen as essential, but I think through social media we can brighten up people’s confinement through our creativity.

What is your long-term plan if this outbreak and forced isolation is long-lived?
I am planning to keep producing work and make stock, hoping for a recovery of the economy. I am worried that I will run out of supplies, but as I am a hoarder I accumulate material for years that is coming in handy. The difficulty is to project your business after the crisis and keep producing while the money is not coming in, while hoping the government will take some economic measures for self-employed.

What does your workday at home look like right now?

I am extremely lucky as I have a fully equipped studio at home (what people have often viewed as a sign of unsuccessfulness is now revealing itself as a strength). I am blessed as I have been working from home for nearly eight years, so I know how to discipline myself and keep a routine. I force myself to wake up early, eat at regular time, and dress up even if I not leaving the house. Like most creatives, I also don’t mind being alone and enjoy my own company, so isolation is not a massive change in my daily life.

We all have a lot of time inside on our hands right now– how has this extra time affected your designs and has it allowed you more time to get creative? Yes, I feel I have more time to make really elaborate and time-consuming pieces, like hand stitching thousands of sequins on a dress. But sometimes this amount of time is staggering, see as I normally have too many ideas and not enough time to make them happen.

Just looking over Sophie’s Instagram feed is like cracking open the mind of a genius and getting a glimpse of the beautifully absurd – it’s a given that she’ll be creating wonderful new masterpieces at home in her newfound downtime.

 

My last interview subject, however, was a tad bit different from the first three.

A London lawyer by day and a budding writer by night, Sandy Aziz has a respect for the art of law and of the written word that has captivated the attention of London’s finest. She spends her days in court and her nights attending fashion events in the city, and has developed a reputation as a staple in London’s fashion scene. I wanted to pick her brain about how this pandemic has affected the social scene in the fashion world.

What does your day-to-day work look like right now?
Because I am a freelance writer, a lot of my day-to-day hasn’t changed in terms of where I am writing. However, in order to feel inspired and to draw upon that inspiration as well as cover the fashion trends of present past and future – events help. Since everything is locked down people, including me, have to get creative about finding inspiration in their own spaces.

You’re a writer. How has the quarantine affected what kind of stories you’re telling and how you’re telling them?
As a writer, it is no secret that when I put words to paper and release it into the world, that is my release – my freedom. I think now more than ever I am feeling like I have the time to sit and tell different stories that I don’t know if I normally would have been able to tell. I am actively trying to insert silver linings in every story and every post because there is not enough positivity out there right now.

We all have a lot of time inside on our hands right now– how has this extra time affected your work and has it allowed you more time to get creative? I have always valued being part of and creating a creative conversation and community and I think this time has increased my fascination in pursuing this more than ever. I started a mini-series called “Amid COVID-19” which is a multi-part series showing creatives creating amid the pandemic… and this can mean whatever they think it means during this strange time. This mini-series may not have been possible with my busy day-to-day, so this time has really allowed me to pursue passion projects.

 

For fun, and as a sort of interview wrap-up, I asked my subjects to describe their art in three words:

LAUREN: Fun, bright, and colourful.

DANIELLE: Organic, modern, and inspired by emotion.

SOPHIE: Colourful, theatrical, performative

SANDY: Curious, international, and adventurous.

There are so many incredible voices that go unheard in times of crisis and global panic – these are only a few of them. Notable artists, photographers, designers, and painters are closing their doors and struggling to get by during rare emergencies like these where the worldwide economy takes a hit. It is our job as human beings to listen to them, to tell their stories, and to support them. London has been a

major hub in the fashion world for centuries, and with the community’s support its voices and culture will continue to prevail through these unprecedented times.

Follow Ashley Dawson on Instagram @Lapin_Studios.

Find the contributors on their accounts, too:
Sophie Cochevelou @sophiecochevelou;

Sandy Aziz @thesandakin; Lauren Marsh @laurenmarshphotography; Danielle Ferreira @hauseofo.

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