Josephine Cowell’s DiversityNOW 2016 entry is about exploring an orgasmic contrast of comfort, fetish, sexualisation and exposure. Through plush, soft and comforting textures, Cowell’s experimental knitwear design pushes the boundaries of sexuality and sensuality. Although Cowell’s designs were a very personal, cathartic experience it resonates with a wide audience having been shortlisted to the final 15 for i-D’s public vote. Celebrating ‘imperfection’ and taking back control of our bodies with intimate dreamy hues.
Clothing offers protection, a shield to protect ones real body and transforming it into the fashioned body.
For my ‘Wrapping and Exposure’ collection I wanted to combine a sense of covering and hiding the self with exposure through revealing what’s intimate. When I started this collection I felt terrible, I was suffering from depression and anxiety. I couldn’t get out of bed and I thought this is the only thing I can think about right now, I want to feel wrapped up and comforted, I want to make things that make me feel safe. As the collection progressed, the process of exposing myself and expressing the way I was feeling became the focus. I felt like making something raw and honest was cathartic for me. The idea of exposure became central; exposure of the body, flesh, mind, the inner self.
Your work plays with the fashion body as a hyper sexualised being, what influenced your fetish of fetishes?
I think woman’s bodies and sexuality are fetishised so much in the media, but this representation of femininity seems sanitised and unreal. For me, exploring fetish in my work is about taking back control, eroticising the hairy and soft and squidgy. I also love playing with the fetishistic nature of material. Recently I’ve been developing knitted pieces with elements of silicone, plastic and resin in them.
The unique and highly tactile pieces transfer incredibly well into a 2D format which speaks volumes of their narrative, what story were you building?
This story was about celebrating touch, sensuality and closeness. When it came to photographing this collection I knew I wanted to use my best friend Maxi-Mai O’hara as a model. She’s tiny with huge boobs, I love her body and regularly give her a little squeeze. I wanted to explore the intimacy of our relationship in a really playful, humorous way.
The pieces challenge heteronormity and homogeny, do you find solace in otherness and imperfection?
Definitely. With this collection I challenged myself to draw on dark and difficult feelings, things people usually want to suppress or hide. I wanted to explore the therapeutic effect making work in this very personal and confessional way would have. I think a lot of creative people are very sensitive, but creating work which comes from a sense of isolation or otherness, can be really gratifying.
We regularly get photography and styling entries, for DiversityNOW, as a designer do you feel you also have a responsibility to create diversely?
Absolutely! When I design I have a mood or aesthetic in mind and try to realise this when photographing or filming the work. I have some amazing creative friends who help me document my work. When we come together for a photo shoot we’re definitely not trying to recreate a homogenous scene of bland perfection that’s already been reproduced thousands of times. The idea is to create a dream-like fantasy world, a setting where we can play with intimacy and strangeness.
The soft hues and textures of your entry feels hugely symbolic and meaningful. What do they mean to you?
A starting point for a lot of the colours and textures is the sensuality of flesh and hair. To me drawing inspiration from the body gives a feeling of rawness.
Interview: Elli Weir
Imagery: Josephine Cowell