Tessa Edwards

Tessa Edwards

Words by Jenny Pashkova
Photography by Olivia Rose


Tessa Edwards is made up of three-quarters creative designer and one-quarter thinker and avant-garde philosopher. Every part of her work is considered, thought out and scrutinised, be it a T-shirt, stitching or documentary. How important is the concept of each collection to Tessa? “More important than even selling it,” she explains, “If I felt otherwise, I might have made some money!”

So much so that she has even developed her own philosophy behind each collection called ‘Trinity’, which consists of three elements that make up the collection as a whole. “I call them Genesis, Nexus and Astral,” Tessa says. “Genesis refers to essentially base items that are wearable and necessary for the concept pieces, Nexus, to work. Each collection has a slightly different balance and focus. SS ’15 was mainly focused on Genesis at its core, as well as the jewellery and accessories of course.” This is not fast fashion. The new SS ’15 collection is no exception, which sees Tessa join forces with surrealist artist Penny Slinger to use some of her iconic images for the first time ever in fashion. Somewhat ironically, however, this collection features some of her most wearable pieces to date.

Tessa Edwards grew up in South Africa as a Jehovah’s Witness, “under the influence of my Greek mother who loves crystals, while my Welsh Businessman father disapproved, that had a huge effect on my outlook. Something that I am actually grateful for!” And since coming to London and setting up her eponymous label in 2011, she is fast developing a reputation for her ambitious ideology.

Tell us a little bit about the SS ’15 collection. What are the images that you are using for some of the garments in this collection?
The collection is entitled ‘Blurred Lines’ and was a creative collaboration with 70s surrealist artist Penny Slinger. The collection also accompanies a documentary of the same name that my sister Grace and I are working on. We are planning to release this very soon. The collection and documentary comprises an investigation into a new wave of P.I. (Post Internet) ‘fourth-wave’ feminism, made possible and problematic as a paradox of self-expression within the context of the Internet. So to me Penny Slinger’s inwardly reflective work became increasingly poignant, as I saw a direct correlation with current popular culture as we increasingly become aware of these issues within a new collective consciousness.

SS ’15 seems to be your most ‘accessible’ collection – would you agree? Was that intentional?
Certainly. I mean you can actually wear it, a lot, and in comfort and even wash it! it was ‘intentional’ because the objective of this collection was not only to provide a simple platform for Penny Slinger’s images but also to blur lines between traditional menswear items, such as ‘the shirt’, and womenswear. It’s very focused.

How you use symbolism in your work?
Within the design process there are a few integral parts, and symbolism is one of them. Aesthetic manifestations of an initial concept with the physical piece makes the piece as far as I am concerned.
EVERYTHING is represented: linings, stitches, prints, shapes. That’s why usually it becomes so abstract like an allegory. But I hardly ever start with visuals or symbols as research, they come after the concept has been developed usually through writing and further research. In this case through an investigative documentary, then the symbolic aesthetic comes naturally thereafter.

For example, you have images of surfers in your collection, yet also very elegant and smart tailored pieces – both are opposites in a way… do you agree? Was this intentional?
Yes, they can be opposites, but then again if you look at it in a different way, the combination almost mimics a classic Hawaiian shirt or male dominated territory or pornography and to me these things go nicely together. Also from afar the print almost looks like camouflage, something that compliments the tailored almost militant shirt, but that was not intentional, just something that happened. The actual printed image is Penny Slinger’s ‘Dolphin Delirium’ 1976-77.


How do you normally set about designing a collection? Will you think of theme first or does it emerge as you go along?
I certainly would never pick a ‘theme’, for example like ‘Malibu Barbie’ or whatever. 
I start with a poignant ‘issue’ I have within culture then develop that into a ‘concept’ then it developed there as I research and learn about it. There is always a message and a point rather that an aesthetic montage to do with a ‘theme’. I guess sometimes the distinction can be hard to make for an audience, because if through the long process I end up sending Malibu Barbie down a runway one day the nuances could be lost on everyone else, but for me it would be integral, or else I would have just given up!

Tell us a little about your childhood, any early memories and whether this plays a role in your work?
The way we grow up always influences us and our ideas. I have been making, well what I would call at the time ‘clothes’ since I was about 10/11. The first time I ‘sold’ something was when I was 13, and I didn’t even know them. I remember making high waisted flares and sewed hundreds of fake purple flowers on them then covered it in purple glitter glue. My AW ’13 actually ended up quite similar I suppose!

You are also a producer – can you give us some details?
I have directed, edited and produce almost all the film work I have done so far. However I did a collaborative project with Joseph Ridout, but mainly I work with R.A.F. Walker, who works with me on amazing graphics and visuals. I am currently making the ‘Blurred Lines’ Documentary I mentioned with my sister Grace Edwards. So far we have written, produced, directed and edited the whole thing. I think it’s going to be quite exciting and the biggest piece I have done yet. I am moving into doing more film work now. I love it.

Does your work as a producer overlap with fashion? Or vice versa?
Film is the presentation of the amalgamation sound and light, i.e EVERYTHING. So I think within that concept it’s the ultimate way to communicate an idea or feeling and a message. Within fashion film, you have the opportunity to take the time to consider the movement of the narrative, and the relative visual references to it. You can create something that can make a real impact on the way people feel. And I think that’s the point of fashion, as a place where our ‘self image’ begins. In the industry today people often forget to feel, overwhelmed by commercial viability, trend and perfection.

What are your favourite fabrics and textures to work with?
Anything. I love technical fabrics, elastics, paddings, gauze, mesh, plastic. But then I love natural fabrics, too, washed or used, sand blasted. I am trying to use less and less leather and furs, only things we would eat. But then the most exciting thing is making fabric or a textile, something that doesn’t exist. This season we make silicone fabric in various colours and weights, and we could even sew it and print into it.

How did you pick the SS ’15 colour scheme?
The colour scheme for the collection was a pallet of simply black and white, a simple gallery-like platform for Penny Slinger’s print work. The clothes from the show were chosen from a colour scheme of ‘skin’, representing the idea of self image and perception. We chose the shades according to the models we had, who were all pale white girls. In hindsight, I wish I had used lots of skin colours and made the silicone accordingly, but that may have ended up being ‘gimmicky’, and that could have been a sensitive issue. Also there wasn’t a budget to make more!