Innocence meets twisted fantasy in the wacky world of Connor Baxter

London-based illustrator, fashion and textile designer Connor Baxter has transformed popular childhood fairy tales into a twisted dystopian fantasy of his own, one sewing machine at a time

Middlesex University graduate Connor Baxter is someone you need to have on your radar. His graduate collection “Little Town Blue” relives our favourite childhood fairy tales with colours, lines and symbols that provide for an eccentric and theatrical twist. Bridging elements of fine art with fashion and textiles, he has transformed several drawings into dramatically unusual trends perfectly suited for the catwalk.

A fashion forward concept, which all the while brings his imaginary dystopian universe to life. This 21-year-old has already had the likes of Christina Aguilera wearing one of his designs during NYFW. Despite this, there has been a missed opportunity by many global publications to cover his fascinating graduate collection and explore the awe-inspiring talent of a young illustrator from a small town called Eastbourne. He shared his story with me, how he came up with such an original concept and what he’s up to now in the following interview.

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An illustration from Connor’s graduate collection titled “Untitled 001: Little Town Blue”.

   Hey Connor, tell us about yourself!

I’ve recently graduated from Middlesex University, where I studied a three-year course in fashion and textiles. I originally grew up in a small town along the coast called Eastbourne. I chose to study in London, as there would be more opportunities in areas I’d like to succeed in.

An illustration from Connor’s graduate collection.

What was it like seeing Christina Aguilera wearing your Queen of Hearts jacket?

Christina Aguilera’s stylist Karen Clarkson got in contact with me about borrowing it and that she was sending it to New York. She hadn’t given much away, as to whether it was going to be used for definite. So, I hadn’t got my hopes up. A few days later, I woke up to people tagging me in photos of Christina wearing it. I was over the moon and overwhelmed. I felt like my work was being recognised on a different platform outside of fashion, but more mainstream.

Christina Aguilera pictured in The Sun newspaper wearing Connor’s “Queen of Hearts” jacket during NYFW.

That’s an incredible achievement! Congrats on getting that fashion and textiles degree under your belt too. So, how long have you been creating illustrations for?

From a young age, I’ve always been drawing. My parents noticed I had potential and would help me to be a part of exhibitions around Eastbourne and Brighton. But, when I was younger I would do more painting and life sketches. It’s only recently that I’ve started using digital software to help further my concepts. The concept was very specific for this project and I wanted to get everything in detail.

An illustration from Connor’s graduate collection.

How easy or hard was the path towards your degree? Did you always have it all figured out?

At college, I studied an art and design degree and wasn’t overly sure whether I wanted to go into fine art or fashion. I chose fashion knowing I could always bring fine art elements into it. Choosing fashion wasn’t always easy. Halfway through my BA Honours degree I tried to switch to fine art, as I felt very limited by what fashion had to offer. This was shortly after having interned in the fashion industry for two months.

I realised it’s a hard business to succeed in. I felt it was a struggle, which could lead to potentially getting nowhere. When I noticed this, it was hard to see how I’d succeed, considering my work isn’t exactly wearable all the time. Therefore, I had to rethink what type of designer I’d want to be. At this point I had no idea. It wasn’t till starting my research for my final year project in third year, that I realised a way to make a fine art project work in the fashion industry. This made me feel that I hadn’t got to compromise my ideas for a mainstream aesthetic.

That’s an inspiring come-up story. What’s your more preferred method of creating?

My concept involved creating these characters. I can’t physically get to the sewing machine and make these characters in ten minutes. So, this is where drawing and illustrating becomes great way to show people exactly what’s in my mind and is the quickest tool for doing so. I just wanted people to understand what I was creating, therefore illustrating these out was the easiest way before creating the fashion. But, often enough my designs would develop as I start to create them in fabric form.

Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Paul Smith, Stella McCartney are just a few of the more well-established and respected British fashion brands, which have an obvious global presence. As this collection is very high fashion, what aspects of London’s most prominent high fashion brands do you admire the most?

