Can you share with us the story of Ellis Jaz?
It’s all just at the beginning; I graduated from an MA in fashion at the Royal College of Art in London a year ago and started the brand just after. I felt there was a gap in what’s out there for really well-crafted clothing that feels sensual and confident, but ultimately comfortable. I want the clothes to feel erotically empowered and structured whilst still maintaining a very prominent consideration of the person wearing these clothes and how it feels to exist within them. Confidence in all its forms.
How did it come about that you decided to work mainly with knitwear? Are you planning to maintain this as the principal direction in the future?
Focusing on knitwear started early – since I was about 17 on an art course. I am quite an obsessive thinker and found craft techniques to be genuinely therapeutic for me and then placing that into an art context to create something creatively and intellectually satisfying was important. I’m definitely planning on keeping the brand knitwear only, I’ve experimented with working outside of knitwear but I just found it to dilute the main vision. I love the structure to knitwear, how it can be so delicate whilst being completely robust. It is an area of fashion that requires quite a specific skill set and once you have spent so much time studying and working specifically in knitwear to get the knowledge you may as well use it!
What about your creative process, how do you start working on a collection?
The process of making each of my pieces is very laborious with some pieces taking 4 weeks to make – everything is done, at the moment, on manual knitting machines. I often find it difficult to break things down into individual collections, perhaps because of the long making process, everything blurs into seeming like one continuous collection that taps into different influences along the way but all feels like one body of work. Influences and key themes of interest continue along from one project to the next – I’m not able to just say ‘okay – I’m beginning the new collection – here are the inspirations and aims’ and then move on.
Over the last few months dealing with Covid-19, I have still been able to go into my studio and work but I have, of course, been completely alone and with such time-consuming methods getting production going is difficult. But this time alone has been hugely beneficial, to sit and think through how I am planning out my production, especially at such an early stage in the brand. Getting the time to look into the yarns I’m using and, in some cases, make a switch to a more sustainable alternative.
Do you keep stock of pieces?
No, I’m working mostly direct to client in a very bespoke way. There are always adjustments happening to patterns and styles to fit the people wearing the clothes. Which I love to do and it is starting to have a real influence on the designs to get direct feedback from other women wearing what I make. Customizing designs for clients’ needs is such a fun thing and works out well for me as I hate to make the same thing twice. It also means that everything has to be made to order – so there isn’t any sense in keeping stock.
You are working at the intersections of craft, erotica and performance. Can you tell us a bit more about the inspirations behind your collections?
A constant source of inspiration for me is in women who find their own unique ways of expressing their sexuality entirely on their own terms. I look a lot at erotic representations of women, where possible I mostly look to female artists expressing feminine eroticism. I’ve always been a huge fan of artists such as Cathy de Monchaux and Carolee Schneeman, and love photographers like Doris Kloster or Saelon Renkes. But then, so much depiction of feminine eroticism is represented through a male gaze and I don’t think it would be of any benefit to me to just ignore this work. There can, at times, be a really beautiful sense of adoration in paintings or photographs of women by men. I find it interesting responding to this kind of imagery that comes from a male gaze upon a fantasised female image that feels adoring and loving but can still feel slightly uncomfortable. Something controlling in erotic imagery that put into place a lot of what I found aspirational and untouchable as a younger person trying to learn if I was capable to be accepted in what looked like a place that would be endlessly out of reach.
And then seeking out women that have a sense of their own control and gaze upon self that is self-actualised to be involved – creating something just as adoring and loving but the impulse comes from the people in the imagery, their own control without the adoration being outsourced – also why I’m in a lot of my own imagery. I’m inspired by women that are seductive by way of self-esteem, self-awareness and strength being a source of attraction. A sense of ownership of one’s own image is such a powerful thing; an incredible thing to feel and an amazing thing to witness in other women.
Whilst I was studying, staging performances became a key element in getting to view a complete vision of my work beyond the individual garments and exploring ideas in a much more complete way than it is possible with imagery. The physical response of work being staged live in front of people is so useful, and you can get an immediate and true response to the work which is exhilarating.