Meadhbh Sinclair chatted to NCAD graduate Andrew Bell, ahead of his exhibition, 'Pulling Strings', which is set to launch this Thursday in the Steambox Gallery.
We all dream of ‘making it big’ or making it to the top of our respective fields, be that in acting, music, or in Andrew Bell’s case - the fashion industry.
We often come across stories of people just like Andrew Bell who dream of making it to the top, and that dream, following years and years of hard graft, finally comes true.
However, we seldom hear the story of what happened next. In the case of ambitious National College of Art and Design (NCAD) graduate Andrew Bell, the reality of working in London’s fashion industry wasn’t quite what he expected.
Andrew jetted off to complete two separate internships in London with clothing companies J.W. Anderson and Antipodium before returning home to Ireland to complete the final year of his fashion design degree.
He later left his commercial design job in Dunnes Stores to pursue his latest venture: a collaborative exhibition called ‘Pulling Strings’.
The Dublin exhibition is based on a microcollection of three garments: the shirt, the jacket and the trouser. The exhibition aims to elevate these garments to “objects of art” that everyone can connect and engage with. The exhibition was partly inspired by his “dissatisfaction” with his time in London.
“I was exploring my own feelings with my dissatisfaction with the fashion industry. I had just come back from London, where I had interned for three months solid with no pay, working crazy hours six days a week and I just felt so overwhelmed coming in to my final year of my degree in NCAD,” Bell explained.
“This exhibition is an extension of that. The fashion industry is a machine of the 21st century and it’s all-consuming, so, I am highlighting and commenting on that through this exhibition.
“The exhibition aims to elevate fashion to a position of art, and the garments will be elevated physically, but also metaphorically, to objects of art,” the Dundalk native explained.
The three featured garments will be elevated from several white bags and they will be suspended by a wooden frame. There will also be a series of photos on show on the opening night, as well as a musical piece and a video projected onto a floating screen.
Andrew’s infectious passion for making the “commercial and high end” world of fashion more accessible to ordinary, everyday people is one of the main sources of inspiration for the exhibition.
“It’s a broad target market as everyone thinks about fashion. From the moment we wake up, we think ‘what will we wear today?’,” he said.
“I want people to come and engage with fashion and think about it and enjoy physical, three dimensional garments. It’s not a H&M launch where they’re putting a few items on display and hoping you will buy them as well,” the young designer asserted.
Bell is determined to show the “non-commercial” side of the fashion industry.
“I want the exhibition to be really open and engaging for everyone. It’s not high art and boring. I don’t want fashion to be this very distant thing to people. I want people to really enjoy it,” he commented.
“I feel that fashion is something that we are constantly looking at from behind a screen, due to the rise of technology, and I feel it’s gone kind of flat. I wanted to create something non-commercial; there’s nothing for sale in this exhibition,” he continued.
Bell has raised over €900 for the exhibition so far through his online fundit.ie campaign, with the help of a number of other graduates who all share an interest in the arts, and whose expertise were all needed to make Andrew’s, “creative vision a reality".
“It’s about my creative vision, but it’s called 'Pulling Strings' as we’re pulling the talents of different people together. I’ve been working with two film graduates and a media graduate from NCAD, as well as an industrial designer. It’s my vision, but it’s a very ambitious project so I had to get a lot of help,” he added.
Bell is hoping that all the hard work will pay off once the opening night of the exhibition arrives.
“I funded this project on the budget of the dole for the first four months. There were crazy mornings getting up at six in the morning in Dundalk to get a bus to Dublin and cycling around to wood-cutters, the video people, the music people and then going home to sew until the late hours,” Bell recalled.
It’s clear that this young fashion designer has all the drive and ambition needed to make it in the fashion industry; be it in London or any other part of the world.
You can’t help but feel inspired by his drive to succeed in his goal of making fashion accessible and interesting to everyone as an art, as opposed to a commercial, profit-making business.
Despite how far he goes in his career, however, it seems he’ll never forget where he comes from.
“I’m a fashion graduate and so many graduates go to London straight away, so, it’s nice to give something back to Ireland,” Bell concluded.
The Pulling Strings exhibition will take place from February 18th - 22nd in the Steambox Gallery off Thomas Street in Dublin.