Student Spotlight: Jessica Bonarius

Here at Platform, we like to promote our students and the talent NTU has to offer. I caught up with Jessica Bonarius, a second year BA (Hons) Costume Design student here at NTU to discuss her work, image and aspirations.

Jessica Bonarius spotted outside Waverley building in February 2012 by Platform photographer Olivia Williams for one of our Street Style feature


What inspires you?

Myself. The way I dress myself is usually a starting point.


So when you get a brief you usually look to yourself primarily?

It revolves around me and my own style a lot of the time, without a doubt.


OK well, where does the inspiration for your style come from?

From old Hollywood stars, from fashion eccentrics, from paintings of unusual characters, from anything out of the ordinary.  There is always a 40s influence on my hair or whatever, but I’ll always wear something that doesn’t quite co-ordinate with the 40s, like these pointy shoes. I prefer to create my own era.


And that’s what you try to do in your work?

Yes, I try to create it’s own era. I do look at period reference but I do enjoy creating something new, that’s never been done before.

Jessica Bonarius (third from left) with models wearing her final pieces for college


So would you always tend to go to a period in fashion as a starting point?

Well yes, probably, but maybe that would spur onto another period, I wouldn’t necessarily focus on one period in time and stick with that. Like,  for my Othello project which I have just finished, I explored Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen and then Elsa Schiaparelli whose work is from the 20s so it’s never from one particular era ever.


Would you say you take inspiration from other sources than fashion?

Ye! It definitely doesn’t just come from fashion, it’s got to come from all aspects, whether it’s literature, film, TV, paintings, just everything. The world around us.


Well, I suppose it has to because a costume isn’t just an outfit, is it?

Final Design for Othello, 2012

No. A costume has a personality and you are the one who creates that personality, not just the actor wearing it. It’s got to have meaning behind it, without a doubt. You can’t just sketch up an idea for a costume without having some kind of meaning behind it. You can’t just think “Right, there’s some green paint, let’s splat that on.” You have to have a reason for the colour being there.


So would you look at colour meanings and what feeling they provoke when looking at what colours to include?

Yes I definitely look at colour meanings a lot and whether I can link that in with the mood of the play or the character. I don’t necessarily go for a colour palette to start with, it tends to come together half way through. I’ll get it from the script a lot. For example, Othello has a theme of jealousy, but I wouldn’t necessarily just go and colour all the outfits in green. Fair point, green does represent jealousy, but I think that’s very obvious. I chose to do mine in black and white, very simple, it is what it is. When you are in this mental state, like Othello, everything is very black and white. There’s no colour, there’s no life to you, and I wanted to represent that. It isn’t going to be this whole mash up of colour because that’s not what Othello is thinking like. He’s going crazy. He’s unhappy in his life and so are the people around him that are getting pulled into it, and that’s what I wanted to represent.


Final Design for Othello’s Costume

Who are your idols? 

Ana Piaggi is one of my biggest style inspirations, not only towards my personal style but towards my art work. She was just a magnificent woman. There’s a list longer than my arm really of people that inspire me. I’m inspired by artists such as Frida Kahlo, Zhanda Rhodes, Otto Dix, Toulouse Lautrec and Carmen Miranda. I look up to Dolly Parton and Mae West massively. They are both strong, dominant females who can stand on their own without a man.


So you would take more influence from women?

Oh yes, definitely. I think women don’t get enough credit and I think it is still very much a man’s world. Men dominate and I think, although the Suffragette movement was a great step forward in society, women still aren’t on the same level as men and we aren’t counted as equals in my opinion. These women are really great role models as they stand on their own two feet and they push for women empowerment. I like that.


Do you not find any men inspiring then?

I do find men inspiring but I am more drawn to women. Maybe it’s not that I find the men I focus on inspiring, maybe I just fancy them! Take Elvis Presley for instance. However, if you look at Andy Warhol, he’s a guy and I find him totally inspiring but not attractive. I just think I am very drawn to females.

Final Design for Cabaret


Are these people your ‘go-to inspiration’ then? When you start a project would you generally start here?

No, no I don’t. That’s like saying “when you start a project, do you go to the library and read a book?” No I don’t. Sometimes I’ll come home and watch a film or I’ll sort my wardrobe out, and ideas start coming. It comes from different things. Around my room there’s visual imagery that I would use as a starting point… the world that I live in is my inspiration.


I look at your work and I think you have your own style. Do you see yourself as having a style?

I think in my drawing I have my own style. I have a free hand when it comes to sketching. I enjoy blind drawings and things like that as it gives a drawing an atmosphere without you having to give it one.  It almost creates a character that you’re not really trying to create sometimes. You might be doing a blind drawing out of pleasure and you suddenly create these characters without even knowing. I do tend to work in the same media: I use a lot of acrylic paint and I work on white A3 cartridge paper 99% of the time. I do like to use mixed media though so I do like to use soft pastilles over the top of acrylics and I use watercolour sometimes. I use nail varnish and glitter so I really play around with it. And although it looks like it comes out in the same style, I haven’t always used the same material.

Final Design for Cabaret


Is there a certain way in which you work?

I prefer to work in my room, it’s like my own little fun box of inspiration. I don’t like working around other people, I very much like my own space. When I get a very specific, very individual idea, I don’t like being around other people as I don’t want them to see it. I like to keep my ideas to myself and I don’t want to know anyone else is doing.

Final Design for Cabaret


Do you think you’ve changed much since coming to Nottingham Trent? Do you think you’ve changed direction at all?

I think I’ve always been very focused and known what I’ve wanted to do from a very young age. I like to push things to the extreme.  I wouldn’t say I’ve changed a lot though. My style hasn’t necessarily changed at all since coming to uni. In college I was very set on doing fashion so my drawings were more appropriate to that but here I am doing Costume Design so it’s more about giving the piece personality and life. You want people to look at it and be able to see a character so have had to develop that but I don’t think my style has changed much.


What do you see yourself doing after you leave Nottingham Trent?

I don’t know what I would be doing but eventually I would love to be working in film and TV but I’m so passionate about fashion. I would love to work within the fashion industry too, whether that’s having my own collection or not. I’m so passionate about both areas: one can’t survive without the other. I admire designers, writers and artists from both sides and I want to somehow bring them together.


Final Design for Cabaret

That makes sense, as you look at fashion as an influence for costume, however, what I have noticed is that, in the way you dress, you bring costume into it.

Definitely. Totally agree. I guess I am very extreme and I would wear something very flamboyant and most people these days wouldn’t. When things are put in a couture catwalk show, they wouldn’t be worn as everyday wear. That in itself is costume and a couture catwalk show is a performance. It’s not just a piece of clothing and if a designer says that then they are chatting shit.


How do you imagine your own clothing line?

I can’t answer that. It would depend on my life at the time and I couldn’t possibly imagine what it would look like until I started designing it.


By Olivia Williams