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When two people are linked by chemistry and the same idea of aesthetic, this is what happens. Aphid is an emergent brand born from the same love for women and their sensibility that Bernadette Bull and Carl Starling share. Power, confidence and strength are just some of the qualities that independent women who wear their clothes. After working together for another label for over ten years, it’s time now to claim what is theirs. Discover the unicity that distinguishes them.
We would like to know more about who is behind Aphid. Who are Bernadette Bull and Carl Starling individually? How and when did your interest in fashion begin?
We both share quite similar backgrounds, though from completely different ends of the United Kingdom – both growing up in tiny villages with little access to the world of fashion. B was born in Newburgh, a tiny village on the banks of the river Tay in east Scotland. A town that was dominated by a Courtaulds factory, producing linen and floor-coverings where most people of the town were employed. Carl comes from a small village in the Cambridgeshire fenland countryside, and during his early years, he would learn to draw with his mother, who remains a keen amateur painter.
Through this, he developed a love for art and sculpture, which naturally progressed into fashion over time. We’ve both been surrounded by creative families who have a ‘make do and mend’ mentality, allowing us to explore our creative potential from an early age. Saying that, we both left our hometowns for university at the first chance we could to pursue our respective careers in the fashion industry. We do believe that the similarities in our upbringing, both familial and circumstantial, remain key to our ongoing partnership and shared darker-than-usual aesthetic.
You both graduated from fashion design but in different universities and cities. Nevertheless, you collaborated together for almost ten years for a label. Was this job the way you two met, or did you know each other from before? What made you decide to finally join forces and launch your own label?
We worked separately as womenswear designers for various other companies after graduating and in 2009, B set up the private label business with her business partner, whom she’d previously worked for, and Carl was brought on as head of design to build the handwriting and aesthetic of the business. We clicked straight away and discovered a unique professional connection, which we built over the years and culminated in the formation of Aphid.
It was a dream for the both of us to launch our own label and share our aesthetic sensibilities with the world. Inspired by a female archetype we identified with, whom we previously couldn’t reach within the private label business, we saw a niche in the industry – expanding upon our dark aesthetic and love of form and structure, we launched Aphid.

What are, as a duo of designers, the main challenges you had to face? Did someone help you take the first steps?
The fashion industry is a very challenging one. However, the main difficulties for us were developing and setting up our own joint venture factory, initially for the private label business and now for Aphid. Building a strong, loyal team and entering the market during a particularly difficult climate have also been some of the hardest challenges.
Can you describe us what are the roles of each of you and how do you put the ideas together? What are the compromises you have to make? What are the steps you follow? What’s the creative process, from inspiration to realisation?
Simply put: B is the business brains focusing on financial strategy and positioning, whilst Carl kicks off the creative for the season with his team. We come together on all aspects of the brand and finalise the creative vision for the season together, sharing the same outlook and foresight for how we want Aphid to evolve. We work with an incredible team of people who challenge and support our ideas on a daily basis, and collectively we push the brand forward.
What are the mutual elements and criteria you share, and in what points/topics do you disagree?
We combine an extremely strong and complementary visual aesthetic, with some role reversal, as B has a more masculine eye and Carl brings a more feminine sensibility to our work, which represents really interesting perspectives, tensions and ideas seen through the opposite gender lens. Both sharing a very graphic, minimal eye in the way we interpret our clothes. We rarely disagree, but when we do, it’s usually because we are pushing each other to explore ideas and concepts further and assess critically what we can present to the world through Aphid. Colour is always a point of contention for us, as it’s not something we naturally lean towards. However, commercially this is something we need to include in our collections.

What are your biggest fears as a new fashion label?
The list is endless, but for us it’s important to remain quietly confident in what we do, staying true to who we are and keeping our aesthetic strong, yet fresh. Not adhering or conforming to what others are doing and carving out a clear and visually distinctive space for ourselves, on our terms, is extremely important to us.
You defined Aphid as a “conceptual, contemporary womenswear brand driven by a dark aesthetic with a hard-edged sensuality, defined by construction”. Also, you pay a lot of attention to details and use unexpected textured fabrics. What do you think is the key of your unicity? What makes you stand out?
The unicity comes from the lens in which we distil all these different components. That’s Aphid and the Aphid woman – she can play in the many different spaces or roles yet remain distinctive and true to whom she is in her aesthetic. These different elements allow us to evolve and tell layered stories through our collections. We love to work with contrasting factors – we find within this there’s a sweet spot that works for us.
I’ve read that the word ‘Aphid’ comes from the insects that rooted in the natural world. These insects are strictly female colonies that are capable to reproduce without the need of males. How did you arrive to choose this name? Do you want to highlight women’s straightness, power and confidence? What can you tell us about this concept?
This is the literal definition of an ‘Aphid’, which we found apt for our way of thinking and visual aesthetic. We want to salute the power of women through clothing, which is by no means a new concept but one we feel strongly for. We believe in the strength, beauty and power of women as much as we do equality for all, regardless of gender, race, faith or sexuality.

