Multidisciplinary artist and maker Shanti Bell explores how  the fields of furniture and fashion are nurturing one another through pieces that invite experimentation

Fashion and furniture are Bell’s inspiring playground to continue innovating unlike anyone else

Carefully laying the foundation for her future, Shanti Bell built a strong network and community around herself while developing her craft at school, years before launching her career. She first studied fashion print at Central Saint Martins in London, where she grew up. “This institution not only taught me in-depth [about] pattern-cutting, tailoring and sewing, but, due to the specialisation in print, we were additionally taught the techniques of screen printing, digital printing, fabric dyeing and how to creatively incorporate these skills into garments,” Bell says. “These skills enhanced my designs and gave me a completely different spectrum to work within.” During the final year of earning her bachelor’s, Bell became interested in wood and furniture-making, and how she could incorporate them into fashion design. To dive deeper, Bell enrolled in a master’s programme for menswear at the Royal College of Art, from which she graduated in June 2022. “[There,] I was really able to nurture and define myself as a multidisciplinary artist,” she adds. 

Case in point: Titled, ‘Now, I hear you’, the project Bell completed in her final year of earning her master’s comprised a rich combination of sound, performance, sculpture and menswear that explored father and son relationships, which stemmed from looking at that dynamic within her own family. “I am and have [always] been really close to my brother,” she says. “He often described how as a man he was conditioned to hide his emotions. I was interested in [taking a closer look at this] within my work, to offer a space for recognition and to be heard. The project – which needed to be experienced live – led me to collaborate with three drummers whom I worked closely with to create a sound experience that could sonically translate the felt emotions of a son.”

Through the exploration of the everyday life, Bell also addresses topics such as the relationships we have with ourselves and others. By always striving to create moments through work that is expressive, resonant and full of life, and which navigates concepts effectively, Bell can make costumes for a ballet, collaborate with a designer to make jewellery, or create album covers for a record label. “I have always been interested in exploring how I can push the boundaries, whether that is a concept, material or technique,” she says. “I find it an interesting space to work in, to not accept things as they are but [to see] what I can transform them into.”This is how Bell decided to also plunge into furniture design. “I have often considered the relationship which we, as humans, have with furniture, in particular chairs – they come in contact with our bodies frequently and we look to them to provide support and comfort,” she says. “This relationship isn’t too dissimilar to how we interact with clothing.” Bell’s debut in this realm started with an intensive wood workshop in which she enrolled for a month, resulting in five pieces of furniture. While the material was completely new to her, she immediately fell in love. “It was such a rewarding process and from this, I felt I could explore the creative collaboration with furniture design and fashion,” she remembers, feeling that this new path could lead to endless possibilities.

“Initially, I began by taking chairs apart and placing the different sections on the body, examining how the curves and hard edges could both work with and against the human form. As my process and skills developed, I started to explore more abstract outcomes, looking to test the boundaries of what is conventional furniture and fashion and in turn seeing them both as sculpture that incorporates the body.” This approach translated into the design of chair forms that challenge postures and the human form. It consisted in “exploring how the body could convey a narrative due to the nature it was forced into from the chair design,” Bell describes. “Within the realm of fashion, I have now shifted to a place where the garments I make are wearable sculptures that echo 3D forms and shapes.”

Dialoguing together in new ways, fashion and furniture are Bell’s inspiring playground to continue innovating unlike anyone else.

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