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Graduate to Watch: Hazel Symons, De Montfort University

Graduate Fashion Week is an important time of year for the fashion industry, more than 40 universities showcase their brightest graduates, and FashionUnited was once again on the ground to scour the catwalk presentations and portfolios to highlight some of the next generation of fashion designers you need to watch out for.

Over the next month, FashionUnited will showcase 10 promising fashion graduates across womenswear, menswear and childrenswear who impressed us with their collections. First up, is Hazel Symons from De Montfort University, who scooped the prestigious Christopher Bailey Gold Award, as well as the Creative Catwalk collection accolade for her monochrome collection of tailored pieces that were bolted rather than sewn.

After her win, FashionUnited chatted to the talented womenswear designer to find out more about the inspiration behind her innovative collection, the techniques she used, her plans for the future, as well as her advice for aspiring fashion designers.

Why did you want to be a fashion designer?

“I’ve been into art and design since a young age and my family are very crafty people. My mother’s side of the family were seamstresses and my father’s side were more textile and knitters. My dad is very good at maths and woodwork, so all in all, I was pretty much destined to go into something artsy. When I was quite young, my nan taught me how to sew on her old crank-handled singer machine, and my grandmother taught me embroidery, and so my pathway into fashion has grown from that.”

Graduate to Watch: Hazel Symons, De Montfort University

What was the inspiration for your graduate collection?

“Over the summer, my dad and I made my portfolio case, which is made of recycled wood and is fixed in place using a series of piano hinges and screw posts. This got me thinking about how the screw posts could possibly be used to construct garments, and I came up with the idea of having a series of tab fastenings which allow the garments to be fully deconstruct-able and to enable panels to be replaced with other panels.

“The overall concept is like a Lego store, so you would go in, pick out what panels you wanted, buy the required washers, screws and hardware, pick up some instructions, and take it home and make it yourself. Some garments are more complex to construct and so they need a longer construction time, however, no garment takes longer to construct than a normal piece of IKEA furniture (Yes, I timed it!). The longest piece to construct was the trench coat, as it took nearly 4 hours in total.”

What fabrics/techniques did you use?

“I produced my own fabric for my final collection, which consists of felt bonded to cotton drill, shirting fabrics bonded together, and double bonded cotton drill. The fabric gives the garments a unique silhouette and drape, and it works really well with the connector fastenings.

“The garments do fasten normally with buttons, though, for easy access. But all of the panels are screwed together and are able to lie flat when deconstructed, including the darts.”

What is your design aesthetic?

“Very tailored, there’s a technique used within tailoring called baste stitching, which is what influenced my prints and embellishments; I wanted to modernise something very traditional. The overall feel to the collection is very crafty, and everything is done by hand from the bonding, cutting, hole making, hand painting and embroidery!

“The project was also driven by pattern cutting processed and thoughts and methods. Every pattern piece is precise to 2mm, otherwise, it wouldn’t fit together.”

Graduate to Watch: Hazel Symons, De Montfort University

What are your signature pieces?

“My signature pieces would defiantly be the trench coat and kilt because they are just so detailed and powerful.”

Did you enjoy your Graduate Fashion Week experience?

“Graduate Fashion Week is an amazing opportunity for students and universities. It’s always a hectic couple of days, especially backstage, but it gives you a short glimpse of just how much work and organisation going into putting a show together. I met a lot of wonderfully creative people at GFW as well. I’ve had an amazing amount of support from everyone.”

Why did you choose to study at De Montfort University?

“I come from Cornwall, and so right from the start I knew that I didn’t want to study in London, as it would have been a too bigger jump too soon for me, however, I wanted good access to London. I knew that I wanted to study away from home because personally that’s part of the university experience. I looked at a lot of different universities, but I fell in love with De Montfort within 5 minutes of being there. Once I was accepted onto the course, the decision was easy.”

What was the most valuable thing you learned on your course?

“I’ve learnt a lot of valuable things whilst at DMU. I’ve learnt how to take criticism and how to deal with stress. University teaches you a lot of valuable life lessons as well as education.”

Graduate to Watch: Hazel Symons, De Montfort University

What are your plans now that you've graduated?

“I’d like to do my MA degree at some point soon, but I feel that some industry experience into learning something new would greatly benefit the work that produce in my MA. I want to continue with my current construction methods, but I want to find something new that’ll bring it to the next level.”

Did you undergo any design placements?

“I’ve done various bits of work experience from seamstress work, graphics design, voluntary work and dressing. The most valuable placement that I have done was volunteering in the Fashion archives at the local museum. The past is important, especially in fashion. I think students need to learn to use archives more, you never know what you’ll find. I was given free time each day to explore and document the archives, which were a great resource for me in my third year.”

What advice would you give someone considering studying fashion?

“My advice to anyone who wants to study fashion is: Make your course decision wisely, there are a lot of different fashion courses out there and each university teaches them differently. Be prepared to work very, very long hours, you have to be self-motivated, work hard, and don’t be afraid to try new things.

“Also, get off the internet when you’re doing research. Go to the library or visit an exhibition that takes your fancy. You’ll find more inspiration for new material from people watching on the streets than you ever will from looking at work that’s already out there. Also, save up some money, you’ll need it, and learn that the key is in the details!”

Follow Hazel:

Instagram: @h_symo17
Twitter: @h_symo17

Images: courtesy of Hazel Symons