Neisha Crosland is a world-renowned designer who has worked for major fashion labels including Marc Jacobs, Christian Lacroix and Mario Testino, and household names such as John Lewis. In 2006 she was honoured with a Royal Designer for Industry Distinction. Having been awarded an Honorary Fellowship by Chelsea College of the Arts, she spoke to UAL and Kat Lister (Vice, The Pool) about where she gets her inspiration, her favourite materials, and growing up as part of a pattern.
Q: How does it feel to be honoured by University of the Arts London with this award?
A: I was so surprised, I mean I really was. In a way that was more thrilling than saying that I sold something a million times over. I enjoyed my art school experience so, so much, that it felt like, this sounds a bit corny, but like going home again. Thank you, it’s just brilliant.
Q: When you were at art school did you know that your interest lay in textiles and pattern-making?
A: I thought I wanted to be a fine artist, but my father was absolutely, quite strict, so then I thought, well why don’t I do graphics at Camberwell? Because it’s fine art biased, I would be able to do my painting and drawing, and at least I’d have a degree at the end of it that would get me a job. However, there was a lecture at the V&A on William Morris’ Kelmscott Press – we were doing typography that week – and so I went along to it and I got lost… in the Ottoman Galleries at the V&A. And I could not believe these textiles, which were fifteenth, sixteenth century textiles, looked so modern, some of them were just big great dots, others were these sort of crescents and these tulip heads. I couldn’t believe it, that they were sixteenth and fifteenth century, and literally at that moment I knew, that it was such a lightbulb moment, ‘this is my problem, I need to be doing textiles.’ It was so obvious to me.
Q: How did you launch your career?
It all came together with Osbourne and Little and my degree show. I had all these sort of slightly fortune-esque on velvet textures, slightly sort of Renaissance-esque kind of motifs, Ottoman motifs – nothing particularly new really. But I did different things with them, and I enlarged them and I played with them, I made them look different I suppose. And I think that’s the thing, you’ve got to do something different… I was very lucky because Anthony Little from Osbourne and Little came to the degree show, and said ‘I want this and I want you to come into the studio and commercialise, I’ll teach you, let’s do a collection, let’s do it commercially.’
Q: Do you have a favourite surface that you like to work with?
I think the thing that gave me great satisfaction was the vinyl tile collection. Because it’s really rather, it looks like a mousemat, you know, it’s really boring material, talk about sensory experience, it’s not particularly nice, so I have to take something that’s not particularly nice and make it really stylish, and I found that hugely satisfying.
Q: Your work is both digital and hand-designed – what do you think of the difference between these two approaches?
A: I think the act of drawing gives you the opportunity to really look at things in real life, and I think when you’re looking at things in real life, and you’re looking at them in their three dimensional form, that you see more. You observe more, and I think that working on a flat screen and looking, taking images, looking at images on flat screen, you’re denied that three dimensional aspect. And I think also the other thing is if you’re touching plastic keyboard all day, you’re only touching plastic, so you’re denying yourself a sensory experience. When you’re drawing you’re sharpening your pencils, you’ve got the action of sharpening, you’ve got the smell of the wood, you’ve got the shavings of the wood, the tracing paper is crunchy, you’ve got all sorts of different cartridge paper you can choose from, you’ve got the paint tubes that you’re squeezing, even the gungeiness of the paint squirting out, and the smell of the paint and all the different paint – you’ve got all these wonderful sensory things that you’re not having if you’re just on a plastic keyboard with a shiny screen.
Q: Can you trace where your interest in patterns came from?
A: My parents divorced when I was quite young, and I think I was very aware, in the chaos of the divorce, and a split home, of wanting to create some order in my life. And I often think my desire for pattern making has come from that, because it’s sort of putting the chaos into order… We were three sisters and there was a year between us, and [my mother] used to dress us in the same clothes in size 1,2, and 3, so I always felt like I was part of a pattern from a very early age.
Q: Were there any experiences that you found particularly formative when you were studying?
A: I think what did it was going to Venice on a scholarship, the Royal College had a flat there so I had a travel bursary, and went there and got really taken… by all the ecclesiastical priests vestments with the big worn brocades, and St Marks and the gold star which eventually became my first design at Osbourne and Little… I thought well I’m just going to take these things, I’m going to trace them, I’m going to blow them up, and it’s complete plagiarism here, where’s me in this, I’m just copying what has already been done. But once I started tracing what had already been done, it then became mine, and it was a bit like, I did something different with it, it was a stepping stone, so that broke the ice.
Q: What advice would you give to students now?
A: My advice to arts students would be experiment, experiment as much as you can, and try and use as many different surfaces as you can. Just find a way – go to markets, rip up an old pair of curtains, or go to an Oxfam shop and buy jumper and pull it apart and print on it.