Interview: Thomas King

Embarking on his final year studying fashion design at QUT, Thomas has cultivated an independent clothes-making practice underpinned by analyses of complex human emotion through the use of a self-derived illustrated vocabulary. This year, he hopes to work at creating a union between fashion and emotion through research-oriented crafting and manipulation of textiles.⠀

Interviewed by Sarah Thomson / Photo: James Caswell

Sarah Thomson: Your first collection hearttoheart has an underlying conceptual narrative, communicated through the careful design and choice of materials, but also through hand painted illustrations. It seems to blur the lines between a traditional fashion design practice and art practice. What interests you about the conceptual possibilities of a “clothes-making practice”?

Thomas King: I think what draws me to clothing is all of its inherent connotations around the process of dress and worn identity that are part of the narratives I explore in my practice. The idea of making clothes that are underpinned by a linkage to internal aspects of the wearer is intriguing. I enjoy being witness to a recontextualising of my artistic motifs when different people wear my designs, and that is a procedure that cannot be emulated in traditional art in such an immediate way as it can in fashion.

ST: One of the functions of your garments is to provide a sense of comfort or to ease symptoms of mental illness, like the psychological equivalent of bandaging a broken limb or a supporting sling. How do you see fashion or clothing impacting the way we think, feel and act in our day to day lives?

TK: I believe the material tools we use to support and encourage ourselves to take on each day are very powerful. Fashion is often regarded as superficial, but wielding a certain item or outfit that makes us feel more capable of navigating the public arena is a ritual that connects us deeply to ourselves. On days where I need extra emotional support, I will wear something silly or out of place to help nudge the trajectory of my day out of a dip and into light-heartedness. Sometimes the brain can be persuaded that easily.

ST: Your choice of fabric and textiles are driven by how they will make the wearer feel, eg. “physically nurtured by the garments”. Can you talk a bit more about the way you hope to create an emotional reaction through the physical sensation of touch?

TK: Currently, I use hemp almost exclusively because of its lightness and breathability, and because I’m also conscious of its low environmental impact compared to other fabrics - it’s also really nice to paint on. I think my first collection (hearttoheart) made the strongest effort to be comfortable to a point where the wearer could feel like they were in pyjamas, which is feedback I received from many people. My aim was to loosely swaddle the body in such a therapeutic way that the wearer could feel they were equipped to consider their emotions in a state of total ease.

ST: The focus around mental illness and the generally austere look of the garments and the boxy, loose fit reminds me of a prison uniform or even of a straightjacket. What were your influences in terms of how the pieces would fit and move on a body?

TK: In the pattern-making process I minimised construction lines and seams to make the pieces look flat and simple - each piece is based on basic patterns that are fundamental garments in most of our wardrobes, leaving the silhouette to be embellished by surface treatment. Above all, I wanted the fit of the items to be both comfortable and comforting. They allow for total mobility; if the wearer needs to perform morning stretches or yoga to calm the mind, or collapse in a melodramatic heap in the face of adversity, the garments can move with them.

ST: In contrast to what many people would see as a purely decorative decision, you utilise an “illustrated vocabulary” in the design of your textiles that seem to offer a symbolic, emotional function. How did you decide which motifs and drawings to integrate into your designs?

TK: There are recurring motifs I use in my illustrated textile work - hearts, liquid and holes to name a few. I have an affinity for painting hearts because they are symbolic of our emotions in a way that is quite naive and unsuspectingly simple; an almost childlike representation of what is inside us. The liquid depicts internal forces - our chemicals, blood and tears that flow and bleed in reaction to many situations. The holes are wounds from which the liquid moves from inside to outside. I use many other visual metaphors in my illustration that build upon a wider narrative exploring humans as a species uniquely connected to our own emotions and psychology. I usually decide on which motifs I will incorporate off the cuff, sometimes considering what a particular group of drawings might communicate as a whole. One of my takeover posts shows how I paint all of my fabric at once then, through construction, the story of the whole textile is dispersed through whatever items are crafted.

ST: Each piece seems incredibly personal, having been handmade and painted by yourself, sometimes showing visible traces of the changes in your own emotional state while constructing it (eg. the variances among stitching of the knitted scarf). How important is the making process for you personally?

TK: The making is integral. I have always felt sure about keeping my practice self-operated because I would not want to sully the link between my own psyche and how it affects the design being produced. My state of mind shows in the work whether I want it to or not, which is a really important part of the strides I make to thematise emotion in my craft. I also enjoy being capable of completing a project on my own entirely from the inception of a concept to the final once-over with an iron - it’s an uplifting cycle that keeps me motivated to learn, create and outdo myself.

ST: You mention that this year you hope to work at “creating a union between fashion and emotion through research-orientated crafting and manipulation of textiles”. What form does your research take? Are there other designers or theorists that inform your practice or is it more of a personal practice-based research process?

TK: I would like to uncover a method of exploring emotion in a way that is less two-dimensional because I think the concept I’m dedicated to pursuing deserves an extensively-considered and whole-hearted conclusion. I’m excited to potentially discover other designers, artists and theorists working in my area of interest; I think that will lend a sense of thoughtful collaboration to a currently untouched personal practice. I explore emotion and psychology in my design because it’s something that has directly influenced my working life, and has made itself present in my practice almost inadvertently. My references have always been reflections on personal experience and that will continue to be a cornerstone of my work as me and my practice grow together.

To see more images shared by Thomas King during his Instagram takeover, take a look at @inresidence_ari.

See more of Thomas King's work on his website here.

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