Design Centre Stories

Design Date – Zoe Bradley


Paper artist Zoe Bradley has worked for international names including Christian Louboutin and Alexander McQueen, and created retail displays for the Smythson, Louis Vuitton and Mont Blanc; her breathtaking designs are commissioned by leading magazines and have been exhibited internationally. For London Design Week 2016 she has created a floral couture-inspired gown made entirely from paper. With a skirt shape that echoes the Design Centre’s famous domes, this spectacular two metre artwork (Ground Floor, South Dome) features 400 exquisite flowers: there are wild roses made up of 2,500 petals, chrysanthemums with 1,188 petals, cherry and apple blossom, as well as 3,500 leaves made with 17,500 folds.

How did you become a paper sculptor? Did it require any training? I’ve always been fascinated with form and texture. I trained as a fashion designer and went to work as an apprentice at Alexander McQueen in 1997, which is where I became aware of using other materials other than fabric to create dramatic silhouettes. This set my interest on working in new challenging ways with paper instead of fabric. Whether it’s a newspaper, magazine, notebooks, letters or reading books, I love to be challenged by materials and scale!

Did you have a big break? It would have to be the showpieces I created for the AW 05/06 collection for Michiko Koshino. I produced three pieces in paper – a pleated swimsuit, an oversized pleated mohican head-dress and a hand stitched ruffle dress on a wicker frame. It was the first time I sculpted paper into a wearable garment, and the show got a standing ovation.

Describe your installation for the Design Centre. An explosion of over 400 flowers in all shades of blue. I was influenced by the angular interior sets that feature in the London Design Week campaign, and drew upon a range of flowers and leaves that would echo this, playing with symmetry and folding. I was also influenced by the work of Wedgwood and William Morris prints, for the bold flower designs for the textile of the dress.

What sort of temperament do you need for what you do? A lot of patience! Paper is a wonderful medium to work with, but its also fragile. Symmetry and mathematics play a large part in the sculptures.

Do you work on your own? I have a very good team who work alongside me to help me realise the finished spectacle. My work is very intricate and there is a lot of attention to detail. I am a perfectionist, so detail is everything! The sculptures are hand sculpted using various tools for curling and scoring the paper. However, with larger installations that require thousands of petals, we have to use technology: laser cutting and die cutting.

What are the advantages – and frustrations – of working with paper? The advantages are that paper is endless and can be sourced in abundance and that it can be so easily found. The disadvantage is that the sculptures can dent and tear easily. It’s ultimately a very delicate and fragile medium to work with. In most of my work I use a paper with a metallic quality. It keeps its form in the pleating and moulding I do, and it has a real lustre, like silk, and a luminous quality.

What do you enjoy most about your work? Creating something that should be so temporary into intricate, long-lasting pieces: if they are kept in the right conditions or behind glass, they are timeless. I also love the fact many of my pieces surprise people, when they realise its made out of paper. Creating the unexpected is a great motivator.

Where do you feel at your most creative? I need to have a clear head, so the stillness in early morning or last thing at night is when my mind is at its most creative. I’m surrounded by rural landscape both at home and in my studio, so they can be great thinking places.

Do you have a passion for interiors as well? I do have a real passion for architecture and interiors, and some of our latest collaborations are leading more into this design area. Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry are two of my favourite architects: they have created some of the most inspiring silhouettes in architecture. I also love the organic forms and craftsmanship that go into the lighting at Porta Romana. I’m also a fan of Kit Kemp and how she mixes print and colour in a very modern way.

Portrait: Misa Watanabe

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