Lucy Brown speaks to up-and-coming London based designer Olli Hull who is blurring the lines between art and fashion by upcycling garments with graffiti- style designs.
LB: How did you get into designing; is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
OH: I kind of went into fashion through a strange route. I studied illustration and worked as a hairdresser in London for two years, and we used to do a lot of industry competitions and fashion shows. My boss put me forward for this industry competition, a hair competition called L’Oréal Colour Trophy. You had to present a model and an outfit concept, and she was like, “why don’t you paint her clothes?” because she knew that I did illustration. So, I did and just really fell in love with it.
I started buying vintage and second-hand clothes from charity shops in my spare time and painting and upcycling them. I just fell in love with the process of doing that. I eventually made the decision to leave hairdressing to do it full time and just grew from there really. I was teaching myself by deconstructing garments, how to then create garments, and make them into something new.
LB: Would you say that your work blurs the lines between art and fashion?
OH: Yes, I guess because I never had a formal fashion design background, part of me felt like I could never call myself a fashion designer. I think because the art and the concept always came first and the clothes were kind of a vehicle for my artwork and my message. So, it wasn’t just art and it wasn’t just fashion. It was kind of a mix and blending of both.
LB: Sustainability plays a huge role in your designs. Why is it so important for designers to think sustainably?
OH: I think we’re at a point now where there’s just no other option. Moving forward, we just can’t keep making new stuff, and I think that the more damage we start seeing, the more everything is going to have to change. Everyone is going to have to adopt new work practices. I think sustainability is just the start of us all moving in a new direction.
How can we all stay on this planet and still enjoy art and fashion but in a way that isn’t going to damage the planet? I also think fashion can inspire culture and change.
LB: Definitely! You also mentioned earlier that you look in charity shops to find garments to upcycle. What is it that makes you see potential in certain items?
OH: The first thing I look for is the quality of a garment, so something that’s had a life but stood the test of time. A lot of the stuff in charity shops have been worn by an owner before, but because the quality is that good, it can still be worked with. I also look for things that are quite plain with blank space as it gives me so much space to do something with. I can cut something, re-shape it, paint it, or change the colour of it. When something already has a lot going on. I kind of don’t know what I can do with it. I like having a blank canvas.
LB: What would you say your personal favourite design has been so far?
OH: I think the oversized t-shirt dress from my recent collection. It says ‘normal’ across the front and it is a body where you can see the muscles showing underneath. I think that’s a direction I want to start moving into, the body drawn on top of the clothing and relating the body and the clothing together.
LB: When it comes to your other pieces, where do you find the quotes you put on them?
OH: I just constantly keep a journal, so I’m constantly writing down little ideas and thoughts that come to me. I’ll pull imagery and drawings from my sketchbooks. I definitely use them in a therapeutic kind of way to process the inner chatter and then use it on the clothes.
LB: Who are the designers you look to for inspiration?
OH: I’ve always loved Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. My inspirations change all the time. At the moment, I’m really into Derek Jarman, who was a gay filmmaker. I recently watched a film screening of his called The Garden. It was all about the strength of nature, and I think that’s a really important concept right now and how we need to reconnect with it a little bit more.
LB: What you do is so unique, particularly the graffitied wedding dresses. Where did you find the inspiration for that?
OH: During the first lockdown, I was looking on Depop and eBay, where I get a lot of pieces to upcycle from, and I found a wedding dress on eBay and was like, “that would be pretty cool to paint,” because it’s just a big white canvas. There is so much space to work with.
I just became obsessed with buying wedding dresses, and I think there is something about wedding dresses. From a sustainable point of view, people pay all this money on a dress that is worn once and then left in an attic for years, never to be worn again. There is also this thing about wedding dresses representing heteronormative traditional ideas about relationships. As a queer person, to take these dresses and graffiti them, how graffiti artists take ownership over the streets, I wanted to do that with the wedding dresses to make a comment about them not just being for heterosexuals; they’re for everybody.
LB: So, what’s next for you?
OH: I want to start creating things that have a bit more of a performance feel, working more with fashion film and performers. I’d also like to work with more upcycled denim for my September collection.