Isabel Hall On The Power of Young Designers, Her First Solo Show

Isabel Hall On The Power of Young Designers, Her First Solo Show

The up-and-coming designer behind Rihanna's "This Is What You Came For" glitter jumpsuit just released her SS18 collection.

The up-and-coming designer behind Rihanna's "This Is What You Came For" glitter jumpsuit just released her SS18 collection.

Text: E.R. Pulgar

Even if you don't know her by name (yet), you've definitely seen Isabel Hall's designs. The recent Pratt graduate and up-and-coming designer first got on the fashion world's radar when Mel Ottenberg, Rihanna's personal stylist, dressed the hitmaker in a sheer silver jumpsuit from Hall's thesis collection for Calvin Harris's "This Is What You Came For" video.

Since her jumpsuit took the internet by storm, Hall has quietly been working on the follow up to her debut collection New York Romantic. For her SS18 collection and first solo show, Hall pairs sharp, modern looks with floral designs and a decidedly feminine silhouette, equal parts inspired by Mohammed Ali and skate culture as the corsets and petticoats that defined 19th century court fashion. With her sights set on dressing badass, independent women, it's no surprise this Brooklyn-based, Rihanna-approved designer is only going to keep blowing up.

Hall spoke to V about the inspiration behind her new collection, the power of fashion in politics, and how young designers are turning the paradigm of what fashion is on its head.

You've just released your SS18 collection; how are you feeling about the way it's been received?

It's great! The SS18 presentation was the first time I've shown my work completely solo, so I tried to approach it with an open mind. We really had no idea what the turnout would be, much less what people would think of the clothing. But it was really wonderful to come out to a crowd of people who were genuinely excited to see the collection... there's no feeling quite like it.

You've spoken about the badass, vibrant energy of New York women as a huge inspiration—in a collection combining the delicate and the hardcore, where does that inspiration fit in?

That's a constant inspiration for me, even when it's subconscious. I think one of my favorite things about New York is the mobility. There's a certain independence to always being on the move, you know? I love the idea of a woman completely decked out in an amazing outfit marching down the street or taking the subway instead of driving somewhere, that's not something you see in most cities but the on-foot component really contributes to the attitude here.

For me that came through a lot in the fabrications of this collection, there were a lot of waterproof pieces or cotton pieces instead of the more luxurious fabrics I'd been experimenting with before. The sneakers were important to me too; it just makes more sense for the mood I've been trying to create with my designs.

Compared to your debut collection New York Romantic and the amorphous jumpsuit worn by Rihanna that put your name on the map, this one plays with a more feminine silhouette. The first collection was edgy but feminine workwear; is there a reason for going in a more elegant direction with the floral dresses?

It's important to me that my designs express both a femininity and a masculinity. Both can be equally powerful, never mind the whole spectrum in between. For me, the most important thing is that women wearing my clothes feel powerful. The best is when you dress someone and they go "oh I feel amazing I never want to take this off," and you can tell that the clothes are giving them confidence—for me, that's the whole point.

With New York Romantic, it was important to me to make women feel like they could own a very masculine silhouette. With this collection, one I was looking more at women from the past and analyzing what they wore. It's interesting how women are reclaiming ultra-feminine fashion given the current political landscape, and I wanted to explore that. The main question behind the collection became what would the modern, everyday version of a corset, full skirt, and petticoat look like today?

Speaking of the political, I've noticed that a lot young designers and artists coming up now can feel frustrated that they can't make a change. With a lot of fashion houses and designers taking a stand—such as Namilia—as an up-and-coming designer yourself, what do you think is the role of fashion in today's world?

Fashion is so fascinating because it both influences and reflects whatever is going on in the world! You can look back at each decade and know what was going on in history based on what people were wearing. Recently I read an article critiquing a collection as being too dark and claiming that fashion should provide a fantasy world which we can escape too, but I think that's crazy! I feel the exact opposite—people don't necessarily have to be dark about it, but I think fashion as a whole is finally waking up and realizing it's time to use that influence for good. There's a time and a place for fantasy and now isn't it. Fashion has become an amazing tool to open up new conversations: so many young designers are bringing in a much wider range of models, experimenting with gender, sourcing materials responsibly/exploring recyclable materials... there are so many new approaches.

What was it like having an icon like Rihanna wearing your jumpsuit? Are you still riding that wave or, now that the hype has died down, are you reaping what you sowed to stand on your own as a designer?

Honestly I think it's a bit of both. I definitely would not be where I am today without that music video but so often those situations are whatever you make of them. If I was relying solely on the hype, it would be over. I was fortunate enough to meet some amazing people who saw my work because of the video though and that has led to this long chain of great relationships. The New York Romantic feature I had in Office Magazine a while ago happened because this photographer Brendan and his girlfriend, Kathleen (who have now become good friends of mine) found my thesis collection through the video. Larrie Gallery, where I held the SS18 presentation was another connection I made through them, and it just keeps going.

Do you have any specific designers that you draw on, or are you still very much inspired by Mohammed Ali and skater culture? 

Both! There are so many random things that inspire me, it's impossible to connect them all in one collection. For this collection I was very focused on an experience I had at the Metropolitan Museum which then lead to a more feminine inspiration, but the skater culture is still present even if it's not at the forefront. I think sometimes it's more important for me to communicate an attitude I've seen in something that's inspired me even if the exact silhouette or image isn't necessarily reflected in my designs.

As for specific designers, it's tricky because nobody wants to fall into a rut of recreating what they're already looking at, so I try not to draw on anyone too much. For instance, today I finally went to visit the Calvin Klein flagship on Madison and it's absolutely magnificent! It just makes you want to create more, perfect the process, push harder. That kind of experience shows you what good design can really do.

With your new collection out now, what's your focus in the near-future? Any new projects or concepts you want to play with?

There's definitely plenty on the way! Near-future, I have a couple smaller projects I'm pretty excited about. They've been a long time coming, and now that SS18 is out I'll have a minute to focus on those. After that, I'll get to work on my next collection and production for SS18, I have some big ideas I'd like to explore—it's very exciting!

Scroll through Polaroids and official photos from Hall's showcase below, and see the SS18 collection's lookbook on her official website.

Kai Roper

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