The budding designer takes inspiration from doll clothes and porcelain figures, softening the futurism of his techniques with a playful aesthetic
When asked about muses, James Walsh offers a couple of names: octogenarian Welsh singer Shirley Bassey, and Miss Piggy the Muppet. In terms of style, these two actually have quite a bit in common—a love of sequined gowns, ostrich feathers, high heels, and cinched waists. Much like the London-based designer himself, their aesthetic sensibilities revolve around playfulness, nostalgia, and old-school glamor.
Walsh left Central Saint Martins with a bang, delivering a BA collection that impressed not only thematically, but also technically: 3D-printed, hard-shell minidresses, inspired by porcelain figures and the Polly Pocket universe. His garments are frozen in place, lifted by the “wind” or jutting out into a train. “I have to be sure that I’m happy with a design before I commit to creating it,” says Walsh, “as there is no way to change the size of something once it’s been made. I have to have faith that it will fit correctly.”
Structural challenges aside, Walsh’s seamless adoption of new technologies makes his practice stand out. He’s intent on pushing the boundaries of wearability—building true artworks that mirror a slew of whimsical, everyday forms: a rectangular playing-card dress; a chihuahua handbag; an “airplane” ensemble, arms extended out as wings. Walsh characterizes his approach to design as “sensitive and delicate”—softening the hard angles of the futurism of his methods. “It’s such a great and powerful way to communicate with each other, and with the world around us,” he says. “I try to keep my head down and do what feels right to me.”
Morgan Becker: How did you find your way to the design world?
James Walsh: I was always a creative person. I loved to read about artists and designers and see their work. I think that’s something I carried with me, eventually leading me to study art and fashion design, and to where I am today.
Morgan: Your work has a true playfulness to it, taking inspiration from plastic toys and porcelain dolls; did those references emerge after you realized the possibilities that come with designing with 3D printing technology?
James: Those references were always the main starting point for me. I find it so interesting that these small figures and objects are made with such care—simply for people to have fun with them. The variety of techniques really intrigues me, and I wanted them to come across in my own work. 3D printing and digital design became the perfect gateway to bringing these ideas and methods to life.
Morgan: What are the most challenging aspects of designing without traditional methods and materials?
James: It can easily take several months to finish a piece, so I have to be sure that I’m happy with a design before I commit to creating it—and that I won’t get tired of seeing it. Fittings can also be quite challenging, as there is no way to change the size of something once it’s been made. I have to have faith that it will fit correctly. Luckily, I have not gotten that wrong yet.
Morgan: What about the most rewarding?
James: Definitely seeing a finished piece on a model.
“There are a lot of ideas, and things I would like to do and achieve—though I am also aware that they can’t happen overnight. There are limits to the way I work, due to materiality and construction, which demand time and patience.”
Morgan: How did you develop your process, given that it’s nontraditional?
James: When I started working this way, it was quite difficult to explain what I wanted to do. I didn’t know, exactly, what would be possible. It was a case of gathering information on how to do things, and slowly building up knowledge of the technology that worked for me.
Morgan: Where do you seek inspiration in day-to-day life?
James: I quite like to rummage and collect things. I love walking, and find lots of inspiration on the streets, in music, antique shops, and auctions.
Morgan: How would you characterize your attitude and approach toward fashion?
James: Quite sensitive and delicate. I think it’s such a great and powerful way to communicate with each other, and the world around us. I find the relationship between the model, myself, and my clothes very exciting. I try to keep my head down and do what feels right for me.
Morgan: Is there a garment or accessory that you feel most wholly encapsulates your vision as a designer?
James: I would say the airplane look. I like the freedom it represents.
Morgan: Do you have a muse?
James: There are a lot of great people that I get inspired by. For my most recent work, I would probably say Shirley Bassey and Miss Piggy.
Morgan: Would you say that it differs from the mindset of the average up-and-coming designer?
James: I don’t know what the average up-and-coming designers have in mind. There are a lot of ideas, and things I would like to do and achieve—though I am also aware that they can’t happen overnight. There are limits to the way I work, due to materiality and construction, which demand time and patience. Perhaps most designers are not as restricted in these ways, and can take a faster approach.
Morgan: How does nostalgia factor into your process?
James: I think I am a very nostalgic person, whether that be for my own childhood, or looking back on decades [past]. I enjoy the purity and innocence of youth—the curiosity that comes with experiencing the world for the first time.
Model Kristie Lai at Models 1. Set Design Tors Beedles. Casting Abi Corbett.