Vestiary visions of pen and paintbrush

Founder of British fashion brand, Olivia Annabelle discusses the artistic and literary influences that form the foundations of its collections.

Words by Millen Brown-Ewens

Receptive to the authority and cultural clout of both art and literature, the fashion industry has never been one to shy away from a virtuoso name drop that pays homage to the greats. However, for womenswear brand, Olivia Annabelle the culmination of the three is not the usual one-off dedication to boost cultural capital. Deeply imbedded in its DNA is a natural yet aesthetically ornate synergy that has positioned itself firmly within expansive cultural conversation.

Founded by Mancunian designer, Olivia Welsh just over two years ago, Olivia Annabelle has, since its conception produced four collections dedicated to myth, legend and cultural signifiers of art and literature. The literary feats of Alcott’s Little Women are referenced in a collection of soft blush frills and silk whilst John Keats’ poem ‘Witching Hour’ is reimagined in the celestial symbolism of an original Toile de Jouy.

“There’s a story behind every detail, print, colour and shape in all OA collections,” says founder Welsh. “In designing new pieces, I take inspiration from the nostalgia of the past, local traditions and superstitions, with hours spent researching the history, novels, art and culture of each theme.”

This is a truth that certainly does not go unnoticed. A sense of nostalgia is wholeheartedly captured in the brands identity which simultaneously reveals an acute understanding of movement, motivation and memorial.

In its most recent collection, Olivia Annabelle takes note from the body of Modernist English artists, writers and philosophers who formed the Bloomsbury set of the early 20th century, reawakening work by the likes of Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry in thread.

“I had wanted to create a collection inspired by the Bloomsbury Group for a long time,” reflects Welsh. “Whilst at university, I bought all of Virginia Woolf’s books and watched the period drama Life in Squares which really brought their story to life.”

Welsh and her small team weave a story of bohemian spirit through colourful subversion in print, cut and design. The bold gingham of the ‘Clive blouse’ and ‘Virginia dress’ for example, are reminiscent of the Fauvist palette used in the waves of Duncan Grant’s piece ‘Bathers’ while the softer floral motif of the ‘Vanessa Bloomsbury maxi dress’ honours the celebrated gardens of the Charleston estate. In each appears a direct and triumphant translation of the style and vigour of the movement and its individuals.

“This collection seeks to capture some of this rebelliously escapist sensibility, bustling with ultra-feminine efflorescent prints that echo the beautiful gardens at Charleston as well as Grant and Bell’s artwork around the house,” continues Welsh.

A self-confessed “melancholy old soul”, for its founder, it was somewhat inevitable that the artistic direction of Olivia Annabelle’svestiary endeavours should come from the revered aficionados of days gone by. Whilst studying at Cambridge School of Art, Welsh created collections inspired by both the Brontë Sisters and Tudor portraits crediting her interest in classics as a starting point for her creative practice.

This passion and respect for history, a trademark of both designer and design is inherently linked to an appreciation for not only the preservation of great works art and literature but also to the longevity of fashion, a notion manifested in the brands objectives of sustainability.

Borne out of a frustration with the lack of diversity and innovation to be found on the high street, Welsh fostered a desire to produce clothes made from luxurious fabrics that were exclusive, well made and provided the perfect antidote to the carbon copy trends on rotation.

“I didn’t want to be another fast fashion company where I could sell hundreds of pieces dirt cheap for a quick profit,” says Welsh. “I want people to feel as though the pieces they’ve chosen to buy from me are special and worthwhile. The main goal for Olivia Annabelle is to create beautiful clothes in a sustainable way so that people want to keep them for a lifetime rather than just a few months.”

Welsh and her team have been working to achieve this by sourcing natural fabrics that are produced on a small scale with environmentally sensitive production methods. This is in accordance with their stockists Wolf & Badger who only stock ethical brands.

“For me personally,” Welsh continues “after spending a lot of time carefully curating fabrics, designing prints and the shapes that all fit the chosen theme it would be a waste to create them in a cheap fashion — it’s nice for people to appreciate the time that has gone into the pieces.” 

With highly stylised and impressively curated pieces that appear at home on feeds peppered with artistic compositions and interior reposts, Olivia Annabelle is proving itself as a novel favourite. For both the inquisitive and conscious fashion consumers as well as the budding young creatives of Instagram, Welsh’s vision is unique. A refreshing tonic that celebrates the culmination of cultural flair and preserves it in charming yet modern pieces of womenswear.

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Images of Bloomsbury collection courtesy of Olivia Annabelle

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