D: Hello Sarah! Can you please tell us a little about yourself, your background, and how you got into the fashion world?
S: I was born in and grew up in North London within the Jewish community, which I very quickly rebelled against any conventions of. My parents are very ordinary; however, I think I get my creative genius from my mum, who makes the most surreal work-of-art cakes. We always compare my ventures in fashion design to her process of making impossible sugary structures.
I was always drawing and making as a kid and didn't get on well academically or socially at school. I knew I wanted to do something creative, definitely from the age of about 6. It was during my teens that I really got into expressing myself through clothing when I entered my emo phase aged 12 in 2006, joined MySpace, and sneaked off to Camden to buy Criminal Damage hoodies with saved birthday money.
My first fashion 'show' was this thing called 'The Recycled Fashion Show', which was a bit of a tradition at my secondary school, where I made a Japanese street fashion inspired look from Japanese snack wrappers with my best friend at the time, Abi.
When I reached A Levels and was thinking about what subject to apply for at Uni, I was heavily into the Tumblr/grunge/indie-sleeze style and started reading Dazed and i-D, thinking that this is the world I definitely wanted to go into as opposed to fine art. I also never felt cool or pretty, so experimenting with fashion and creating my version of what I perceived as beauty helped my confidence a lot.
I originally wanted to be a fashion image maker and add the most amazing photography teacher who I had a major teen crush on!
I did my foundation year at Ravensbourne, and I was initially thinking of applying to a Fashion Photography course, but my tutor thought I had a real flair for design, although I couldn't even sew, so I took a leap of faith and gave it a shot.
I taught myself throughout my BA and MA at CSM to pattern-cut, sew, and use a domestic knit machine, as well as how to find my design language, creative voice, and target audience or 'market'. Although image making is SUCH an important part of my work, I'm so glad I chose a design pathway as it's so exciting, challenging, and multi-faceted.
In terms of my fashion career post-university, I have never worked at a large fashion house, and I did my work placement year at young London brands: Charles Jeffery, Ed Marler, and Ashley Williams. These experiences kickstarted me to realize you have an option to build your own business and career in fashion.
In terms of actually 'getting into the fashion world', I pushed hard for that on my own, working relentlessly to establish myself.
D: Can you please share with us the story behind the creation of your brand and its lore?
S: I had it for a while in the back of my mind that I wanted to start a brand, but not necessarily immediately after my MA. I was planning to work for a larger brand for a few years and then pursue a brand when I had more financial stability.
However, I ended up graduating from my MA at CSM in 2021 during the aftermath of the pandemic, which was such a bleak economic time, and I was really struggling to find a relevant job at another fashion brand. After 6 months of applying and getting rejected from interviews, I was getting very frustrated and was constantly broke.
I figured I have the skills, ideas, platform, and market awareness to launch a brand, so I decided to take the leap and utilize this.
My first collection was created with almost no money, using leftover materials from my MA collection, in my bedroom, fueled by pure creative drive.
My goal is to almost exclusively work with reclaimed/deadstock materials. Each collection, I look at what I have to work with and I'm like 'hmm, what can I design from this' rather than the other way around. This comes not only from financial hardship but also an extreme consciousness for sustainability and waste (cliché as it sounds now).
While I was at CSM, I really rinsed the library for inspiration, with the purpose of building my own visual reference bible that I can go back to for references and inspiration for years after for future collections.
I cherry-picked the key topics that I always go back to and inform my brand 'lore', such as dark alternative subcultures informed by personal experience, 80's/90's traditional gothic, Victorian and Edwardian historical costume, punk, black metal, 90's grunge, 2000's mall goth, emo/scene, Japanese Street Fashion, bondage/fetish nights, old music journals, graphic novels/manga, Visual Kei, tattoo archives, witchcraft/occult mysticism, and early web graphics.
I also grab a lot of screenshots from 90's/early 2000's films like Thirteen, The Craft, and Doom Generation. Looking at my work, you can tell I also take a lot of visual cues from the world of Tim Burton.
Another frequently screenshotted are 2000's music videos, especially from the Nu-Metal and Emo Genre. I also take verbal inspiration of narratives from books such as Prozac Nation, The Virgin Suicides, and Lolita.
I love artworks that are very depressing and textural, that also have textile elements I can draw from, such as Anselm Kiefer and Louise Bourgeois, as well as Jon Rafman, who has a really early internet dystopian feel to their work.
Other fashion designers with my reference 'bible' that I frequently draw inspiration from are Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens, Olivier Theyskens, Undercover, A.F Vandervorst, plus early McQueen, Westwood, and Margiela.
