[Interview] Designer Eilish Shaddock takes our distorted online identities and showcases them on the runway

Social media has changed who we are, and who we say we are. 

Eilish Shaddock wants to shine a light on addiction to social media and its effect on our identity. Taking images from her Instagram feed, she compounds distorted ideas about who we are and projects them onto synthetic fabrics “to bring forward false and highly fabricated identity construction,” she says.

The result is DIGIDENTITY. It’s an oil-slick of frenetic distortion and visual glitches. It begins with ‘basic bitch’ outfits and culminates in a straight-jacket piece that embodies the strangling hold of Instagram. It’s an idea that resonates strongly with today’s youth as the lines between reality and Instagram fade.

I spoke to her about her inspiration, her intention, her method, and what’s next as a finalist in the upcoming VAMFF National Graduate Showcase (Thursday 7 March 2019).

Let start with how you got the idea to incorporate Instagram into your art. Do you choose specific images and comments that have any particular meaning?

I’ve always been really fascinated with digital culture and social media platforms ability to affect users physically and mentally. While addiction has long been a plight of the human condition, rapid technological developments of online platforms like Instagram have resulted in new, widespread forms of addiction which are not only interesting but really critical to investigate further for the future of our generation.

The idea of incorporating Instagram images, comments and statuses into the physical collection was a really important one. The idea originally stemmed from my thesis that I wrote, focussing on the link between the rise of psychological and behavioural issues amongst young people and the highly addictive, influential nature of social media applications with Instagram being the main focus.

I interviewed a bunch of my peers who had/have a strong social media presence and incorporated their interview answers surrounding their relationship with Instagram into logo driven digital prints. The images were random, however, I chose uploads that had been staged, planned and significantly edited and from there, warped and distorted the image further on Photoshop to bring forward the idea of false and highly fabricated identity construction.

These digital prints were the first two outfits that I designed and constructed and from there, the collection really started to develop and take on an aesthetic of its own.

What does DIGIDENTITY mean to you? How would you describe it?

DIGIDENTITY stands for digital identity. Living in a techno-driven society, it’s how we ‘distinguish’ ourselves from others and how we showcase ourselves to the world.

Went to a festival? You’ll document it on Instagram. Applying for a job? You’ll include your Instagram handle. Got a new haircut? You’ll post it on Instagram. Waiting for your bus? You’ll scroll through Instagram. We have become slaves to the objects around us and in turn, have introduced new on and offline personas. It’s really crazy that we can have almost multiple personalities depending on our accounts, which can be a really strategic way of branding yourself or quite detrimental to your physical and mental health.

What does the chaos of your work represent?

The chaotic-ness behind the collection, through silhouette play and fabric manipulation, is really meant to hold up a mirror to our current times and reflect back our everyday online reality and the overwhelming nature of social media. We don’t know what is real and what is fake online anymore and it’s just getting more and more overwhelming and generally really chaotic.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I’m really inspired by popular culture and I am genuinely, constantly fascinated by it and the times we’re living in (particularly within my generation). I’m really inspired conceptually by this social media epidemic we are experiencing and everything it entails. I’m also really inspired by pop and satirical art that aims to reflect and comment on current times- a concept that I try to reflect throughout my design work. Barbara Kruger is an artist whose work I often look back to for concept inspiration along with NYC based artist John Yuyi. For aesthetic inspiration, I look to LA-based artist Lindsey Price and of course, real-world current examples of images uploaded to social media.

What got you into fashion?

Fashion as a whole wasn’t something that I knew I wanted to do growing up. My design journey is a bit of a funny one really. I remember attending the 2013 Graduate Showcase at QUT with a friend not knowing or understanding fashion at all. I remember sitting there as the models walked out one by one and being so intrigued as to how the clothes were put together and what the weird but wonderful world of fashion even was. Ever since that show my aim was to study Fashion Design at QUT and (eventually) I did. After the QUT show I was on a high and signed up straight away for Home Ec and Sewing subjects at school.

I. failed. every. single. unit.

I was absolutely mortified, and despite being really discouraged by teachers and those around me, I chose to carry on with the passion that I knew I had, and skillset I knew I could learn. Since then, I have completed my Advanced Diploma in Fashion Design at Tafe and was then accepted as one of 15 students into QUT’s 2015 Bachelor/Honours Degree in Fashion (the very degree where it all started). From then it’s been go, go, go!

Talk me through the fabric and materials you’ve used for your work.

About the collection: The collection itself (which is important to understand first) explores the three main themes of addiction, identity and appearances through hypnotic colour schemes, bold digital prints, tactile textile manipulations and contrasting silhouettes. The aim behind this body of work was to portray highly juxtaposed outfits that symbolised true and false-self-identity portrayals and ideas surrounding incongruency on-and-offline for users. The collection is bold in colour, rich in graphical text taken from participant interview answers and textual through fabric manipulations that physically aid to express and communicate the aims behind my collection. The collection, through its fabrication, is highly contradictive, hypocritical and ironic and presents my personal position of social media which is that the platform itself is a double-edged sword, where the future for its users is ultimately unknown.

About overall fabrics: When it came to choosing fabrics for the collection, it was a no brainer for me that each outfit had be as synthetic as possible. With the collection exploring themes surrounding incongruent on-and-offline personas and identities, I wanted to take that as literal as I could which is why no natural fabrics were used. I used matte stretch lycras, black mirror acrylic, synthetic fur, plastic logo signage, polyester organza, PVC faux leather, plastic zippers and synthetic wool embroidery as a statement and social commentary on the highly fabricated and staged image that we as users present online. The collection as a whole is meant to take audiences on a visual journey where you start out almost light-hearted with the Instagram prints and slowly make your way to the ‘basic bitch’ outfits and onto the broken iPhone outfit which screams ‘slow down’ to its audience and we end up at the straight jacket look which signifies this chaotic addiction that has evolved over time.

Hey, congratulations on winning the Fashion Front Rowers travel bursary! Where do you plan to go with it?

I would love to complete an internship with MSGM in Milan, Raf Simons in Belgium, Kenzo in Paris or Walter Van Beirendonck in Belgium and would use the generous funds from my travel bursary to hopefully do so. Depending on how this year pans out though, I may use the funds to relocate interstate to Melbourne or Sydney and get myself ‘set-up’, however, it really depends on how a few things work out this year.

So what’s next for you? Melbourne or Sydney?

For me, Sydney has always been the goal as that’s where I have completed all of my internships however, Melbourne has such a rich fashion culture and is home to some of my favourite Australian brands, so I’m definitely not ruling Melbourne out. Again, it will depend on how this year and certain opportunities pan out. However, being a huge lover and supporter of the Australian Fashion Industry, either at this time in my life would be a dream.

Follow Elish Haddock’s Instagram: @branded_by_eily

See Eilish Haddock’s work on Thursday 7 March 2019 at the VAMFF National Graduate Showcase. Tickets are available here.

Photographer: Georgia Wallace
Model (M): Ben Grinsell Model (F): Anna Reynolds
Videographer: Jack Birtles
Hair/Makeup: Lauren Richardson

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