I have long been inspired by the work and creativity of the Bloomsbury Group, a set of artists and intellectuals, including Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who lived and worked in Bloomsbury in central London during the early 20th century.
The Bloomsbury Group believed in creativity, innovation and beauty. Through these qualities, we find the breathtaking work of Olivia Annabelle apparel, whose Spring and Summer collection for 2020 honours the timeless style of the influential group.
Olivia Annabelle is founded by Olivia Welsh, a fashion designer from Manchester.
After finding frustration with the lack of diversity and innovation on the highstreet, Olivia was inspired to design clothes made from beautiful fabrics that are unique, well made and that don’t follow trends.
At the heart of Olivia Annabelle apparel is the aim to make limited-edition high-quality pieces that have longevity and a timeless appeal that can be kept and worn forever.
There is an inherently British feel to Olivia Annabelle‘s designs that, like the Bloomsbury Group collection, takes inspiration from the nostalgia of the past, local traditions and superstitions.
I’m so honoured to have a virtual chat with the inspiring Olivia Annabelle herself. In this interview, Olivia discusses the process of designing this collection, that included hours spent researching the history, novels, art and culture of the Bloomsbury Group, to the overall whimsicality of Olivia’s storyteller ideas and processes around designing.
The Olivia Annabelle Bloomsbury collection features prints, textures and motifs that are inspired by the hugely creative output of the artists, poets and designers of the 1930s, especially those associated with the Bloomsbury Group.
The charm of the collection reflects the eclectic nature of influences ranging from the group’s Post Impressionist style paintings and textiles.
You can also evidently see the fusion of the interior decoration from Charleston Farmhouse, the beautifully preserved home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Both of whom were key personalities within the Bloomsbury Group.
So, let us dive into a collection that truly wouldn’t look out of place at Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s beloved Charleston home by chatting to Olivia about how she went about curating this stunning collection.
Hi Olivia! Firstly, how did your label Olivia Annabelle come to be?
Hello! After graduating from uni and undertaking a few internships I realised I couldn’t find what I wanted to wear when I went shopping, I was so bored with what the high street shops were offering. So it was a frustration with the lack of diversity and innovation on the high street fostered a desire to design clothes made from beautiful fabrics that are unique, well made and don’t follow trends. At the heart of the brand is our aim to make limited-edition high-quality pieces that have longevity and timeless appeal that can be kept and worn forever.
Describe Olivia Annabelle apparel in 3 words:
Whimsical, Feminine, Timeless
Can you please tell us the story behind your gorgeous new Bloomsbury collection?
The Bloomsbury Collection takes inspiration from the body of Modernist English writers, philosophers and artists who became notorious for their colourful gatherings at Charleston House. Nestled in the Sussex countryside, Charleston House allowed the visionaries to escape the increasingly fast-paced, modern environment of the city that was expanding around them.
This collection seeks to capture some of this rebelliously escapist sensibility, bustling with ultra-feminine efflorescent prints that echo the beautiful gardens at Charleston and Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell’s artwork around the house.
I’ve wanted to create a collection inspired by the Bloomsbury Group for a long time. I bought all of Virginia Woolf’s books whilst at uni and watched the period drama Life in Squares which really brought their story to life.
I am also a big fan of Duncan Grant’s paintings and textile designs – I had originally planned to create a collection inspired by their work last year but felt that the colours were more suited to Springtime!
What was on your mood board while putting it all together?
The main theme throughout my mood boards are images of Charleston House. It provided so much inspiration!
If you’ve not seen Charleston House it is a farmhouse that used to belong to Vanessa Bell and the whole of the interior is adorned with paintings by the group, and also many of their own paintings feature the gardens and rooms at Charleston House.
The colour scheme mood board is also reminiscent of nature with an emphasis on green and pastel floral shades that reflect the group’s investment in the English Countryside.
I also used a mood board featuring clothing styles of the 20s and 30s era, floaty, whimsical shapes from the era are evident but are contrasted with a masculine velvet smoking jacket, the combination of which encapsulates the bohemian and forward-thinking lifestyle of the members.
What kind of person are you designing for?
The kind of person I’m designing for is looking for something a bit different, and more personal than the big brands on the high street.
Someone who appreciates the historic clothing references, the well-researched stories behind the designs and themes and also the fact that Olivia Annabelle is a small business.
I receive messages from my customers and followers who are excited about the next theme and can’t wait to see what we come up with, which is a great boost when we are such a small company.
Can you please talk us through some of the techniques used for this collection? I.e fabrics, embellishments etc and how it all came to be
For the Bell Moss Green Velvet Embroidered Jacket, made from Silk Viscose Velvet, I designed a little floral emblem inspired by the artwork of Duncan Grant in shades of lilac, green and orange, which was then embroidered onto the velvet fabric.
All of the prints for each collection are designed in-house and completely bespoke to OA.
Your pieces evoke a real mix of nostalgia, enchantment and fantasy. Would you say you’re more influenced by the past or the future?
Definitely more inspired by the past! There’s something really magical about studying historical clothing, I love learning about the person who owned the garment, what they did and why the piece was special to them.
One day I might make a futuristic collection, I do have a Pinterest board with a few ideas on it inspired by Blade Runner so who knows!
What are your top priorities when designing a new collection?
I always need to make sure that my collections are actually wearable. As much as I love historical clothing I try to take elements of the era and make them modern. Sometimes that can completely depend on the fabric or print and sometimes taking a really simple shape and then making it in a dramatic fabric, like velvet, makes it look more vintage!
When do you feel at your most creative?
I feel most creative in the evenings when I can curl up with a cup of tea, put on some music, and read a book, watch a film etc, as it usually triggers an idea and then I can build a theme from that idea.
Which fictional character can you imagine wearing your clothes?
Bathsheba Everdene from Far From The Madding Crowd – one of my favourite books and I love the way her character develops into an independent, savvy, businesswoman.
Where can we see more of Olivia Annabelle?
You can keep up to date with Olivia Annabelle by signing up for our newsletter where you can get discount codes, read our journal on our website, and you can also follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest!
Finally, Olivia, what is your one wish for the world?
For everyone to find enjoyment in everything they do.
Thank you so much to Olivia for taking the time to describe her fascinating approach to this beautiful collection!
I adore how the Bloomsbury Collection by Olivia mirrors the fashion of the inspiring women in the group such as Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. Their look was far more relaxed than the standard period dress. This included looks without any of the harsh lines and pulled in waists.
Indeed, as Vanessa Bell herself once said: “Everyone should be free to live as they please.”
Olivia Annabelle’s collection truly encompasses Vanessa Bell’s wishes. You can see this in the flowing, loose Vanessa Bloomsbury Maxi Dress to the playful Virginia Cornflower Bloomsbury Dress. Both would look gorgeous layered between the seasons with a large, chunky cardigan held together at the waist with a belt or a tie.
For accessories think long strands of beads, like the Bloma Vanessa Pearl Daisy earring.
To complete the look, take your hair in a loose bun with loose strands around your face, with a stunning vegan silk scarf.
The whole Olivia Annabelle Bloomsbury collection is one of the dreamiest I have ever seen and the most perfect tribute to these very inspiring visionaries.
The whole collection is a look that will easily fit in with the 70s style for the rest of the season, and be cherished items in your wardrobe that will be utterly timeless.