Photography / Editorial / Print

South African born fashion designer Alexis Barrell has lived and worked in many cities and it is this love for travel we see in the colours, prints, shapes and textures of her collections.  We share that journey and for Barrell, each collection has a story to tell. The AW12 collection we see here is inspired from a very English trip to the seaside on a 'milky winter's day'. Drawing on landscape colours and paintings by Philip Govedare, the mix of organic softness and tough synthetics is a response to the juxtaposition of the concrete structures, standing resolute, against the the wildness of the sea. We asked Barrell about her work and whether she draws on architectural influences when creating shapes and forms out of fabrics. Having studied architecture in Cape Town, achieving a distinction in fashion design at the Istituto Marangoni in Paris and then perfecting the art of draping with bias-cut silks and seamless forms under the guidance of couturier Marc Bouwer in New York - we asked - is sculpture important?

It's hard to tell what influences you are drawing from. Every piece is completely spontaneous, draped on the mannequin, and I am sure your hands remember. As a general guiding principle though, I am very much influenced by the sculptural simplicity of modernist forms… le Corbusier, Brancusi, Charlotte Perriand, etc. Sculpture is important because it speaks to your emotions.

Are there any fashion designers, you have seen the work of recently, that make you go 'wow' - do they inspire you?

I am inspired by any designer who really pushes themselves. What we do is really hard, and it takes guts to keep moving to a new level. I admire that in anybodies work, regardless of the style.

Describe the general process you go through to design and realise a piece of clothing?

In general I do not have many general processes! Each piece is born from a new experience, accident, feeling… Then it is draped and cut straight from the fabric. After that I usually leave it alone.

What does fashion mean to you?

Fashion is self-expression, but also a fantastic visual reference to the zeitgeist. It's fantasy translated for reality, informed by the future.

How would you define your personal style?

I have described it before as Grace Kelly running away with the gypsies, and people seem to agree with that.

What are you wearing right now?

One of the samples I happen to be draping on myself. It is quite an amusing sight!

What is the most memorable place you have visited thus far?

That is a very tough question!

Since founding the label in 2010, what has been your worst and best experience?

My worst experiences have to do with being let down by people and with coming to terms with my own limitations as a young designer without vast amounts of resources or experience. My best experiences have to do with people once again, and with surpassing those limitations I had identified.

Describe your life or work in six words?

Life or work? well they're the same thing I guess… travel, romance, challenge, collaboration, authenticity and (lots of) questions

You have mentioned a love for travel, freedom and an old world sense of fantasy, basing your collections on such adventures, experiences and influences.  Where are you headed to next and what can we expect from the future?

I recently took a wonderful road trip in South Africa through the arid flat plains of the Karoo. You can expect a little bit of home next season, but from a different perspective.

What advice would you give to up and coming designers who read Unfolded?

A great friend of mine once told me: Remember to have fun with it. This sounds so simplistic but has helped me get through some tough moments in the design process, and even be more productive.

Interview by Nardip Singh

Images supplied by

As featured in Unfolded Magazine Issue 09


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