A Personal Introduction….and Initial Thoughts

I'm Tristan Webber and for the last four years I have been the Senior Tutor for the Womenswear Fashion Course at the Royal College of Art. Previous to this, I have been teaching Fashion Design as a Visiting Tutor at the RCA and Central Saint Martins for the last nine years.


During this period, the majority of my time has been spent establishing and running a design studio under my name, designing and manufacturing womenswear and accessories. The methodology behind my brand centred around the re-interpretation of traditional decorative craft techniques alongside contemporary digital design processes to create contemporary, yet enduring, luxury pieces. This work has fuelled my ongoing appreciation for the designer/ maker role, which for me, inextricably links the process of concept development, with material experimentation and personal design methodology.


After being invited to take part in the 'From Sketch to Product' research project, I began visiting the V&A Prints and Drawings Study Room in late January. Initially, I was struck by the different approach and method that  the Study Room employed compared to other research environments that I have encountered, most notably the actual experience of handling (very carefully, I hasten to add), genuine, original examples of hand-drawn and hand-painted designs .


As a designer, I confess to a natural tendency to seek out imagery, to accumulate visual stimulus. However, my instinct to plunder and absorb, has rapidly given way to an over-riding respect for the original article.


However, it's an entirely different experience, being allowed the emotional and mental space to ponder an Archibald Knox design or an Alphonse Mucha preparatory drawing, to the usual practise of photograph, scan, laser copy, and download that is the common practise of many modern-day designers.


Almost immediately, the act of visiting the Study Room has encouraged me to review my relationship with the 'article', and re-assess the importance of an items preservation, as well as the protective function of the archive.


Over the following weeks I decided that I would suspend my innate drive to rapidly gather, borrow and translate, and instead, allow myself to discover new areas of interest, give myself the time to process what I find, and remain wide-open to surprises.


Importantly, this experience has so far allowed me an opportunity to engage with my students in a different arena, and has in some ways expanded my viewpoint on the process of authentic learning. All this in a time where expediency and quantity seem to have become the parameters of the fashion design research process.


Alongside Glenn Adamson, a craft historian, and some of his students from the History of Design Course that operates across the V&A and the Royal College of Art, and a number of the Womenswear students at the Royal College of Art, I look forward to engaging in active discussion surrounding the process of design, and broadening my design research experience.

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