In 2003, British designer Victoria Bartlett founded VPL, a modern-leaning womenswear line named as a friendly tribute to the “visible panty line” – both the enemy of conventional fashion and a symbolically charged statement for a designer who challenges notions of femininity. Bartlett precipitated fashion’s underwear-as-outerwear craze with her inventively seamed, aerobically charged designs and is now regarded as a vanguard for progressive and accessible American style.
This season, she gleaned inspiration from the genre-warping dance pioneer Michael Clark and turned out a smart collection of aerodynamic looks that bring a unique exuberance to streetwear. It’s one of her most fully realized collections to date.
Bartlett’s shows always prove a treat for audiophiles: Suicide, Serge Gainsbourg, and Sixties avant-garde music regularly pop up in the runway music. To coincide with her Fall 2012 outing, she curated a special playlist for Rolling Stone and describes the unusual aspects of dance and music for which she designs her line.
How does music influence your design methods or creative process?
It’s a very integral part of setting the mood of the show.
You often use psychedelic and Krautrock tracks to score your shows. Why does that music suit the mood/feeling you are trying to convey?
I always want the music to be dissected and rearranged to create more of a cinematic mode of music with less known soundtracks and sound bites that interrupt and interject the rhythms. It’s rather like editing the clothes for the show – in a similar rhythmic dialogue.
How would you describe your own music tastes?
I like a broad selection of music; I don’t like to be set in specific genres. Specifically, I like a lot of underground and experimental music. I’m very partial to female Sixties vocals.
Would you say VPL’s aesthetic runs towards the ‘darker’/stranger side? If so, why?
I don’t like to categorize the collection in that way – I think the moods are more of a cinematic concept to me.
What outside cultural influences drove you towards fashion design?
I started in finance, moving into textiles, and then fashion design. I think all design in every form is influenced by outside social and cultural influences.
What do you do now to stay inspired?
I need to stay visually inspired by looking at things: art shows, films, reading social media and being upstate in nature. I need to have constant fluxes of visual and audible inspirations around.
What sparked Fall 2012’s design focus?
Michael Clark’s transgressive choreography of Mmm: the tension between abandon and control, shadow and reflection, and nature’s pure form and velocity of twisting, pivoting, wrapping, braiding and entwining.
What new elements did you introduce on your runway this season?
Shadow and reflection; the twisting on forms and leg dance-bands.
Do you prefer to design for fall/winter or spring/summer?
Fall/Winter: There are more layers and manipulation of fabrics with looks.
Describe how your interest in ballet and dance influences the way you design for the female form. I’ve always found your work aerodynamic.
Every collection always references the body and dance. I think of clothing and movement and how it falls against the body in motion.
Do you view the female body as a challenge/obstacle or a canvas? Do you aim to reinforce existing ideas about the female form or subvert/progress them?
I view the female body as a challenge and a canvas to manipulate and play with the articulation of body geography – reinforcing existing ideas about the form but also manipulating and transforming them.
You’ve been known to use human hair as fur. Why?
I’m a humanist and I believe that less pain is more pleasure. I’ve been an active anti-fur supporter for most of my life and human hair does not endanger any life form.
Why does anatomy interest you?
The body geography has always been a platform that I like to work from, following the lines of the musculatory system and the idea of the body in motion.
VPL’s Rolling Stone playlist:
“Hamburger Lady” by Throbbing Gristle
“Melody” by Serge Gainsbourg
“Cargo Culte” by Serge Gainsbourg
David Bowie’s “Heroes” Remix by Aphex Twins/Phillip Glass
Apocalypse Now Soundtrack
“Words That Maketh Murder” by PJ Harvey
“Sense of Doubt” by David Bowie
“Cowboys and Cuba” by Chris & Cosey