Feminism is a concept that’s been used (and misused) for everyone lately. How do you understand feminism? Do you consider Aphid a feminist company? If so, how can we see that through the collections and general image/identity of the brand?
We believe in everyone being themselves and owning that. We believe in being able to do what makes you happy – as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody in the process. We believe in total equality. A lot of how Aphid manifests can be interpreted as feminist. However, we wouldn’t describe our brand as any one thing.
We design for women with their own opinions, whether they self-identify as feminist or not; whether they are politically driven or not – they are independent women, free thinking and empowered. We are inclusive of everyone and propose a message of strength and power with our clothing and hope that women who wear our clothes feel visible and imbued with confidence.
Who are the women wearing your pieces? Who is your ideal client?
Our audience is varied, which we love. Seeing how different women make Aphid personal and work with their aesthetic excites us; seeing Aphid interpreted in the world and on the street – all women are essentially our ideal clients, there are no barriers.
Talking about the importance of the digital world, technology and its unstoppable development are changing the ways we produce, consume and design fashion (and everything else). How are you approaching, as a young label, these changes? Where would you like Aphid to stand in this ever-changing environment?
Interaction with consumers is greater than ever before. We think more than ever there’s this real dichotomy of digital and craftsmanship but both are necessary and both have real strengths. For our product, craftsmanship is essential but we really value being able to present our collections in a very engaging, interactive way such as our website. We are really trying to connect our design processes and our inspirations with the way that the collection is shopped and viewed online.
It’s never been just about the physical clothing, it’s about the references and the people and things that excite us. We want our digital presence to connect the dots between us working in the studio and the consumer out in the world. It’s more than a monetary transaction, we want our customers to feel like part of the brand, part of our tribe. As a brand that wants to reach women of all backgrounds, being so visual digitally has really invited inclusivity in a way that was, and remains, surprising to us.

Let’s talk about your Spring/Summer 2018 collection. I’ve been surprised by the juxtaposition of materials: from a ‘futuristic’ metallic plastic-like fabric to a semi-sheer black one, to very classic pinstripe clothing. How do all these elements converge in the new collection? What’s the inspiration behind it?
Spring/Summer 2018 sees a continuation of our established graphic handwriting and ongoing exploration of structure, construction and cut. In previous seasons, we had used heavy, bonded technical fabrications and for our second Spring/Summer season, we deliberately kept fabrics unexpectedly light. Deconstructed, frayed textures and hemlines gave surface interest whilst a focus on gathering and asymmetry subverted the traditional notion of structure.
Our references extend from Harley Weir’s Home photographic series of the sculptures by Robert Morris and the processes exhibited in Brancusi’s studio. For Spring/Summer 2018 we examined the concept of deconstruction and reformation – at a pivotal time for the brand growth and aesthetic –, finding newness in what has come before; taking apart, reshaping. 
Also, the colours are surprising: classic black, white and navy blue are combined with bold red and even metallic blue. We can see that the juxtaposition of very different elements is a core part of the collection.
Black will always be an important colour to us: it’s both classic and modern, subtle to wear, yet assertive. As mentioned earlier, colour doesn’t come easy to us, so we make a conscious effort to be bold with our palette, ensuring the choice of colour for a garment also remains powerful. We won’t ever be a brand that takes colour lightly. For us, these vivid infusions of saturated brights punctuate the collection and help to bring a contemporary edge to our otherwise dark palette.
What are the aims for the future of Aphid? In what ways do you want to contribute to the current and future state of the fashion industry?
Lot’s of unexpected surprises, hopefully, but one of the main things we want to do going forward is growing into a more trans-seasonal brand, pushing against the traditional norms and buying schedules within the industry. We want to be able to evolve our brand to be more in line with how our customer lives – today, tomorrow and beyond.

Vincenza Nobile
Lusha Alic

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