In the realm of fashion, creativity knows no bounds, and emerging designer Reuben George exemplifies this ethos through his distinctive blend of cultural heritage and historical references.
Meet Reuben George - a rising talent from the University of Westminster who stands as a distinctive voice, seamlessly blending diverse inspirations into captivating fashion creations that redefine cultural narratives. From his upbringing steeped in Indian and English traditions to his fascination with past eras, Reuben's design aesthetic reflects a rich tapestry of influences.
In this chat, he sheds light on the importance of experimenting across artistic disciplines, the vibrant energy of London's queer rave scene and the challenges and rewards of being an emerging creative in the heart of London. Join us as we unravel the narratives behind Reuben's avant-garde creations and delve into the mind of a designer who defies conventions and celebrates the multifaceted nature of identity through fashion.
Your design aesthetic is known for its unique blend of mixed Indian and English heritage. How does your cultural background influence and inspire your design process, and what aspects of both cultures do you find most fascinating to incorporate into your creations?
In all my art and design works I pull on my Indian and English heritage for inspiration. Since my first visit to India as a young boy, I have been in awe of not just the arts in India but everything over there; the culture, food and way of life. To me, merging the English and Indian references and inspirations is a way of exploring my own identity and so each work feels very personal.
For instance: my green wool overcoat. This piece was inspired by the coats my mum wore when she first moved to England. The coat has design details taken from traditional trench coats which feels very English and then the dupatta exaggerated in length and vibrant colours of the garment is how I’ve incorporated an Indian style.
The rich history and culture in England and India as well as the wild array of subcultures in Britain is what I like to look to for inspiration. I often hear people saying England has no culture but the culture is in everything we do and the way we live. When looking to India for inspiration I always find myself drawn to the vivid and unapologetic use of colour print and textile. A ‘more is more’ point of view is what I like to take from that.
You've mentioned your interest in historical fashion. How do you weave elements from the past into your designs? What is it about looking to the past that inspires you and why is it important to take references from history?
More and more I find myself looking back through history for inspiration and fashion references. It’s like having a never-ending pool of inspiration; there’s so much to cherry pick. Silhouette inspirations like my 17th century pannier mini skirt or my 18th century bustle mini skirt are adaptations of styles from a time gone by. Another example is the Tudor style jerkin made up of a vibrant cobalt blue Indian jacquard. Whenever I take historical references, I bring them back to my world by bringing in these beautiful textiles, prints and colours.
Mainly, I like looking back through history for fashion references because I find people used to really dress up back then in a way that we don’t really do today. So, to re-imagine that in today’s world and, more specifically, my own style is so exciting.
In a lot of your designs, you play with silhouettes using innovative textures and textiles. What does the human body represent to you and why is it important to you to play around with the human silhouette?
Being religious my view of the human body is as the vessel that carries us while we’re on God’s earth. I remember my mum telling me ‘We’re not of this world we’re on this world’ which comes from Jesus’ prayer in John 17. That always stuck with me and explained the idea of our bodies being a vessel.
Having this temporary view of my body allows a level of detachment from it, giving me freedom to experiment with how I present myself outwardly, which I take to my design work.I think silhouette is such a great way to control how we are perceived in the world - even the way we move is affected by silhouette.
Thinking ‘what shape do I want to be today?’ while designing leads to more deliberate and relevant silhouettes. But most importantly while designing, I try to make sure that what I design is beautiful to look at and flattering on the body.
Your experience with the London queer rave scene is a distinct aspect of your identity. How does this vibrant and diverse community influence the stories your designs tell?
Aside from partying, the queer rave scene in London has so much to offer. That scene is the only space I have been in where people still dress up in fantastical ways. The talent in those spaces too is plentiful, from DJ’s to photographers and even the event hosts. It’s hard not to feel inspired by that.
I find myself most inspired in that scene by the different characters I observe while I’m out. When designing I do so with these characters in mind. Each look of mine is a character I might bump into in the early hours in the back-end of nowhere in some abandoned building at a rave.
I love the way you combine your fashion design photography with digital art - why do you think it is important to experiment and combine different artistic disciplines?
Coming from a fine art background it feels natural to integrate this with my fashion work. My design process starts with illustrating, collaging, and painting and so to resolve each look with a digital illustration/collage feels right and helps me solidify the character I have in mind for the look. Also, I find presenting my looks in an illustrative collage helps me to create that story and world that each of my looks belongs to.
How is the University of Westminster shaping your approach to fashion design? Are you finding that your course is preparing you for the harsh realities of setting up your own business?
A harsh reality that it is - and that’s just the course. From my own experience the Fashion design course at Westminster is good for teaching the technical stuff that you must know to make clothes, as well as other industry standard techniques. My own technical skill level from starting the course to now has already progressed so much and to an extent it pushes you to think in a more creative way - but this could always be pushed further.
However, in terms of preparing me for setting up my own business post graduation, the course hasn’t helped all that much yet. I’d say I’ve learnt more about that side of the industry while interning than I have at university so far. That’s not to take away from the many positives that the uni has to offer, and I wouldn’t want to be on any other fashion design course for my BA.
Being an up and coming creative can be so challenging, both due to external factors but also internal struggles such as imposter syndrome. What obstacles do you face, and how are you overcoming them? Additionally, could you share a particularly rewarding moment or achievement in your journey so far?
The biggest challenge is time! Trying to balance university, working, interning, and creating my own work quickly becomes exhausting - and that’s without general life getting in the way.Another major struggle is money. Being a student in London during the cost-of-living crisis has a whole host of challenges but it also forces you to be resourceful. Many of my fabrics I use are found or given from friends and family. However, as much as I complain I always remind myself to be grateful for what I do already because I have plenty in comparison to others.
The most rewarding moments for me in my practice are seeing my creations evolve and take on a life and story of their own from how they were when I started. And of course, as a smaller designer when I get stylists loaning garments. Every time that happens it’s like a little win!
Where do you see your brand heading in the future? Are there specific goals or milestones you aim to achieve?
I try to be loose with goals and milestones as anything can happen and I’m always open to changes. Although, I am currently enjoying the process of developing a deeper identity for Reuben George through experimenting and producing more and more work. Short term goals for while I’m still at university would be to carry on experimenting and growing to find my own audience. Hopefully by the end of university I’ll be able to show at LFW with the university.
For aspiring fashion designers, what advice do you have based on your own experiences? Are there lessons you've learned that you wish someone had shared with you when you were starting?
If you have ideas and stuff you want to do or make just get started and do so yourself with whatever resources you have. Also don’t be afraid to reach out to people - the worst that could happen is a ‘No.' Most importantly, use the community you have around you and build your own network. London is full of talent, especially at an arts uni - there’s a feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ so work with each other.
Fashion is a powerful form of self-expression. How do you hope people feel or what messages do you aim to convey through your designs?
My designs are an exploration of my own identity and I hope people can see who I am through the garments. Some people may even see themselves in my work and it’s those people who are my audience and who I design for. So, I’d say I want to make people feel seen, alongside making beautifully decorative garments that make the wearer feel a certain type of way when worn. As for a ‘message’ in my work; it is always changing. When used intelligently fashion is such a powerful tool to convey a message and I have lots I’d like to say with this medium.