I'd say my aesthetic is a melting pot of the historical, the contemporary, and the nostalgic.
I really push myself to use past references to create clothes that look current and clean, not costume-y, which can be such a fine line when working with the subject matter I do. Subtlety and not going overboard is key.
D: Congratulations on putting together your first commercial collection, 'Sweet Ghost.' There is clear references to gothic and punk, with delicate touches and carefully crafted layers, weaves, and a variety of fabrics like tulle and lace. Could you elaborate on the creative process and the inspiration behind these looks?
S: Some pieces are designed via the traditional route, purely through sketching and sampling, but many I find one textile or piece of fabric and start draping and experimenting with it to create an irreplicable one-of-a-piece. In fact, some of my most successful designs, such as the 'Pintuck Wool Schoolgirl Skirt' from S/S22, was made this way from fabric off-cuts from a tailoring project completed years before.
Honestly, each new collection just flows naturally itself from the last one. It's an ever-evolving development of an ongoing and ever-evolving narrative from my inner self, which I keep feeding with new external influences throughout my life, such as new places, new friends, new relationships. Even things like what I'm watching, listening to, people I meet and see, or how I'm feeling.
I have several rough design sketchbooks on the go at any given time, then when I feel ready to create a collection, I edit down my favorite pieces within both 2D sketches and 3D experiments to make looks. For each 'look,' I sketch a little character who has their own facial expression, hairstyle, tattoos, piercings, even a way of wearing socks, which is then reflected further down the line in my casting and styling.
I am aware as well that on the outside, my current work might translate as pretty commercial-looking, despite my rich process and references. However, this is because I'm currently navigating establishing my brand as a business with a focus on beautifully made, comfortable, wearable pieces that subtly tell a distinct story.
My plan for the future is to afford to also incorporate some creative theatrics and extravagance back into my work/shows when I can afford to, as I miss it so much since graduating.
I really wish I had the time and resources to bring all my ideas to life at once, but I can't, so I save them for the next series of collections. I probably have a library of ideas now to keep going for 10 years. This is why I strive to design timeless pieces too.
The concept behind the mood of the looks/HMU/video for 'Plush' A/W23 reflects on the experience of many Millennials and Gen Z who have felt pressured to move back to their parents' home due to the ongoing crash of the economy and extreme rise in the cost of living. Thus, they are forced to confront their teenage bedroom and a reminder of past versions of themselves.
A lot of us now confront the struggles of youthful memories resurfacing for good or bad and the feeling of existing in an eternal state of adult adolescence through re-entering the teenage bedroom.
D: Lastly, we'd love to hear about your interests outside of fashion and what has been occupying your thoughts lately!
I don't have a lot of free time, unfortunately. My retail job and my brand combined take up all of my time. However, there are a few things I have been delving into lately. I wish I could play video games; they seem so cool and fun to me. But literally, I probably have an hour of downtime a day max. I also really want to learn to play bass-guitar, tattoo, and DJ/mix music, but I'm sure that will all happen eventually!
I'm really into this new Netflix documentary called 'Merpeople,' which has become my evening watch. It's about people who dress up and perform as mermaids, and it's such an art and extreme sport that people really dedicate their lives to. They even have their own community fashion designers, such as 'The Mertailor,' which I find such a clever pun and concept.
I have always been really obsessed with ocean life, especially weird sea creatures, since childhood. I still joke about doing a PhD in Marine Biology from time to time. I'm especially fascinated by octopuses (I used to have an octopus notebook doodle I was famed for at school) and really deep-sea creatures living at the pits of the ocean.
It's really sad what happened with the recent Ocean Gate submissible, but I was especially sucked into following that horrific story unfold.
After that, I usually go into a doom-scroll of watching videos of AI-generated specific time periods. I can pretend I'm living through a hyper-real dystopian version of the 1980s or 1800s, for instance, which I find a wonderful escape as I hate the time I'm living in, to be honest. I'm very nostalgic. Other things I'm into are abandoned building exploration videos, especially mansions that have been untouched for decades, Southern American Victorian houses, and Chernobyl. When I can, I love to visit brutalist buildings, churches, and graveyards in real life with my boyfriend and take cheeky photos.
Unfortunately, I hate baking and making cakes as it's so long and messy, much like making clothes, that I don't have the patience for both.
I'm not really much of a cook, but recently I have been really into exploring hyper-realistic mock meats from Asian supermarkets and cooking with them. I made a fake fish dinner, which was literally a lump of tofu shaped like a fish, and enjoyed the shocked/disgusted reactions on Instagram.
All images courtesy of Sarah Garfield