Portrait of a Designer: An Interview with CSM Graduate Emma Bergamin Davys

Culture — 06.12.16

Words by Desislava Todorova
Visuals provided by Emma Bergamin Davys

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Being “too creative” as a designer sounds a bit odd. But in fashion industry nowadays, this has become a recurring issue which the system has addressed by intending to “slow down”. Emerging designers get affected by that and could often get told off for their creative abilities. Being adaptable has become more of a survival technique rather than choice and standing your creative ground could often be seen as an obstacle for young designers. It’s a matter of confidence and strong personal will to preserve oneself, says recent CSM graduate Emma Bergamin Davys. After finishing her MA in Womenswear, she started interviewing in places where she was told her work is too creative for the position. Looking back to it now she says this made her feel “a bit more confident and excited” and if that’s her ‘problem’, then she’s “cool having it.”

The research for her current collection was a continuation of her MA work and plays an essential role in the execution of her ideas. “It’s really important to me. It’s usually an artwork or sculpture that excites me. Given the unstable political and economic situation, fashion is a form of escapism. It’s nice just to do something that is just beautiful”, says Emma. “Sometimes clothing is an escape from that. If I could tell David Cameron and Boris Johnson how pissed of I am through my clothes then I would.” Unravelling the world that’s beyond fashion also helps it make sense and develop her ideas within a deeper context.

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Austrian artist Erwin Wurm’s book De Profundis had a profound effect on the way she conducted her fittings. He redefined the silhouette by taking pictures of his friends in different positions which unravelled various parts of the body in unusual positions. Draping in that sense, is the next stage of her creative process, applying the idea to “try the least amount of pure manipulation of the fabric and how that will create the garment”. In her final collection, she used pieces of jewellery to create the form of the pieces, so it’s “functional rather than decorative”.


Another strong influence in her work is the contemporary artist Nicola L. Seeing a documentary where the artist climbed into one of her pieces, representing a large rectangle with arms and legs made Emma embrace the idea of manipulating “a simple piece of fabric to fit the body”. A lot of the pieces in her graduate collection were just squares or circles which she stitched out around the body shape. Isabelle Wenzel also has a strong impact on her method of draping and presenting her garments. Inspired by the young artist who combines performance art with photography, Emma likes the idea of anonymity, of merging the concept of her clothes with the people who wear them presenting that in an unusually twisted and amorphous posing. Wenzel’s approach can be defined by the dynamic movement of her surreal studies of the body shape. Seeing the garments in 3D rather than as a “flat pattern” helps her understand better the nature of the materials she’s working with. Seeing the pattern though her inspiration, Emma contemplates her place as a female artist and explains that she “never really thought about how being a woman could affect her career”, especially in a subversive environment like fashion. Being a female designer in that sense made her reevaluate the functionality of her clothing, the idea of femininity she’d like to translate into her work and overall create something ‘to wear herself’ as a woman. Being inspired by female nature is something she defines as important for her work as there is “an element of sensitivity in the female art that I can relate to”, says Emma, “but overall, talent is genderless”.

Melanie Bonajo

During her MA, Emma developed a whole new method of working initially looking at artworks and then taking photographs. Melanie Bonajo, in particular, influenced her in the way she was photographing her models and collaging various images together. Bonajo’s method of combining the idea of spirituality, nature and technology challenges the traditional role of women in society and the way their sexuality is seen. Her painfully intimate portraits of bodies in challenging positions reveal a certain tension between her subjects (the women) and their endeavours. Architecture as an aesthetic representation of these structural interrelations is an aspect of art she’s personally engaged with as her mother is an architect. This innate fascination with design in a way has always been part of her upbringing and the way she sees clothes outside the spectrum of fashion. In an interview with Tom Ford, where he speaks about his years at Parsons as an architect student, relates to this idea of creating fashion pieces as “well-developed structures” which become one with the structure underneath and follow an individual narrative. This interdependence is essential for the execution of a movement and the manipulation that should be applied to create a new shape.

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Just like Erwin Wurm’s ‘One-minute Sculptures’ where his models pose in unexpectedly unnatural ways and Bonajo’s strong but somehow troubled female characters along with Wenzel’s anonymous faces, Emma’s work is reflecting her appreciation of the body which goes beyond materiality. Her metaphysical understanding of a garment’s importance on the body changes the focus from the subject to the surroundings and liberates it by becoming one. Something she is excited to develop in the future because there are “no last collections but always first ones”. Seeing her finished works could only be the starting point of new ideas.

No one knows what the outcome would be, but she is excited to be part of it as long as there is more to come.

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