Cutting it – with Fred Butler
Riotous, bright and court jester like…
I recently visited the unique accessories and props designer Fred Butler at her studio in Angel, north London while she was hard at work on her Summer Autumn collection. Her work has been described as “riotous bright and court jester like”. Fred launched her first official collection of inspirational creations for Autumn/Winter 2008 and was recently the recipient of the prestigious Topshop NewGen sponsorship for A/W 2009.
I started off by asking Fred if her accessories always had to be bespoke, or could she envisage doing something for the high street. “I would love to do a high street diffusion range- that would be fun and accessible, but still have intellectual subconscious appeal, but must be a nice thing to wear.”
Fred has recently secured her first high street stockist, the jeweler KABIRI – who she has been sending ‘look-books’ for the past two years and it has finally paid- off. She was approached on her stand at A/W 2009 and was subsequently commissioned to install window displays at 3 of their London outlets.
As a young girl growing up in Essex Fred was surrounded with “kitsch and retro bad taste items. .My Mother could never understand”.Fred’s first favourite piece of kitsch was a reproduction of the Tretchiko“Green Lady painting”., which raises the whole issue of “what is considered bad taste and what is considered good taste”.This is something that has informed Fred’s work ever since, she goes on to say “ my taste is definitely kitsch …my aim is to take bad taste kitsch and make it chic, and to make the enjoyment of the daily experience better. That’s what’s nice about accessories, they open up communication between people.”
Fred gives me a fantastic example of how this process of taking “bad taste kitsch and make it chic” works, when she talks about a commission from Nicola Formichetti for a shoot with controversial photographer and creative genius Oliverio Toscani (Benetton ads). “They wanted lots of weird accessories to transform a menswear story to be shot in the V&A. One of the ideas was to use robots, so I bought lots of toys from the pound shop-helicopters, walkie-talkies- and took them apart, stuck them to motorbike helmets and carefully sprayed them beautifully, slick black and silver, so they looked like robot heads. When they (deconstructed toys) were styled with designer clothes it ended up looking fantastic and you would never know it was all made from cheap kitsch toys”.
Fred lives in a 3D colourful world. Her studio is full of dodecahedron’s, pyramids, maquettes, and bespoke boxes. This fascination with 3D design goes back to college days when Fred would browse second hand bookshops. There was one book Fred found “ that opened me up to the world of 3D quilting” I never knew you could do that back then”. Fred goes on to explain to me how the 3D process works, “first of all I start an idea by making prototypes using maquettes, then experimenting with techniques, which I apply to the mannequin to see how it would work and integrate with the body.”
Fred started out making props for stylists on photo shoots, but now is in big demand as an accessories designer and she has recently completed a commission for Vogue UK. While devising her 2008 collection Fred got the idea of working with metallic materials. Using insulation blankets – usually worn by marathon runners – she discovered ‘’weirdly by accident, while trying to iron out a crease in some bows I made for an ID magazine shoot that never got used. After ironing, the insulation blanket stuck together and went all stiff and turned into what looked like leather”.
I asked Fred who her fashion icons are. “Zandra Rhodes and Anna Piaggi embody their work, they don’t change. They look like how they make their work and they look like that every day. They don’t look better at night or different at the weekend, that’s just how they are. Their style is bright and colourful and they just are not afraid of making strange combinations or bizarre statements about what they wear”.
Fred is “passionate about music” and through facebook she contacted her favourite bands and offered her services. She got a great response and has gone on to produce album artwork for Patrick Wolf, tour costumes for Bishi and Sigur Ros. More recently Fred designed accessories for La Roux, Gossip, lady Sovereign and worked on press shots for Little Boots and Skunk Anansie. Recently she discovered a musician by the name of Esser while listening to the radio. “His music is a bit like the specials and fun boy three, but with a bit of Blur”.“I loved it and looked him up and discovered that he is also from Essex!”Fred is now being recommended by musicians and stylists and is gaining quite a lot of recognition within the music industry.
Fred says that Patrick Wolf is probably the most creative musician she has worked with so far. “He just trusts me to do what I want”. She worked with Patrick recently on Rankin charity photo project. He has given each person he photographed a print. And asked them to customize it. Patrick asked Fred if she would like to collaborate with him on this, and she came up with the novel idea of making a garment out of the print.
Finally as I am leaving I suggest to Fred that her work seems to me to have a childlike quality, and could she ever contemplate designing accessories for children. Fred said she would like to make “Something a bit like a toy, but you can wear it, like a flat animal wrap. Something to keep a baby warm, but it could also have a popper on, so it could be worn like a towel with a hood”. Watch this space, Fred Butler is coming to a high street near you. Sounds like a lot of fun to me.