An interview with upcoming designer Jonathan Harris
Jonathan Harris recently stole the limelight at Oxford Fashion Week with a very unique collection that saw elegant corsets of copper being showcased on the runway. A handyman by day, Jonathan is highly skilled when it comes to shaping and fixing up materials – a trade, it appears, that goes hand-in-hand with fashion design. The Upcoming caught up with the acclaimed designer to explore his thoughts behind his recent creations.
Tell us a little bit about your latest collection and what inspired you to use copper.
Many years ago, I made a copper dish at school and found it to be a nice material to work with. Since then, I have enjoyed shaping steel for cars, as a day job, so I decided to make something different that people would appreciate, just for fun. Following that, a friend gave me a copper tank; he knew that I had worked with metal years ago in the car industry, so he said: “There you go, make something out of that!”
I previewed two corsets at last year’s Oxford Fashion Week and it caused a bit of a stir, so I worked hard after Christmas to make another four to be shown in the March event. The collection consists of completely different designs that blend personality of the models, highlight particular attributes and show what can be done with such a boring, flat material.
There is a clear sustainability aspect to your collection, is this an issue that you care very strongly about?
In this particular collection I wanted to highlight the recycling and upcycling of a particular material, its potential availability and the fact that it starts off as such a boring, shapeless object. Also with any materials, most of us minimise waste. With this material I can recycle all of my waste metal.
How did you produce the collection to ensure that the corsets were not too heavy or cold on the skin?
The corsets have been made-to-measure using a time-consuming process; taking casts of a subject and having regular fittings along the way make sure they are a comfortable fit. They are not sharp and do not turn the model’s skin green – all of them are lined and padded where required.
Weight-wise, the more simple designs weigh around 2.5kg and the most complicated, comprising of 100 separate pieces, weighs in at 7kg. As they are an accurate fit around the torso, weight isn’t really noticeable.
What difficulties did you have to overcome designing such a unique collection?
It was basically the timing, as it’s not my day job; also the logistics, getting reliable models that are available for at least four fittings at short notice. People don’t realise that we are all different shapes as well as sizes and metal does not stretch when worn. Some models had round section waists whereas others were oval. The side profiles of each corset are different, too.
We are aware that fashion design is not your day job; do you plan on becoming more involved in this career path?
I have enjoyed the journey; I work hard at it and have more design concepts to show, including mixing high-tech materials and other metals. I hope to continue, as there has been a lot of interest shown in my designs. Some of my footwear designs have also been used in photo shoots.
Fashion is becoming saturated with the same ideas being regurgitated over and over; do you have any advice for aspiring designers wishing to create something as unique as you have done?
I do not get my ideas from the fashion industry; I get them from combining material characteristics and a desired end concept. I work at the single project until I am happy with it from every angle. As I work with live models, I also find the interaction with them helps – it’s always a plus when the garment creates confidence.
My advice is to push some boundaries, learn about the material and what you can do with it. Never give up!
Who do you admire in the fashion design world?
I admire a designer called Diana Wojewoda. She is a young designer with similar work and design ethics to myself.
Do you have any upcoming plans that you can tell us about?
I will also be producing more footwear and headgear designs, and showing more corsets at the Fashions Finest LFW off schedule show.
Photos: Courtesy of Oxford Fashion Week