Among the works featured in the latest group exhibition at Craft ACT, ‘Reclaim’, are three jumpers. All folds and tucks of wool, these sculptural pieces call out to be touched and examined from every angle. Designed by one of Canberra’s best known independent fashion labels, Corr Blimey, they bear all the hallmarks of the label: innovative design, sustainable and ethical practice, and a certain theatricality in the finished product.

Designers Louisa de Smet and Steven Wright launched Corr Blimey in 2001 and have continued to push the boundaries of design ever since, building a cult following and cementing the label as a firm favourite at Canberra’s premier fashion festival Fashfest. In creating garments, the pair seek to explore timeless design through ethical production, as opposed to trend driven pieces with a limited lifespan. This philosophy makes the label a perfect match for an exhibition like Reclaim which looks to present high-end, functional objects from reclaimed waste materials.


We sat down with Louisa to find out more about taking part in Reclaim and the process behind the incredible pieces on display.


Leiden: How did you come to be a part of the Reclaim group exhibition?

Louisa: After working on projects with Craft ACT for several years, we were invited to be part of the exhibition by the curator Mel George.


L: Where did you source your reclaimed materials?

Louisa: We had some very strict criteria when sourcing the materials. It was important to choose something challenging and normally overlooked for repurposing. After deciding on knitwear, we chose jumpers usually seen as unattractive due to a stain, hole, or generally looking out of date. The selection of knits had to be done carefully as we didn’t want to use any hand knitted jumpers as they can be re-knitted by unravelling a single continuous thread. All of our source material came from secondhand clothing suppliers within our local area.




L: Did you have an idea in mind and then looked for the right material to realise it, or did you source the material first and let it inform the pieces you made?

Louisa: We had been discussing the idea of sentimentality and why we hold on to garments even though they may not fit or are out of date. Do these garments hold more than just sentimental value? Can they be introduced back into the wardrobe in a new way without destroying the original design and removing the sentimental value?

‘Memories of Cloth’ was further inspired by our research into upcycled clothing and the amount of waste that occurs during its production. It can be especially difficult for people to see knitwear as anything other than a single layer, so often it is approached from a patchwork point of view. However, we chose knitwear because it has the ability to be twisted and sculpted, creating volume and dimension without the addition of other materials.

We don’t know why these jumpers were discarded or the value they once held but they still have a story to tell. Our methodology has been one of redesign without devaluing the original garment, therefore preserving the sentimental attachment held within the clothing.


L: Tell us a little about your design process.

Louisa: All the pieces from our collection ‘Memories of Cloth’ were designed by draping piece by piece on the stand rather than working flat and then trying them on a mannequin. Some went through several incarnations before reaching the final design. It was an intuitive process as each jumper had different qualities and characteristics. There are 8 new pieces in total, each with varying numbers of jumpers per design. ‘Process 1’ took approximately 2 weeks to make after draping several times and many hours of hand sewing the final design together. We wanted the final designs to be explored 360 degrees by the audience instead of just front and back.

There were limitations to working with existing garments compared to flat fabric. It was like putting together a puzzle with no picture. The most important aspect for us was that it be a zero-waste process. Each design from the Reclaim exhibition contains 3 whole jumpers that were unpicked to varying degrees along the seams, harvesting the thread to resew the new designs back together. No cuts were made, so the necklines were often left intact as these were not able to be undone. We chose to hand sew each piece together as machine sewing would make the garments harder to be unpicked in the future. It also allows us to design in our signature sculptural style.




L: Why is shining a spotlight on the environmental impact of the fashion and textile industries so important to you?

Louisa: Sustainable fashion means many things to many people whether using organic fabrics, upcycling, zero-waste pattern making techniques or ethical business practices. Anyone trying to make a difference should be applauded. For us it has always meant challenging ourselves to find new solutions to our design process while making people think outside the square of conventional sustainable design. In 2007 we created a collection called ‘Orinuno’, a contraction from the Japanese words ‘Ori’ for fold and ‘Nuno’ for fabric. The designs were approached not from the idea of their current incarnation as a garment but what they could be in the future. Each Orinuno dress was designed using a system that would allow for it to become a large length of cloth to be repurposed into something else. There may come a time when new textiles will no longer exist. Fashion is a fast-paced industry based on the here and now and our goal as designers is to shift the perspective from “what can I get now” to “What can I do in the future”. We do this by creating collections that have a life beyond the immediate; a way of thinking that connects with our consumers and starts a conversation which drives our design process for our next collection.



Reclaim – Group Exhibition

Sam Tomkins, Luke Laffan, Nadege Desgenetez, Simon Cottrell, Gilbert Riedelbauch, Joanne Searle, Corr Blimey, Dan Edwards and Christina Bricknell

Craft ACT, 17 December 2016

Emma Batchelor

Emma Batchelor

As well as a near obsessive interest in fashion, Emma is a former scientist, occasional contemporary dancer, avid reader and self-confessed cat lady (she has three). Emma lived in Leiden in the Netherlands as a baby and Leiden ought to have been her middle name had her mother thought of it at the time and not chosen Louise instead.

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