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Fashion Designer Resident: Juliana Sissons

Juliana Sissons

Juliana Sissons, Fashion Designer in Residence, July-December 2010

Juliana Sissons was Fashion Designer in Residence at the V&A from July - December 2010. She was granted special access to the Museum's Medieval & Renaissance collection for study, research and inspiration.

You can read her residency blog to find out more about her work and creative processes.

Juliana studied Fashion and Textile with Business Studies at the University of Brighton, gaining an Outstanding Creative Achievement Award and International Student Knitted Textile Award (2003). Her graduate collection sold to a range of exclusive stores in London and Los Angeles and she was enabled to set up her own knitwear label, with the added aid of Crafts Council Business Development Award in 2005.  As a freelance knitwear designer and pattern cutter, Juliana's clients have included Alexander McQueen, Louis Vitton, Shelley Fox, Joe Caseley Hayford, Koji Tatsuno, Anthony and Alison, Hewitts of Savile Row, the BBC and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Fashion and Armour

This collection of experimental swatches by Juliana Sissons takes inspiration from the bold, figure-distorting shapes and rich ornamentation of 16th-century armour found in the V&A collection.

Juliana moved to knitwear design after training in Savile Row tailoring, pattern cutting and costume design. She developed an in-depth knowledge of historical patterns of fashion and gained an interest in Victorian clothing whilst working for both Bermans and Nathans and then Cosprop LTD Costumiers. She has designed and produced clothes for theatre and television, from period drama to light entertainment, and worked with artists, dancers and musicians to sell and create collections. Her work has been commissioned by artists including Leigh Bowery, sculptor Andrew Logan and style icon Isabella Blow.

Juliana's work has featured in a number of journals and magazines, including the Costume Journal ('The Patterns of Fashion'), International Textiles ('Knitwear Styling Trends'), International Vogue Knitwear ('The New British Invasion') and The Times Newspaper Magazine ('Knitwear at the V&A'). It has also appeared on websites such as Wgsn.com, Stylenoir.com, Haute Macabre, Knit Kicks and Dazed Digital. She has exhibited work in galleries and museums across the UK and was recently commissioned to design and produce an outfit for the Brighton and Hove Museum's Contemporary Gallery.

Having completed a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (2009), Juliana began tutoring in knitwear, fashion design and pattern cutting as a visiting lecturer at a number of schools, colleges and universities in the South of England and Europe. She is currently writing a book on knitwear, as part of a series of Basic Fashion Design Books aimed at first-year degree fashion and textile students, which will be published by AVA Academia in October 2010. She also continues to run regular workshops and demonstrations in haute couture, design and pattern cutting at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

As she continues to build new collections, Juliana hopes to develop her client base in New York and Japan and start to deliver masterclasses in America

Juliana Sissons: My work

I see my work as a constant exploration of shaping and structural pattern making, and focus on innovative sculptural approaches to making clothes. As a machine knitter, I create pieces either by fully fashioning straight from the machine or by a combination of flat pattern cutting and modelling on the stand. Ideas come from the way the material wraps and drapes on the stand and eventually responds to the female form. I am constantly finding unusual ways to make the yarns work for me and like to use yarns that I can manipulate, shrink, stretch and mould. I enjoy creating contrasts by mixing natural and unexpected materials: linen with elastic for example, or wool with silk and steel. My background in costume design, tailoring and pattern cutting has provided me with a unique approach to knitwear. I frequently use traditional tailoring techniques to add strength and support to structured pieces, and can combine processes and skills to take my work in new directions.

Interest in the V&A Collections

I would like to bring historical design and pattern shaping into a contemporary context by exploring innovative methods of cutting and knit structure. The colours, textures and weights of my yarns and fabrics will be inspired by the Medieval & Renaissance collections at the V&A. Images of clothing in tapestries, paintings and sculptures will inform new patterns, shapes and embellishments in my work. I would also like to investigate the range of knitted items which have been included, or could be incorporated, in the V&A collections. I hope to break new ground by bringing old and new together, experimenting with unusual shaping methods and a wealth of pattern and texture possibilities.

As I learn more about life in the Medieval and Renaissance period I will be seeking to interpret historical events and stories through my work.  I hope to find ways of connecting Medieval and Renaissance perceptions of armour with contemporary notions of body image and fashionable ideals. Closer study of changing fashions in the design and shape of armour between 1480 and 1620, and its elaborate construction, will offer a wealth of design ideas for creation of contemporary fashionable clothing.

Other inspiration

My lifelong interest in early black and white films has been a key source of inspiration. The glamour of vintage 'Fredericks' of Hollywood and the shaded decadence of the 1930s' Berlin Cabaret, the opulence and incongruous or surreal combinations of images in these films are echoed in my work. Early couturiers, such as Charles Worth, Erte, Madam Vionnet, Edith Head and Elsa Schiaparelli, have also informed and influenced my interests in different fabrics, historical tailoring and the construction of undergarments. The work of contemporary designers and artists including Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino and the Quay Brothers feeds my fascination for the 'strange and unusual'. I can also find inspiration in packaging, interiors, art, music and architecture.  I tend to treat my work like an art form: making the sculptural functional, translating the beauty of sculpture into clothing and giving it movement and feeling. I like to think that I am producing contemporary images of conceptual beauty.


The Scarlett Dress Downloadable dress pattern created by Juliana for the V&A's Club to Catwalk exhibition
BBC Blast  Design inspiration and ideas
Dazed Digital  Interview with Juliana Sissons 
University of Brighton Fashion and Textile news 
Crafts Council Juliana Sissons' listing
Pecha Kucha, Brighton Fashion video of Juliana Sissons' designs

The V&A Residency programme is supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

A gift in your will

You may not have thought of including a gift to a museum in your will, but the V&A is a charity and legacies form an important source of funding for our work. It is not just the great collectors and the wealthy who leave legacies to the V&A. Legacies of all sizes, large and small, make a real difference to what we can do and your support can help ensure that future generations enjoy the V&A as much as you have.