Style Curious


Curiously original textile designer, Vivien Hew

Vivien Hew graduated with a first class BA Hons in Textile Design from Birmingham Institute of Art and Design in July this year - and was awarded the Louisa Ryland Travel Award by Birmingham City University for her final major project, a collection of bags, jewellery and interior trimmings inspired by Samurai armour. Vivien says she inherited her enthusiasm for sewing and knitting from her mother, who created quirky and colourful garments for her. When she was twenty, Vivien made herself an embroidered, full length red velvet Elizabethan dress, complete with slashed sleeves and brocade decorations. She wore it as an everyday dress; “I didn’t mind that it wasn’t trendy or mainstream and with hindsight, it was quite outlandish. I was often asked if I was going to a fancy dress party!”

Vivien had initially fallen into a career in speech therapy by accident and, although she loved her job, she always felt she was missing out on something. When she left speech therapy and started the City and Guilds textile courses she realised what was lacking; the need to design and create. The City and Guilds course equipped her with an armoury of different textile techniques, but it was her degree course that extended Vivien’s interest and skill in design.

Vivien opted to research the Samurai for her final project to gain an insight into their culture “I was
intrigued by the contradictions; the image of the ferocious head-carrying warrior in battle with the dignified, artistic, and spiritual, tea-drinking individual. I sought to separate the myth from the reality and to try to acquire some understanding of their conceptions of the world.” Probably due to her training as a speech therapist, Vivien is fascinated by human psychology and how each person has his/her unique view of the world and how we relate and communicate with one another.

She also loves experimenting with textiles and is constantly probing the possibilities of creating
unexpected exciting results by amalgamations of different materials and techniques. There is always the question “What if I do this? At times the results are surprising; in fact some of  my most innovative ideas have arisen from unforeseen experimentation outcomes.”

Vivien says she designs for people who want items that stand out and reflect their uniqueness; people who appreciate the quality of the materials, the skill, care and time taken to design and construct
unique hand crafted items; individuals who set their own style rather than following short term fashion trends, and who espouse to the concept of recycling.

Viven's accessories collection is named “Bushido”, after the five moral codes of the Samurai. For this, she used many materials closely associated with the Japanese warrior’s armour; paper, wool, silk, metal, leather, but combined them with modern materials like plastics and synthetic yarns. She enjoys uniting contrasting materials; vintage and new, precious and low value materials, natural and man-made - and takes pleasure in raising the status of low value items by merging them, in carefully considered designs, with luxurious, high quality materials, like silk.

She employs diverse textile processes, including machine knitting, hand weaving, braid- weaving, cord -making, tassels, hand embroidery, dyeing and macramé – and has also fabricated the ceramic and metal embellishments for the bags and jewellery. Vivien constructs each piece by hand and thinks that her personal involvement gives the objects a personality and specialness not found in mass produced products.

The Samurai were habitual recyclers of armour; whether this was booty acquired on the battlefield or heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. They frequently replaced the lacing of the armour to repair, update or personalise their battledress. Like her source inspiration, Vivien uses recycled materials where possible. Much of the leather in her products comes from recycled leather garments.

“Colour, pattern and narrative inform my designs and are fundamental to my Bushido Collection, whose derivation was the visual aesthetics of Samurai armour”, she says.”I drew on the vibrancy, the symmetry and order of the armour for my designs. I used the vertical and horizontal stripes of the armour scales but made them less ordered and less predictable. In one bag I alternated a paper yarn with silk and cotton. The stiff paper yarn pushed the softer yarns in ways that distorted the usual straight lines of the weave structure to create waves and spaces, whilst at the same time retaining traces of vertical and horizontal pattern. I also sought to recreate the multifaceted components of the armour with the hand worked embellishments; the braids, cords, tassels and ceramic decorations.”

Vivien is currently working on additional designs for the Bushido fashion accessories collection,
and has many ideas yet to be investigated. She’s also looking forward to taking advantage of her university travel award to visit Japan “to increase my knowledge of artistic, cultural, social and commercial aspects of Japan – and I anticipate this will lead to an explosion of fresh designs for my Japanese-inspired range.”

“Based on my research into the Samurai, my favourite place in the world would be Japan, but
not present day Japan. I would like to bend the rules and be transported back in time to feudal
Japan; to converse with, to observe, to discover the secrets of the skilled artist craftsmen/
women who created ancient works of art; to work alongside the skilled armour makers
designing, manufacturing /assembling the component parts of the armour. I'd love to
accompany the Samurai generals to a high vantage point to observe the spectacle of the
massing armies bedecked in their brightly coloured battle wear.”

As for whom she’d like to sit next to at dinner, Vivien “would welcome an opportunity to sit next to my paternal grandfather, Le Hew. He was born in 1897 in mainland China and served with the British Merchant navy during WW2. He married and settled here after the war, though he and his wife separated early on and he was left to raise two sons (my father and uncle) alone. He died when I was ten. My grandfather had a strong accent which made him difficult to understand. I regret that I was not more curious about him when he was alive. Classed as an alien, his documents were taken away by the Home Office in the 1960s along with his personal papers, ships log and personal letters. The disappearance of the paperwork meant that we lost information about him and his life. I have fond childhood memories of my grandfather but I don’t really feel that I know him. I’m intrigued by his early experiences in China at the turn of the last century, his apprenticeship as a carpenter, his family, life as a sailor during WW2 (he was awarded three commendations), his life as a single father in pre-war Britain..... The list goes on!”

In 2006 Vivien was granted the Leonardo Scholarship to undertake research in Florence and Venice. Spellbound by both cities, she built up a vast library of images.
At some point in the future she intends to unearth her Italian photographs and create a range of products which reflects the colourful extravagance and sumptuosness of historical Italy.

Finally, Vivien explains that she was a mature student “chronologically if not emotionally”… When she decided to do a degree, she had to "overcome many hurdles to get there" but fervently believed that time, being a finite resource, should not be wasted. "Sometimes you can talk yourself out of opportunities by being over-cautious. I think we all have talents and that a fulfilled life depends on finding your strong points and developing them.”

Thanks for talking to ShopCurious, Vivien. It’s an honour to be the exclusive stockist of your lovingly hand crafted and curiously unique handbags.