The Making of Vanitas: Part One

Hello and welcome to the official Tempest Eve blog!

To start things off, here’s the first part in a series dedicated to showing you the process of developing my graduate collection from initial concept to runway.


The Making of Vanitas: Part One – Inspiration

Why have an inspiration point?

Almost every fashion collection begins with an inspiration point. This varies from one designer to the next, and may range from a vague mood to a concrete theme.  Having an inspiration point is not strictly necessary, of course, but it can be helpful for several reasons.

Personally, I find inspiration absolutely everywhere. It can be something as intangible as the feeling I get from a favourite song, or as literal as the silhouette of a vase.  Like many creative types I often have a thousand ideas running through my head and can very easily become distracted and wander off topic. If you’ve ever started cleaning only to find yourself alphabetising your bookshelf three hours later, you might understand this feeling!

Therefore having a specific inspiration point for a collection helps to rein me in and keep me focused.  It gives me an anchor point, so to speak, and throughout the process I keep checking back in with my initial inspiration point and making sure I haven’t gone off track. Having said that, it is a balance and you don’t want to restrict yourself too much! Many wonderful things have come from serendipitous leaps of logic and creativity.

Having a specific inspiration point, theme or concept for a collection can also help you to ensure that the group of garments (or jewellery, or accessories!) you’re designing all work well together and have a certain flow. Items in a collection are often designed to coordinate with each other to enable customers to mix and match them in their wardrobe, as well as ensuring they will look right together in a store, photoshoot or lookbook environment.


Choosing your inspiration

Finding an inspiration point shouldn’t feel like a chore. To state the obvious, it should be something that inspires you! You might choose something as your inspiration only to find yourself going blank, thinking in circles or having limited ideas. If this is the case, then it’s best to find something else for inspiration. Think about what excites you, what you love and are passionate about, what you could talk someone’s ear off about! You will be spending a lot of time with this concept and you don’t want to become bored of it.

I felt a lot of pressure choosing my inspiration for this collection. As my graduate collection, I wanted it to be something that would represent who I am and what my design aesthetic is all about. If done right, I hoped that I could look back in 10 years’ time and still feel a connection to it!

I’m a huge art lover and completed a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts after I finished high school, so turning to the art world seemed like a natural choice for me. Within very little time I settled on a theme that I had always been fascinated by – Vanitas and Memento Mori.


Vanitas and Memento Mori

Vanitas and Memento Mori are two separate (but closely connected) art movements. Vanitas is a type of symbolic painting, most closely associated with a style of still life painting that gained prominence in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries. The main concept driving Vanitas as an art style is the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. Vanitas paintings frequently made use of symbolic items such as skulls, fruit, flowers, butterflies, bubbles, smoke, watches and hourglasses – all of which were used to convey the ephemeral nature of life and the suddenness of death – as well as musical instruments, globes and books, intended to portray the pointlessness of man’s endeavours. There was a strong moralistic element to the Vanitas movement, in which people were reminded not to place worldly riches before spiritual piousness, as one was fleeting and the other eternal.

A Memento Mori is an artistic reminder of the inevitability of death. The phrase literally translates to “remember that you will die” and like Vanitas, it had a strong moralistic element. Memento Mori as a phrase developed alongside Christianity, and was in opposition to the preceding “Now is the time to drink” philosophy of Classical antiquity. Once again, the emphasis is on the emptiness and fleetingness of earthly pleasures, and how one should instead turn their thoughts to the afterlife. It was a “don’t indulge now at the expense of your soul” sort of idea, if you will.

Adriaen van Utrecht- Vanitas - Still Life with Bouquet and Skull (Left) Charles Allan Gilbert - All Is Vanity (Right)

Adriaen van Utrecht- Vanitas - Still Life with Bouquet and Skull (Left) Charles Allan Gilbert - All Is Vanity (Right)

Now I realise this has probably taken an incredibly depressing turn, but please bear with me! Instead of focusing on the inevitability of death and decay as a horrible, negative, scary thing, I wanted to find the beauty in it. Finding the beauty in darkness is one of my favourite themes that I return to over and over again, and so it felt fitting to use it as part of my graduate collection.

So in opposition to the more pessimistic stance of “life is fleeting so everything is meaningless”, I decided to turn the idea on its head. That is, that the fleeting nature of life makes it all the more important to enjoy and cherish the things we have while we are still able. Don’t despair that the rose dies, celebrate it while it lives! In fact, why not find some beauty in the process of decay itself? After all, isn’t there something beautiful about looking at an old leather book, its cover worn soft by loving hands and its pages stained with time,  a once-bright gilded mirror darkened with inky patina in its hollows, or perhaps even an old wedding gown, wrapped in tissue and hidden in an attic, waiting to be brought out and loved again…

And there, with that thought, I knew I had found “it”. The idea that I would spend almost a year obsessing over, that would lead to brewing bucketfuls of tea, ripping and shredding formerly pristine fabric, and help inspire me through the long, sleepless nights.  

Some things are all the more precious for their ephemeral nature.


Thank you for reading!

xx Jessica