My name is Ellen Sampson and I am a shoe designer, curator and artist living and working in London. I work on the boundaries between fashion and fine art, attempting to explore the relationship between clothing and lived experience. I am also undertaking a PhD in Footwear at Royal College of Art.
What inspires you in general?
I take most of my inspiration from sculpture and architecture and furniture design. I am particularly inspired by the work of artists and designers from the early and mid 20th Century. I have a particular interest in sculptors such as Barbara Hepworth and Brancusi whose simple abstracted forms and clean lines really appeal to me. I also really like the mark making and painterly qualities of the St Ives group artists such as Ben Nicholson. When developing a collection I often refer to furniture and interior design from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. I particularly like the work of Jean Prouve for its honest use of materials and simple functional forms.
What is it like to be a young designer in your city/country?
Tough but inspiring. East London is full of young designers trying to make their mark, which means there’s plenty of competition but also plenty of opportunity for collaboration.
What place/city do you find inspiring?
I go to the Outer Hebrides (islands off the west coast of Scotland) every year. I find the wildness of the landscape and the isolation really inspiring. I love being by the sea.
What is the concept of your collection?
I view my work as a process which includes both the making of the objects, distributing them to be worn, finally recording the process of disintegration and wear. As my work is about worn objects and their relationship to the body, the process of wearing my works is fundamental to the way I design and construct me objects. It is only through wearing that my object becomes active and meaningful.. I am interested in the act of dressing and as such my work has become increasingly installation/performance based. I use shoes as a way of illustrating and exploring the relationship between the body and objects. I examine how trace and imprints become narratives of lived experience. I am interested in how we impose our bodily selves on objects and how in turn they bodies. The site on which I chose to examine the relationship between body and bodily object is the skin. As the surface of the body the skin functions as a boundaries between ourselves and the world and as such is frequently the site on which our relationships with others are negotiated. It is also the organ that binds our body and keeps us whole. One function of my work is to explore whether garments can function in a similar way to skin assuming the role of a psychic container.
Can you remember the first piece you designed?
Yes, a pair of Sky blue stilettos covered in vintage lace.
Describe your collection in three words
Faceted wooden clogs
Did you always wanted to work in the field of design?
No, I did an undergraduate dregree in anthrolopogy before becoming a designer. During my undergraduate degree at University College London I specialised in the study of material culture (how society makes objects and how objects make society) ; specifically writing about the relationships between women’s bodies, clothing and their social agency. I was particularly interested in the way footwear was used in gender relations. I wrote my dissertation about footwear, sexuality and power in fairy tales. During my final year at university I did a two day shoe making course and as soon as I made my first pair of shoes I decided that was what I wanted to do with my life.
Is there any connection between your research and your design?
I aim to create ‘theoretical objects’; objects which contain and expand upon a concept. My practice is an on-going dialogue in which making informs developments in writing and writing informs making. My writing is both a theoretical reflection on footwear and a record of my making processes and observations. There is a move in anthropology and cultural studies to address the nature of materiality and the material. I believe that the most useful way to engage with these debates is by being actively engaged making.
Do you have a muse? If yes, who is it and why?
I think if I’m honest I design for myself and hope that others will like it.
What is so far your greatest experience in your career?
I think starting my PhD has been really rewarding. Getting a chance to produce work over 4 years in a completely non-commercial environment is a such a luxury.
What is on your music list while your making your collection?
The new yeah yeah yeah’s album.
What made you smile today?
My husband brought me breakfast in bed!
What is the latest thing you bought for yourself?
A 1960s shift dress to wear to a friends birthday dinner.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I will be launching a small commercial collection in February 2014. Until then I am developing 2 Exhibitions for Northampton shoe Museum in UK and also working on a larger exhibition of of conceptual footwear design to be held at RCA in summer 2014. I’m also working on my PhD.