Thursday, 24 June 2010

Ravensbourne BA Graduate Showcase: Bobby Charles Abley

Earlier this month I took my seat to watch what the current crop of talented BA students showcased at Graduate Fashion Week. I was fortunate enough to see a large number of shows but one in particularly sticks in my memory, Ravensbourne. Ravensbourne’s was a graduate collection of beautifully tailored menswear. A trio of graduates forced me to sit up and take notice with stunning collections from Thomas Crisp, Jade Rozenbroek and Bobby Charles Abley.

As I wiped the early morning sleep from my eyes, Abley kicked start the show and instantly brought a smile to my face with his well executed care free, carnival like tailoring. Abley looked to comic book heroes to create a fun collection of empowered, primary coloured pieces which would brighten up any grey day. Here we catch up with the young designer to peer in to his sketchbook, learn more about his time at Ravensbourne and discover that we weren't the only ones impressed with his collection as a certain Dame took a keen interest...

Abley's collective of comic book heroes. Image courtesy of

SS: Congratulations on more than playing your part in a dazzling Ravensbourne show. How did it feel seeing your finished designs on the catwalk?
Bobby Charles Abley: Thank you very much for the compliments. People tend to say there is a line with menswear that you can't cross and that it is more restricting than womenswear. I a certain extent but I also think menswear needs a push. It’s the modern world, we are a much more open minded generation that is always searching for something new and exciting, so starting my final collection was a chance to push menswear, play a little... and it ended up on the catwalk!! It's amazing to have your work exposed at something as big as GFW, it makes you feel like you made all the right choices.

SS: What attracted you to the Ravensbourne BA course in particular? What was the best thing about your course? And the worst?
Bobby Charles Abley: I knew it had a good menswear reputation and I knew that is what I wanted to specialize in. Also I had one of my friends from my hometown studying fashion there, so I heard good things about the place. One of the best things for me was having guest tutors like Peter Jensen, Todd Lynn and my favorite David Frizzell, I learned so much from him. He really opened me up creatively and helped me how to express myself in a mature way, he’s an amazing teacher. Sorry, I know that’s not really about the course itself, but when I was there I just got on with it, I did my job the best I could.

One of Abley's sketches, TV Rain

SS: Can you talk us through the inspiration for your collection?
Bobby Charles Abley: I could go on and on about this... I’ll try not to give you a headache. The inspiration came from many angles, but I started with myself!!! I have stories to tell about my life so I chose to do that with this collection. I wanted to express the evolution of a personality, a person, their appearance, their change in confidence, most people go through these changes, everybody evolves, people go from weak to strong etc... so I based it around that. I went through phases of feeling like I don’t fit, being bullied, kids at school are threatened by someone who is different, so they choose to attack. Much like the lives of the superhero characters like Peter Parker and Clark Kent. So I started to pull together a lot of comic book references and created this theme of “make me a Superhero”... which is a child growing up with the comfort of these superhero characters and how it helped him evolve.

I wanted to include a lot of child like references because I think artists should be both adult and child. As a child you see magic in things that you don’t any longer see as an adult, adults become cynical or we don’t have time for things. I think its important not to loose touch with who and what you were otherwise you then you become a bit dead in a way because you pretend to yourself, consciously or unconsciously that you weren’t a child, that you didn’t have the anxieties that every child goes through. Sitting down and making something for myself when I was little was like “I can change the world for the better, for me” I was just living… I was working things out in the most extraordinary ways artistically. I used a lot of old pop references too, for example Mickey Mouse and teddy bears and primary colours because it is hard for people not to like it. What I wanted to do with this collection, and in all my future work is to always use these elements because I think or I like to think something will trigger some sort of nostalgia and take people back to when they were a free child with the world at their feet.


SS: What was your starting point and how did the the collection evolve in to what we saw at GFW?
Bobby Charles Abley: Lots of strong imagery, I carry a notepad around with me jotting down things I overhear people say, my own thoughts, song lyrics. Last summer I was working at an exhibition at the Truman Brewery, there was little to attend to so I would sketch and get my ideas on to paper, cut out teddy bear silhouettes from different papers and create different prints, there was on of those retro photo booth’s there as well so I took advantage of that, it was a good way to express my mood and ideas everyday, and the result were these great black and white photo strips. I would bring in props related to my concept and take it into the booth. It was good fun. I actually went back to a lot of my original ideas when it came to finalizing the line up and fabric selection. I did do a lot of in depth research but my earlier ideas worked better. The bear print and the photo booth pictures from a year ago were brought back in and turned into digital prints for some of my shirts. I went back to a lot of my original fabric choices that I used from pre-collection, they were much more individual and new for menswear. I started going down a dark route, lots of black, and things had more of a grungy vibe, but then I took a step back from it all and thought “this is already out there, its currently being done by everybody. So I brought in a lot more Pop from earlier research and sketches...

