I grabbed my morning coffee whilst walked down Cambridge Heath Road, heading to Alexis Barrell's atelier, with the expectation of those whose active radar recognize an admired and proved talent; and also with the electric feeling that something unique might happen. And it did: Alexis herself opened the door of her fantastic place, located in one of the coolest neighborhoods of London.
The studio's terrace seemed a haven of peace, the kind of place where you can get hypnotized by the inspiring views of the city and the sound of Alexis' voice, soft and revealing of the most expressive and kind nature. She looked stylish in her long floral exotic patterned skirt from her last summer collection, effortlessly chic affordable luxury. A sign of the label´s identity code which seamlessly blends modernity with romance, rejecting the obvious in a minimalist territory where the attention to detail and the love for uniqueness are visible. She appeared surrounded by mannequins, fabrics, brushes, a painting easel...
Everything displayed in a natural order according to her architectural mind. The decorative bull head wicker hanged of the wall, seemed to reflect her spirit of adventure, as she has lived in more than six cities over the past years. This might be the reason why she feels so connected to the world and understands the authenticity of women, who find in her clothes a way of self-discovery and differentiation.
South African designer, Alexis Barrell studied architecture at the University of Cape Town before moving to Paris to enrol at the Fashion College Istituto Maragoni. Following her academic training, she travelled to New York to work with couturier Marc Bouwer before moving back to Athens where she maintains a small studio, and finally moved to London where she set up her label in 2010.
Alexis, despite being based in London, your label has not the typical 'made in Britain' trademark, as it seems more like an international brand. Is this global view of Alexis Barrell a reflection of your own identity?
Absolutely. There's an emerging tribe of women who have a global identity, and are equally comfortable in many different cities and cultures. I believe in a London girl who is also a Paris girl, a New York girl, a Shanghai girl, etc.
As you say, your designs are aimed to an international girl who is in constant movement, not only physically but also mindfully, as they search for a daily adventure, luxury and style. Who is your actual muse, the girl who really inspires you? And if not a person, which book, painting or building is most probably going to catch your attention?
I have so many muses. Women who encapsulate what you have described, who are curious, active, true lovers of life. She might be a friend, a character in a film… It's generally not a woman in a painting but the actual painter who will truly inspire me. I admire women who create, who are natural, who embrace vulnerability and imperfection. This is true bravery.
Your collections are very much focused in travels, as we can detect the respect for different cultures and the influences and vibes of tradition and cosmopolitan atmospheres. Last winter collection referred to your background, in a road trip through a large stretch of semi-desert in South Africa. This spring summer proposal was conceived after a road trip with your sister through all the East coast of California. Is there any other place you would be excited to explore?
So many… But I think the true message of the brand is to find exploration and discovery in your daily life. So many people sit and long for the holidays, forgetting to be present and aware in the workday. There is magic to be found in every dinner, every bath time, and every walk to work. It is simply a state of mind… the art of fascination.
Talking about family, are you very connected to your roots?
I am very much connected to my family and to South Africa. It's a huge part of who I am as a designer.
Your creations are an injection of pretty in volumes, structured cuts, clean-lined looks, and straight silhouettes. Does your education in architecture have anything to do with this?
I guess it does. I don't really think about it, but it must be the case. You learn to avoid frivolity when you are designing at such a scale. Prettiness without frivolity is a delicate balance.
How do you remember your first experience at the London Fashion Week and the roaring success you generated?
I just remember having a great time. I wanted a relaxed, fun atmosphere to interact naturally with the press, and to create a haven where we could all have a bit of fun. The drinks, food, music, set design, were all inspired by the collection… It was a more informal but immersive way to do a show... I think it paid off.
Your pieces are available at the most selected online stores such as Avenue 32, My Wardrobe, Alter Shanghai….is the e-commerce a potential tool for selling? Where can we get your clothes?
We are in the process of creating a very beautiful e-commerce site, to be launched in the next 6 weeks. I am really excited about this project, to sell directly to my customers and get to know them a bit better.
Many celebrities such as Ellie Goulding or Morwenna Lytton Cobbald, among others, have trusted you by choosing your clothes. Is there anyone you’d like to dress?
I think my two biggest girl crushes of the moment are Emma Stone and Ursina Gysi. They know how to bring personality into their clothes, to be natural. I'd love to dress them both.
Can you tell us any privileged information about your new projects?
Hmmm…. well let's just say Summer 15 takes place in a certain Italian landscape famous for sun, beauty and free-thinking.