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A collection from Elyse Barker

By Inga Walton.

As part of the Cultural Program for the annual LOral Melbourne Fashion
Festival, Adelaide-based designer Elyse Barker presented her dbut solo
exhibition "Floral" at Glen Eira City Council Gallery.
Not only was her work
well received by gallery patrons, Barker made a refreshing contribution to an
event cycle that is heavy on the promotional hype but sometimes lacking
inclusiveness and appeal to a broader audience.
Barker's twelve varied ensembles skilfully incorporated inherited Manchester
with vintage, recycled and reclaimed fabric items. "Cutting fabric that cannot
be replaced gives you a different drive, I also think your respect for a garment
increases. It often provokes my design process because I have to work
through mistakes that often lead me to innovation", Barker explains. "Im
greatly attracted to fabric that has had a 'former life' because it adds another
dimension to my work. Its simply fun to change peoples perception of
recycled fabric by taking the material out of its original context and presenting
it in a new way. Vintage material has a personality of its own that can be
associated with garments of a particular time, so I also enjoy changing the
association that goes with certain fabrics". Barker makes all the headwear
and accessories, as well as the textured, crocheted, and hand-knitted
components. "Im like a bower bird when it comes to sourcing materials. I
usually prefer as much variety as possible, which leads me to places that you
wouldnt normally associate with fashion such as parks and open spaces, the
beach, Bunnings, craft markets, quilting stores, antique stores...I've done it
Gallery curator Diane Soumilas discovered Barker's work when she
participated in the "Proportion Distortion" (2012) project at the National
Gallery of Victoria's NGV Studio space.
"I was searching for a dynamic and
talented emerging designer to feature in the fashion exhibition I was curating,
and was immediately drawn to Elyses incredible creativity, feminine aesthetic,
and the unique way her textured knitted garments accentuated the body",
Soumilas says. "It was fortuitous that Elyse was working in the NGV Studio
with some of Melbournes most promising fashion designers, so I was able to
meet her and discuss the concept of her developing new work for a solo
exhibition. Elyse's extraordinary and vibrant selection of garments addressed
the relationship between the wearer and the viewer, accompanied by a highly
theatrical and engaging range of new accessories and head pieces".
Both experiences have provided Barker with valuable insights into both her
technical and creative processes, generated ideas about how to visually
engage with disparate audience groups, and equipped her with some new
strategies for advancing her practise in a highly competitive field. "Working at
NGV Studio allowed me to witness first-hand the general publics
interpretations of and reactions to my work which was very amusing, and yet
so crucial for my own development. For example, I discovered that hundreds
of hours of work on my hand knitted hydrangea balls sometimes isnt as
interesting for viewers as a five minute job such as my 'Gold Placemat hat'.
This led me to explore using recycled craft, and to draw on more wearable
elements then I had previously", she concurs. "Works for the Glen Eira
exhibition focussed on my personal exploration of what I could create with
next to no time and no money. This forced me to branch out into reworking
recycled craft, and enabled me to see potential business ideas that shed light
on how I could produce [outfits] at an affordable price- without sacrificing my
highly detailed aesthetic".
Barker graduated from RMIT with a Bachelor of Design (Fashion) (Hons.),
and had her Graduate collection shown during Melbourne Spring Fashion
Week (2011). She was also a finalist in the "A monument to water" floral
display at Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (2010), and has
undertaken work experience with both Anna Campbell in Melbourne (2010)
and Romance Was Born in Sydney (2011). "As a creative avenue, fashion is
usually textile-related, which is an easy material to manipulate. To me, the
fashion design process is also really engrossing because theres a 2D
element, sketching to inform design, and a 3D element through draping.
There will always be a necessity for clothing, unlike other creative arts",
Barker asserts.
The strong tradition of sewing and craftwork in Barker's family led to her being
encouraged throughout her childhood to draw and make creations from
everyday household items and recyclables. "I grew up in a positive, inviting
environment that was surrounded by my grandmothers needlework, from her
tapestries hanging from the walls, to placemats with embroidered flowers, and
lacework doilys under ornaments", she comments. "As a result, respect for
the aesthetic value of handcrafted items was embedded in my formative
attitude to design, and is very evident in how my work has developed".
Making her way in a notoriously fickle industry characterised by a short-
attention span and tendency to pigeon-hole designers, while navigating some
of the more glaring pitfalls, will be Barker's immediate challenges as she
strives to establish her own label. "Im really inspired to dive in and create my
own pathway in the industry; sometimes it's better not have a preconceived
idea about how you should trade. My main aim is to start generating profits to
be able to fund my creativity, and then Ill have more options for a business
model", she believes. "Mainstream fashion has never inspired me, so I cant
imagine that one day I will have a product that can be mass produced on a
large scale, or replicated so easily. Creating work for the purposes of
exploration, as opposed to profit, is all Ive done thus far, so building a label
within my personal means is achievable".

Elyse Barker can be contacted at: & (forthcoming).
Inga Walton is a Melbourne-based writer and arts consultant. Her previous
article was about Eko Nugroho (#109).

"Floral" (7-24 March, 2013) was at Glen Eira City Council Gallery, Ground floor, Glen Eira
Town Hall, cnr. Glen Eira & Hawthorn Roads, Caulfield, Victoria, 3162:
"Proportion Distortion" (6 October-11 November, 2012) was at NGV Studio, Federation
Square, Melbourne. Curated by NGV's Paola Di Trocchio (Assistant Curator, International
Fashion & Textiles), it also included above. (by Nyssa Marrow and Kerry Findlow), Anisha
Bhoyro, Simone Says (by Simone Agius), and Molly Herben.