Spider hung up

Spider Arms

SS: How would you describe the collection in your own words?
Bobby Charles Abley: It is chapter one of many. Strong, fresh, new, inspirational, suggestive.

SS: It looks as though you had a lot of fun making this collection, what was your highlight and what were you most proud to see walk down the catwalk?
Bobby Charles Abley: I had so much fun doing this collection, the imagery and everything I was working from was amazing! I never got tired of it, and working with primary colours just made me smile. And as I mentioned earlier I used a lot pop references that triggered a lot of nostalgia, I shut my eyes and I could see myself as a child again. It was really fun to take the piss a bit as well, by using a repeat print of my face yawning on some of the shirts. I would say I am most proud of the short leather jacket. I was worried about sewing a garment out of very expensive upholstery leather, but it worked in the end and it has a lot of impact coming down a catwalk. I'm also really proud of the hanger appeal I gave to each individual garment, they are all immaculately bias bound in red blue and yellow.

Two of my favourite looks. Show images courtesy of

SS: What type of man can you see wearing it?
Bobby Charles Abley: I aim for the underground scene of the major cities, they are more creative when it comes to dressing themselves.In places like London and New York, there’s a really good vibe like nowhere else. I know my designs won't appeal to the masses. I don’t want to go mainstream, it doesn’t suit me, even though when I design I do think about function. I know clothes have to be wearable, when you separate the looks for this collection and remove the styling you’ll see that they are all very wearable, but make a big statement. Which is exactly what the less commercial market go for. People like Jeremy Scott and Jean Charles De Castelbajac aim for the same market and I'm a huge fan of both, which helps me.

Show images courtesy of

SS: Aside from your own, which graduate collections did you love?
Bobby Charles Abley: Amy Addisons collection. I'm not just being bias because she’s one of my best friends. I genuinely loved it, the print, the colour. Very pop and at the same time lovely womenswear.

SS: What advice would you give a prospective menswear fashion student?
Bobby Charles Abley: Be prepared to work really hard, you have to live, love and breath what you are doing. Its important to have a good work ethic, laziness will get you nowhere. Make sure you explore, learn to understand yourself, find your own style and develop it. Always stay true to what you believe in and stand for as a designer. A lot of people are quite naive about fashion design. Some people treat it like it’s a joke, but there is a lot of creative thinking and hard work that goes into it. Its not a shopping trip. You need to get your creative head on and bring something new and fresh to the table, or no one will be interested.

Show images courtesy of

SS: Finally, what's next? What would you like to achieve in latter half of 2010 and beyond?
Bobby Charles Abley: After the show at GFW Vivienne Westwood came backstage and asked to meet me, she spoke to me about using my collection and mixing it in with her menswear with some design changes so the collection flows as one. So I think I'm going to try that out, its not everyday you get the queen of fashion telling you they love your work. That was better than winning for me, I think it will be interesting to see what direction my collection will go in. I'm also going to start work on another small collection under my own name. I'm bursting with ideas and I want express another side of myself. This will be accompanied by a short film/inspirational video based around the trend, so I'm looking forward to collaborating with my boyfriend on that. Can I just say a huge thank you to him as well for helping all the way on this collection. I’d like to go back out to L.A to see my friends at Jeremy Scott and maybe help him out while I'm there. Then its CSM for Masters….. hahah…..I'm not stopping!!

Spider Love.


After a number of somewhat disappointing menswear collections at GFW, I was blown away by the Ravensbourne show and Bobby Charles Abley's offering in particular. I for one am looking forward to seeing Abley's subsequent design chapters.


Annie said...

wowzas... think one of the most exciting yet semi practicle collections i've seen in a while and amazing sketches!

EML said...

That collection was so much fun. and refreshing.
the ravensbourne show was certainly one of the highlights at gfw. and not only because vivienne westwood showed up...

KC said...

this is a cool collection. i like it when designers clearly show in their creations their inspirations.. no explanations needed. the socks are cute too.

JonathanDeniol said...

Wow! I love it! Are those harnesses? How fun would it be to walk around in one of those?! Are they for sale?


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