Death and the Art of Tailoring

Portrait of Hormazd Narielwalla, by Tori Khambhaita

Portrait of Hormazd Narielwalla, by Tori Khambhaita

I first discovered the work of artist Hormazd Narielwalla when he came to talk to my MA group last year about Savile Row. Using discarded tailor’s pattern pieces, his artwork brings together many things that fascinate me: the form of the body, the skill of the tailor, death and, of course, art. As Narielwalla had been working with patterns from Dege & Skinner – one of only two family-run bespoke tailoring houses to remain in Savile Row – we were then treated to a tour of one of the most iconic names in British bespoke tailoring. It was an exceedingly memorable day for a number of reasons, but what really stuck with me were the beautiful three-dimensional skulls that the artist had made from the bespoke suit patterns of deceased customers. The concept of using something others would discard in order to make something beautiful is one that I really connect with, but turning something that others would see as a means to an end into the end product itself adds another layer of brilliance to this series.

Fire Walk With Me (2014) by Hormazd Narielwalla

Fire Walk With Me (2014) by Hormazd Narielwalla

I discovered Narielwalla once again when I saw on Twitter that he was awarded a PhD from London College of Fashion and then, this week, it was via a tweet that he alerted me to the existence of his Lady Gardens series which was created using lingerie patterns. As you might imagine, this is somewhat relevant to my interests and resulted in me spending quite some time perusing all the work on his fantastic new website. As a teenage art student, I had a particular fascination with cubism and futurism – particularly the way the artists represented shape, structure and movement – and was also drawn to the simplicity and colour of work by artists like Matisse and Mondrian. Browsing Narielwalla’s portfolio online, I felt an instant connection with the work because it is reminiscent of styles of art that I am already familiar with. It taps into all my art school knowledge whilst also poking at my lack of tailoring knowledge. I tried drafting a pattern once and it was extremely difficult, so professional patterns remain a mystery to me. They are a thing of beauty in their own right because I have just enough knowledge to see the skill and precision involved, even though I don’t quite know how they work. To take these ready made shapes and turn them into an Homage to Mondrian breaks my brain in some rather pleasing ways.

Love Garden No.4 (2013) by Hormazd Narielwalla

Love Garden No.4 (2013) by Hormazd Narielwalla

Since the artist’s 2008 book Dead Man’s Patterns, which was inspired by the bespoke suit patterns of a deceased customer of Dege & Skinner, the body has been a recurring theme in Narielwalla’s work. The artist statement [pdf] on his website discusses some of the directions he has taken this theme in:

Subsequently I responded to lingerie tailoring patterns sourced from a London designer (c.1970), by making the series Love Gardens by layering them with coloured paper to create abstract representations of female anatomy referencing the work of Georgia O’Keefe. To complement this series I used Savile Row shirt collar tailoring patterns and newspaper clippings, with spray paint mounted on inkjet prints to create phallic collages. Suits are the predominant international uniform of men in positions of power. Does Sir dress left or right? This charming tailoring euphemism has a fascinating equivalent in radiology. The John Thomas sign refers to the orientation of a penis in an anteroposterior x-ray. I take the discarded Savile Row menswear tailoring patterns and make their masculinity shockingly explicit. Does the viewer see them as proud or ridiculous? Perhaps, like the x-ray, John Thomas exposes the vulnerability a suit conceals. […] My work propose a new interpretation of tailoring patterns as interesting abstracted drawings of the human form which have an inherent aesthetic quality that can be used innovatively to develop a contemporary art practice. Freed from function they are drawings ahead of their time, anthropomorphic in origin and beautifully abstract in isolation.

For more information, check out the fascinating interviews with PHOENIX and Helen Success. You can view more of Narielwalla’s work on his website narielwalla.com and on Saatchi Art. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Portrait by Tori Khambhaita. All other images of artwork by Hormazd Narielwalla.