Olivia Gabraitis describes the house she grew up in like an art gallery. Her mother is a fine artist, her father a sculptor, and her brother a graphic illustrator - “we couldn’t help but be arty,” she says.
And much of the inspiration behind the Fashion student’s final collection is family, both her own and the idealised archetype of a family, encapsulated by 1950s Americana and celebrity chefs and housekeepers Mrs Beeton and Fanny Cradock.
Olivia’s brother had a brain tumour at the age of nine. As a result, his vision is impaired and he has learning difficulties. Olivia has been inspired by what colour means to her brother, and how it is linked with intuition and emotion for him. “There is more than one way to create. It’s not necessarily just vision, but through your other senses as well. I like to create an emotional response. My work can seem a bit bonkers sometimes, but it’s all through emotion.”
“When I use a certain shade of blue, it’s not just because it’s a nice colour, it’s because it’s the colour that my brother saw the most of when he was in the hospital as a child, in hospital gowns and scrubs,” says Olivia, “It’s about association through colour.”
Every detail in the work holds a meaning in this way. Embroidered shapes that could be sound waves are outlines of family portraits. Apron-inspired shapes with a faux leather look subvert 1950s sexist advertisements where, as Olivia explains, “women are treated as meat”.
“The accumulation of the different colours and the graphic detail through foils and vinyls are there to weave a story.” They fit together in a method of working that Olivia calls “emotionally considerate design”.
Creating work in a sustainable way is also important to Olivia. “I’ve been using specialist felts and bonding those with heat-press vinyls, to create this fake leather effect, to almost look like skin. I wanted the garments to look like they’re part of your body and your DNA.” This method has the added benefit of being a vegan alternative to leather. Olivia has also been using Piñatex, a textile made from pineapple leaf fibre, and a material made from the protein of spoilt milk.
For Olivia, it’s the people who have contributed most to her time studying here. “My Edinburgh experience wouldn’t have been the same without my peers and the people I’ve met,” she says, “There’s sometimes this impression of fashion that it can be this closed-off and intimidating thing, but it’s not here – it feels like a family.”
“The critiques from the tutors have been so useful, and they definitely prepare you for the industry,” she says, “And the opportunities, too. We’ve done so many competitions and live projects with industry that give you new areas to research and explore where you are as a designer. Before University I didn’t know how to laser cut, or do sublimation or heat-pressing, but you learn so much when you’re here and through these projects.”
Olivia hopes to do some internships in one of the fashion capitals like Paris or Milan after graduating. “A lot will depend on what happens at Graduate Fashion Week,” she says, “a lot of job opportunities come from that.”