Dreams Wrapped in Lace: Meet Aspiring Lingerie Designer Ellie Balwako
by Dana Givens
Photography and designs (unless otherwise noted) are by and provided by Ellie Balwako
It’s no secret that there are million of girls across the globe with dreams wrapped in lace and silk to become fashionistas and have their designs recognize by all. Just like the world of ready-to-wear, that same thing applies for lingerie. As we speak, there is an ambitious stylish young woman with her hands glued to a sewing machine, crafting an exquisite piece of lingerie in the hopes that someday women everywhere can enjoy the sexiness of their designs.
As experts in our field, we came across a young lady across the pond in the UK named Ellie Balwako who’s scantily clad dreams of becoming a lingerie designer have taken a step forward with her acceptance to the highly-acclaimed Contour Fashion Program at De Montfort University which she will be entering this month. We took some time to chat with Ellie to talk dreams, career, and lingerie:
A Girl with a Dream: Q&A with Ellie Balwako
When did you realize you wanted to get into fashion?I’ve always been really interested in fashion and the idea of garment construction, I used to watch my mum run up things on her sewing machine when I was younger and I just loved how creative you could be with what you design. I didn’t think of choosing it as a career path until I was 16/17 and studying in my first year of A-Levels. I had decided to study Science subjects and English because at the time I wanted to be a dentist, but I continued with textiles because I enjoyed it so much. After really getting into textiles and having conversations with people in the creative industry I realized I had definitely made a mistake. When I started the second year of my A-Levels I changed from Chemistry and Biology to Fine Art and it was the best decision I have ever made!
What attracted to fashion design specifically lingerie?
I have always had a fascination with fine detail and intricate design, I love how the care and attention to detail gives really fine outcomes so I wanted to find something that could be statement yet delicate when it comes to design. When I first walked into the contour fashion degree show at DMU in 2011 I was literally speechless. I looked around and it was all just perfect, it had everything I was in love with rolled into one subject, and it was my mum who said ‘this is the perfect course for you’ since then I had my heart set on it.
What inspires you when you design?
When I design or begin to generate ideas, a lot of things can be a source of inspiration. Not all being imagery sometimes its things such as audio clips or music. I find you can get a lot of ideas from nature – textures, colours, shapes, seasons or combinations/collisions of materials – nature is always a good starting point for getting inspiration because you can always gather good primary sources to work from. I also find architecture and iron work to be extremely inspiring, you can take so much from looking at shapes of buildings, patterns on the surfaces, the juxtaposition of old and new buildings, the silhouette line made from iron work, the construction of iron work – how it supports itself, how it links together, how it can be so complex and detailed or simple and linear. You can walk through an City centre street with a camera and take away something to start and develop an idea with – I think that’s one of the things I love about design, how so many things can spark off an project and with how many directions you can take it
As an aspiring designer, what has been your greatest challenge in designing lingerie?
I think in lingerie what is difficult is to design and create something that’s not been done before and also there are limitations to extreme design. The product has a function and that needs to remain and your creativity needs to be based around the basic structure of the garment and can’t become too extravagant and busy because it can cause the quality to be effected.
Who are your two favorite lingerie designers?
It is incredibly hard to choose but at the moment my top two are Ritratti and ID Sarrieri.
Is there a designer that has influenced you?
I look a lot at designers work just for general fun/interest; I spend hours and hours going through the Internet looking at collections and lines from multiple brands. I haven’t done a lot of design work, but in terms of little things I have experimented with and worked on I would say influence has come from MYLA London, Agent Provocateur and ID Sarrieri.
What’s your favorite piece that you have designed? What made you love it so much?
I think for me it was a set of two bras I made last Christmas – technically they are far from perfect because I haven’t been taught the proper way to make a bra just yet – I actually managed to make it but buying a bra, deconstructing it and looking at how it was made and pieced together then recreating it with different materials and a slightly different pattern. I took inspiration from gates and ironwork patterns I saw whilst I was backpacking (interrailing) around Europe in the summer of 2011. The fact the inspiration came from something that was part of a life experience for me, something that I had found so interesting throughout the time I was travelling made this project personal to me and reminded me of the time I had that summer. I wanted to create something that was different and experimental – I saw the ironwork as lace and decided to use embroidery on dissolvable fabric to create my interpretation of lace and create my own material to use on the garment. I think the reason why I loved this design so much was because I worked so hard on it and it was something that I had developed with a strong design research behind it.
What do you want people to see when they look at your designs?