 Honestly, I don’t particularly look at ‘London’ brands. Not because I have anything against them, but the things I want to see are more global. I’m a big fan of COMME des GARÇONS and Margiela, because there’s a theatrical presence to their work. But, the first fashion references I acknowledged when growing up and learning about fashion was within films.

A jacket created by Connor for his graduate collection shown at the Barbican Conservatory.

Which up and coming or popular street style brands have caught your eye and why?

I couldn’t name any up and coming brands, as I haven’t been paying much attention to fashion recently. I’ve mainly been going to art exhibitions, as this is usually how I get my inspiration.

An illustration from Connor’s graduate collection.

This concept drew me in immediately, it made me reminiscence all the eccentric elements of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. The surreal imagery, symmetry, colour and contrast in your designs make your work incredibly striking and authentic. Stumbling across your Instagram page felt like a trip down the rabbit hole. The passion and commitment you put into your work is so apparent. Each image is like following you along this journey into a twisted fantasy presented through fashion. What was on your mood board for the collection and where do you draw your inspiration from?

So, at the beginning of last summer when collecting ideas for what was my final year project. I started by doing research into things from my childhood. I’d look particularly at a Disney film named Fantasia which blends together cartoon animation and orchestral music. I liked how childlike the imagery was and in a way wanted to create an imaginary world of my own.

As I started looking into ‘imaginary’ worlds, I came across a book which referenced a town in Nevada in 1951 named “dooms town”. It was a nuclear weaponry testing sight. In this town it would consist of a few houses with mannequins of people, which they’d test bombs and all types of weapons on. The soldiers would go as far as painting the faces of the mannequins, which came across to me as pretty sinister as there was no need for it. When reading into this, I decided to create my own town named “little town blue”. It was based on the town I grew up in.

In this imaginary town I’ve created are characters that are family members and emotions. The story of the town is these characters live each day waking up and throughout the day they get experimented on. They change garments almost like a theatrical play. There are multiple costume changes, due to me wanting to design so many different styles for each character. When it comes to the end of the day, they go to sleep and relive the same day again but in different scenarios.

That’s pretty insane! Would be cool to see a film adaptation of your idea, with you as the costume designer and wardrobe stylist. What was it like having to present designs from your graduate collection to the people in the industry and media in the iconic Barbican conservatory?

Presenting my work with my friends in the Barbican centre was the best feeling, as it felt like an achievement. The Barbican is a historically great place. I had done research there before, but had never thought my work would be shown there.

Which brands, publications or organisations would you like to work with?

 The brands I’d like to work with are high conceptual brands like COMME des GARÇONS. I think their work is exceptional. Sadly they’re not located in London, but given the opportunity to go over to one of their studios is something I wouldn’t turn down.

Connor’s “Queen of Hearts” jacket from his graduate collection shown at the Barbican Conservatory.

What has been the most challenging thing you’ve had to overcome whilst experimenting with different textiles?

 The most challenging thing I’ve had to overcome with different textiles is sometimes a material won’t move in the way that you planned, but there are always ways to overcome it. Sometimes, that means adjusting the design which can be a way to develop it further.

Can you give us any clues as to what you’re working on at the moment?

At the moment, I’m working on some new fabric ideas for a mini collection. I’m continuing with a conceptual theme, but the tone to this theme will be more dark and eerie. I have looked into a lot of Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock films for inspiration. I’m happy with the direction I’m going in and hope others like it too.

A jacket created by Connor for his graduate collection shown at the Barbican Conservatory.

Just before you go, what direction do you want your work to take in the years to come?

I think my work will continually be theatrical and always bring in an element of fine art. This is the type of fashion designer I’d like to be. However, where I’ll be in the next five years or so, I’m not entirely sure…

Items from Connor’s graduate collection featured in the first issue of Pasika Magazine.