‘From what material are those pieces made?’ I wondered when seeing Rhys Ellis’ SS17 collection in the Gala Awards Show at Graduate Fashion Week. ‘It is made out of 40.000 coffee capsules’ Ellis told me later. I had a chat with the young Birmingham City University graduate (BA Fashion & Design) on the set of Volt Café’s latest beauty story ‘Aqua Viva’, in which we used pieces from Ellis’ collection.

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Volt Café: Could you tell me something about the inspiration for you collection?

Rhys Ellis: I was inspired by predictions from scientists about theories that predicted alterations of the human body in the future. Looking back at history I discovered that the bodies of the people that were detained in concentration camps transformed. This proves that it is possible for the human body to completely dissolve and change its shape and structure, when being in a new environment.

In my graduation collection I wanted use the situation we are in now with the current environment conflict to create my own creature. The body of this creature is breaking away. That is why in my collection the dresses follow the female form and then break away, which creates a lot of movement.


VC: How would you describe your collection in three definitive words?

RE: Restricted, emotional, uncontrollable.


VC: Could you tell me something about your design process?

RE: I started my process by creating a silhouette. I did not make a detailed sketch, because I wanted my designs to be determined by movement. After that I created a fabric, which I started draping around a human body. Then I took that drape and used it to create a pattern. That is how my collection arose.

I have chosen to create a fabric with coffee capsules, because they will gradually effect the environment. By 2020 people will buy more coffee capsules than tea bags, so if you put that into account eventually the world is going to be completely damaged by coffee capsules. I wanted to take something that was ruining the environment, transform it and give it a whole new life. In my collection the capsules are worn on the body and not destroying the environment.


VC: Could you tell me something about the favourite piece from your collection?

RE: My favourite piece translates my concept of the contrast between restriction and movement best. The sleeves of the dress capture the arms and restrict them from moving. Then at the bottom, the dress flows and breaks away from the body: it has its own uncontrollable life.


VC: How did you experience Graduate Fashion Week?

RE: GFW went well, but was quite stressful. At first I did not get picked for the Gala Awards show, so I sent my garments and designs back to Birmingham. At 1 AM on the day of the Gala Awards show I got a phone call saying there had been a miscommunication and I did get picked for the show. Apparently Hilary Alexander was the one that asked where my work was and it was nowhere to be seen, so she demanded it back. At 5 AM I had to go back to Birmingham to collect my collection and bring it back to London. Everyone at GFW had to wait for me to do fittings and they had to delay the show. In short the Gala Awards show was a drama, but I am so happy I was chosen.


VC: What advice would you give to your younger self at the start of your degree?

RE: I stumbled into fashion. Until my second year I did not have much interest in fashion. I was too busy partying and trying to live the high life. In my second year the opportunity came along to go to Milan with the Erasmus programme. I took the opportunity and in Milan the lights switched on. From Milan I went to Amsterdam and Paris to work for Iris van Herpen for 12 months. This is where I really developed.

I always knew I had something in me. I just needed something to turn the lights on. So looking back I would advise myself: do not settle for anything that you are being told, but search for your own interest. When I stumbled into fashion I was studying art & design. There I made dresses out of napkins, cardboard boxes, broken mirrors etc. Therefore my graduation collection really makes sense now.


VC: Which designers inspire you?

I enjoy looking at John Galliano at Marin Margiela. It is very experimental and a lot of interesting things are happening in his pieces. Craig Green also inspires me. Menswear has become more and more experimental, especially in London.


VC: Where do you see yourself in the future?

RE: At the moment I am looking for another platform to create a collection with. Eventually I would like to be a successful designer and work under my own name.


VC: Is there anything you would like to say to the current fashion world?

RE: Start designing and stop copying! In my graduation collection I wanted to bring sound into the pieces. It is something you do not hear any more, but the sound of a fabric means a lot: it creates an emotion. You need to be there to experience the sound and it will make you one with the outfit.


Words by Emilie van Kinschot


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Emilie van Kinschot, Gala Award Show, Graduate Fashion Week, Rhys Ellis,