Is visual culture – our approach to colour, form, texture and shape – ready-formed and embedded in our psyche or is it the imprint of history? Nations and regions may have tendencies towards certain colour palettes, no doubt deeply ingrained through millennia of extracting colour from surrounding plants, rocks and soils. Appreciation of textures too must have started from using local materials. But what of patterns? Are we born with an ability to create and combine them, or is it ‘nurture’ rather than ‘nature’ which creates them?
The artistry in the unique and innovative lambswool knitwear created by Electronic Sheep’s Brenda Aherne and Helen Delany is a perfect demonstration of combining colour, shape and form. These two talented knitwear designers, showing their Pink Noir autumn/winter 2012 collection recently at London Fashion Week, have professional backgrounds in a linked discipline: graphic design.
Both began their training at Dublin’s National College of Art and Design, and now, thirteen years on from its founding, their Electronic Sheep label has an international reputation for ‘knitted picture accessories’ and an equally global list of stockists, stretching from New York to Honk Kong, to Britain and to Russia. Their AW2012 collection features block colours inspired by 1960s graphic design, and their flexible, functional, fashionable approach to clothing will doubtless see them with more best-sellers on their hands.
Brenda’s and Helen’s work illustrates the “..heightened visual consciousness that needs to be satisfied”, as Jay Hess put it in his interview with Dazed Digital, covering his book co-authored by Simone Pasztorek: Graphic Design for Fashion. There’s no doubt a close relationship between graphic and fashion design, as students on many courses such as the BA in Graphic Design for Fashion run by Southampton Solent University will attest. But the relationship between the graphic designer and the patterns which colour their life and their work is surely a more intimate one.
Training in a city like Dublin, with its Celtic and Viking history, and with the depth of pattern and colour which that history implies, may perhaps be an unconscious influence on Electronic Sheep’s two creative entrepreneurs. Having myself studied for a while illuminated manuscripts from the Christian tradition, with their vibrant colours and patterns, I feel that there’s a teaspoonful of The Book of Kells in Electronic Sheep’s output. Perhaps it’s just me, but there’s an exuberance of shape, form and pattern and just as much joy of colour in their new collection as you’ll find in the very best of ancient illuminated manuscripts.
Whatever their influences, the stunning knitwear produced by Electronic Sheep has an originality all of its own, and will go down well with free-thinking women across the globe. May we all be similarly blessed with the freedom to create and to express ourselves through our wool-works.