At the moment I want people to look at what I have created and think ‘ yeah I like that, I could wear it’ or ‘ I want something like that’ because what I’m working on at the moment is purely for developing myself and my skills, I want people to see that I am trying and working hard to better myself. However when I become more confident and more skilled I want people to see the time and effort gone into each piece and the beauty that each piece has (well, hopefully the beauty!)
The Fashion Student
How did you hear about the Contour Fashion program?
I didn’t even know that the course existed! I went to various university open days and the DMU open day to look at the fashion design departments, it wasn’t until when mum and I were about to leave the art and design building that we stumbled across the contour fashion degree show and decided to have to look at what was on display, it was then when my obsession started…
What other programs were you looking at besides Contour?
Before seeing the contour fashion show, I was looking into studying textiles as a degree or fashion – I looked at universities such as Manchester and Loughborough University and although the courses were good, they just didn’t match up. So I took a risk and only applied to DMU for contour fashion and luckily I got accepted!
What made you decide to apply to Contour Fashion?
I was adamant that I wanted to do the course the moment I walked onto the 5th floor in the Fletcher building on the DMU campus. Everything I saw I was in complete awe of and I knew it was something I wanted to aim to create and I desperately wanted to learn to the be able to make pieces that were as beautiful and as well executed as the ones I saw that day.
Have you been apart of any internships prior to acceptance?
Unfortunately I haven’t, I would have to loved to have done some work with in a company to really get a feel for the field, it would have been an amazing experience and I really do regret not trying to get a place during breaks from studying my A-Levels
What are you looking to get out of your experience at Contour?
I think what is really important for me to take away from the course is the technical skills I will develop over the three years. I think design is incredibly important – and I do really want to (and need to) push and build on my creativity a lot. However I feel that the construction of any garment is key. Perhaps even more so in lingerie because it is so close to the body and some garments will have purposes such as to give support and to be comfortable, therefore it is vital that I understand how to make the garments properly and perfectly in order to creative something that is desirable, good quality and well made.
Did you speak to any of the current students that in Contour? What was their response to the program?
I have fortunately been able to have conversations with people on the course, each and every one of them being extremely helpful and kind. What I have heard about the course is that is consists of a lot of hard work, dedication and ambition. A lot of students said the course is tough and that in order to get your desired results you have to make multiple sacrifices – as with anything. That being said, all of the students I spoke with LOVE the course, the lecturers and other students. They said you all become a contour family, where everyone helps one another out which I think is really nice and quite rare in such a competitive industry. They all said the satisfaction you get when you produce something you put your everything into and all the experiences you have a long the way is worth every second of sleep deprived days and caffeine filled nights.
What are your plans after completion?
I want to work as a designer for a brand after I finish the course, hopefully I will be able to work in a different country because I love the idea of experiencing new cultures and ways of life. I also think travelling and new experiences provide strong inspiration, so working in a new city, in a completely new place would be beneficial to my design work.
What is your career goal? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A career goal would be to have a good, secure job designing for a brand that has a good reputation and a strong cliental. I would love to work in different cities and to travel more, it would be a dream to work and live in New York. I am an ambitious and hard working person so if I do progress well, push myself and develop a lot as a person and a designer over the 3 years on the course ultimately I do see myself reaching this career goal – hopefully in the 5 years!
Do you have any designs you’re working on right now? What’s the inspiration going into this project?
I am always working on a project or experimenting with something or other. At the moment the main project I am working on the summer assignment the university have set for the new contour students. I’m looking into literary movements such as symbolism and romanticism and how the metaphors and literary devices used in the writing can imply things but not reveal the complete meaning and be 100% explicit. Both movements were associated with being gothic and dark so I’m taking this idea and interpreting the colours and moods found in both literature and art pieces of the movements and trying to create a sketchbook of idea development and then ultimately a final outcome.
What advice can you give to other aspiring designers that are interested in applying to the program?
I would say that refining the work you take to your interview is important, going in with every piece, every sketchbook and every prep sheet you’ve ever done is not going to be the best thing to do to showcase how you are as a aspiring designer – being able to pick and choose your best samples is important and shows you can evaluate and be critical of your work which makes you stronger as an artist/designer. I would also advise lots of drawing and having a go at constructing a garment specifically a lingerie piece, even if its poor quality -at least you’ve had a go and it shows you’re willing to put yourself out there and experiment, push yourself and try!
We have a feeling our girl is destined for greatness in this industry and Contour seems like a great start. We’re looking forward to seeing more of Ellie in the future!