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Hannah Mason Interviews Designer Jo Cope

Published by Hannah Mason on 29-May-2013 Conversations, Fashion
Tags: Jo Cope, Fashion, Designer, Conceptual

Jo Cope is a UK based conceptual designer whose unique multi-disciplinary approach has led to her success across the board; creating everything from commercial fashion pieces to exhibition installations. Traditional is one thing her work isn’t, but inspiring it definitely is. I got the opportunity to discuss innovation, inspiration and what the future holds for this visionary designer, with the woman herself.

Originally you studied fashion design but moved away from the traditional fashion framework, was there a specific reason for this move? 

I had no boundaries or expectations of fashion prior to starting a fashion degree. Within the very first course module I was trying to build things that moved and functioned beyond the realm of conventional commercial clothing this is just what felt right. I realised I needed an alternative outlet for the more experimental portrayals of fashion on the body that weren’t encouraged or embraced. The thing that kept my sanity was becoming a foundry member of DAP lab (Design and Performance). This allowed me to explore my alternative way of seeing and working with fashion. 

Your creations incorporate elements of fashion, fine art and design, how do you categorise your work? 

Sometimes it is difficult to categorise, I call myself a ‘Conceptual Fashion and Accessories Designer’. Conceptual because all of the work is driven and exists to express a concept/idea. I think conceptual design covers the broader sense of what I do.

As your work is multi discipline; you have created everything from conceptual collars to visionary interior shelving, is there an aspect you enjoy the most?

The aspect I enjoy the most is the conceptual art commissions where I get to push my creative fashion ideas the farthest in terms of scale, materials and without worrying about an end consumer in a practical sense.

What effect do you feel your unique multi-disciplinary approach has on your work?

Being open to different disciplines allows for the work to evolve without restriction. My mind naturally always wants to explore an idea in multiple ways. Being multi-disciplinary allows me to think beyond narrow boundaries. It allows me to offer saleable aspects, visual merchandising possibilities, installations often all from one idea or train of thought.

You have always sited the relationship between garment, wearer and movement as an inspiration. Is this desire to create new fashion consumption still integral within your creations?

My belief is that the garment and accessory is an extension of the more internal self of the wearer, yes. I am still very much interested in creating new ways of using, viewing and engaging with fashion. Altering people’s visual perceptions of how things have to exist or look is important to me. The desire to create a new form of visual based fashion consumption is at the forefront of what I intend to create in future works, movement is an important aspect of what fashion does on the body so I will often be looking to continue to translate this.

How do you begin a new project?

The foundation of most of my work is in a piece of writing which formulates the theory of my concept on paper. The writing often revolves around a question I am looking to answer, like ‘What is a bag?’ 

What is your most constant source of inspiration?

I am inspired by constantly thinking about the body, the garment and the accessory in conjunction with each other. I very rarely look at any external visuals to influence this unless it is an important part of the process due to the nature of the brief.

Bold block colours can be seen throughout your work, what influences your colour palette? 

Like many artists and musicians I see pictures as colour which is like a type of synaesthesia. My mind fills in the colour that it wants the three dimensional form to be, which is often red. Part of my ethos is; ‘Everything to exist for a reason’ which relates to my love for aesthetic minimalism. To me ‘primary’ colour represents that which is ‘pure’ In the context of fashion, mixed and blended colours have always felt very uncomfortable and ugly to me and somehow not ‘true’ or powerful enough.

Recently in 2012 your work `SOLD´ was exhibited in Northamptonshire as part of the `Global Footprint´ exhibition. What was the inspiration behind your installation? 

A boundary pushing shoe and boot aesthetic was created to symbolise those who dedicated their lives to the British shoe industry and whose hearts and souls were literally embedded in the shoes through their labour and skill, I felt those people were like a lasting footprint in this rich history. The final conceptual shoes were made from the sole up, eighteen soling layers created a solid leather block, milled out to create a negative space in which the foot is imbedded creating the original aesthetic of a shoe with a completely flat surface.
(‘Sold’ conceptual shoes now form part of the Northamptonshire shoe museum’s permanent collection.)

Your work, for example `Clearly a Bag´ pushes boundaries within fashion. What sparked your conceptual approach?

My conceptual approach is driven by the desire to ask questions of fashion as appose to accepting it as something just to be worn or used. My dislike for aesthetic preconceptions is what first sparked this; I’m not interested in accepting the way things look. With ‘Clearly a Bag’ I wanted to create the purest vision of what a bag could be.

You were commissioned by Silverstone in 2011 to create a transforming garment for Formula Fashion, made from leather, rubber, carbon fibre and Kevlar. How did you find working and experimenting with new materials?

The most interesting challenge was to translate the true beauty of the F1 aesthetics.  I employed a specialist colour coater to bake a true gloss surface into the leather, I also created a method of making the garment completely stitch free to reflect the simplicity and streamlined beauty of the cars.  I have to learn a material on the job in a short period of time, that can definitely increase stress levels and put the pressure on, but it’s definitely what makes the work successful.

How important do you think the relationship between technology and fashion is today?

Very important, I think we are going to see ever increasing and exciting tech and fashion collaborations over the coming years, I think it has really only just begun. In the search for the ‘new’ this is the age of cross collaboration. The investigation of alternative materials and engineering techniques are helping to confront fashion issues such as zero waste. Spray on clothing is just the start of the explorations into alternative methods of making.

Your work is sold and exhibited internationally, how important do you think a wide global presence is for designers and creatives today?

With niche market products such as Conceptual Accessories it is even more important to reach the potential of that niche by selling on a global level. I think the nature of the way the internet has influenced us to sell and connect with other countries dictates that this is an important part of being recognised as an influential designer.

What is the next exciting step for Jo Cope in 2013?

I’m actually thinking of going back to study this year to evolve some important new works that take fashion into a purely art driven realm, I am looking at doing the Fashion Artefacts MA at LCF. Some may consider this is a strange move as an established designer with important commissions under my belt, but it is something that has always been in the back of my mind since graduating from a standard fashion degree. I've also just been commissioned to make a new conceptual leather piece for the National Trust property Barrington Court in Somerset.

A fashion communicator who strives to innovate and inspire through fashion design and journalism, Hannah is studying Fashion (Concept and Communication) at Leeds College of Art.

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