In the 1990s, Jamaica-born designer Jessica Ogden was an early pioneer of customised clothes, transforming the postwar idea of textile recycling as ‘needs must’ to the concept of ‘upcycling’, a sustainable approach that incorporated a high level of craftsmanship with aesthetic panache.

Twenty years on, Ogden’s ideas on re-purposing materials have evolved considerably – as a new exhibition on her archive at Church Street, Marylebone, proves. ‘There are so many aspects to it now,’ Ogden says, reflecting on how the concept of customisation has changed since she first worked with the concept, reworking donated clothes from Oxfam as part of its NoLoGo project in 1992. ‘I don’t think there’s enough being done with it – there’s still fast, cheap fashion. Although, there have been huge surges in the different ways things are made today.’

The exhibition, ‘Still’ – curated by Professor Carol Tulloch and designed by Professor Judith Clark – shouldn’t be seen as a retrospective. It is rather a continuous thread of thought from Ogden’s earliest works up to her most recent quilt designs for APC. ‘I’m really thrilled with having this time. It’s an amazing opportunity to look back but also to look forward.’ Ogden says. 'My creative work is not finished, so it’s a bridge between the past and the future, looking at certain pieces.’

‘We’re presenting work from my archive that I felt I still stood behind,’ Ogden adds. ‘The curation came from my edit of the things that make up my label, in pure form.’ The relationship between early and later works illustrate connecting criteria, techniques and themes throughout Ogden’s oeuvre: for example, colour patchwork pieces from a decade old collection are seen in tandem with quilts made in 2016.

The exhibition explores the relationships between Ogden's earlier and later works. Photography: Alfredo Piola

‘There’s something very raw about the very early work, but there’s something in it I still stand behind. I wouldn’t necessarily wear it, but I want it in my life. I think it has to do with the craft, I’m a great believer in it, and if something’s well made, it holds that moment.’ Ogden explains. ‘The colour patchwork pieces for example, have a spirit that I feel is not as relevant now, but I still believe in them. I don’t think they need to be put away, shut off as an era in the past — they still live.’

The exhibition is the result of a close collaboration with Tulloch and Clark. Tulloch even travelled to Jamaica to meet Ogden, who relocated back to the Caribbean island last year. ‘My work is bound to memory, to my home, to the way my Mum brought me up — so that’s key in understanding the work.’

In both process and execution, Ogden’s standout work from the start of her career has been her quilts. In their function as both domestic items and art objects, intertwined with personal and political narratives, quilts have handled by many contemporary artists from Tracey Emin to Velda Newman.

Over the years, Ogden’s quilts have connected with the traditions and possibilities within the craft itself. How does she view the developments in her quilt-making? ‘It’s slightly shifted. In the collections, it was mainly antique quilts, redoing them and taking them into a new life: you could read stories in them, someone’s time and effort had gone into darning them, and you could feel who that person was. With the quilts now, the process is very different. It’s about drawing, colour, textures – things that are more painterly. It’s the same object, but my working practice with them is very different.’

This connects with Ogden’s new ventures into craft, through explorations of the contemporary scene in Jamaica, which will feed into her approach in curating Harmony Hall, an art gallery in a restored 19th-century Methodist manse on the island’s North Coast, established by Ogden’s late mother. The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Biennial in particular inspired the designer recently. ‘This year was really exciting. The emerging scene really turned a corner. I’m excited to be there for that, and let’s see what my place will be within it — it’s all an experiment!’

For those also keen to experiment, Ogden is running a series of workshops at 31-33 Church Street on 31 May, 3 and 16 of June, focused on customisation and the power of memory garments that retain.

RELATED TOPICS: LONDON EXHIBITIONS