Fashion’s Mysterious Label to Watch Is Bed on Water

Fashion's Mysterious Label to Watch Is Bed on Water
Fashion's Mysterious Label to Watch Is Bed on Water/courtesy of Facebook

Shanel Campbell, a New York designer, had limited options when it came to photographing her new Bed on Water collection last year. Because she couldn’t have as many people on set due to the pandemic, she resorted to styling her clothes on mannequins rather than traditional models—a “creepy” decision, she admits, but one that turned out to be far more intentional than she had anticipated. “[The mannequins] allude to the concept of the ‘ideal fashion body,’” Campbell says. “I’ve always struggled with body dysmorphia, and I’ve always thought to myself, ‘Oh, you wish you looked like this mannequin,’” she says. She saw a clever irony in showcasing her clothes, which she envisions for all body types, on a form that has historically promoted a narrow definition of beauty.

Campbell’s vibrant, energetic ruffled pink dresses and printed cutout frocks on lifeless bodies produced an eerie effect. In some ways, the enigmatic vibe of her new collection—which fuses Afrofuturism and clubwear—is just as mysterious as the brand itself. The label’s money-print bras and skirts are currently available on the Gucci Vault, the label’s online concept store stocking emerging designers and vintage Gucci pieces, and have been worn by celebrities such as Tracee Ellis Ross Issa Rae, and Solange Knowles. Campbell, a Bronx native and Parsons School of Design graduate, admits to keeping a low profile on purpose. She, like her mannequins, prefers to keep her face hidden so that her clothes can speak for themselves. “I’m a super-private person who isn’t really into social media,” she explains.

Campbell has only released two official collections so far, but each one has shown great promise and provided insight into the designer’s creative process. In 2018, she debuted her first collection during New York Fashion Week (the line was called Shanel at the time). “My first collection was very witchy; it was all red and even a little costumey,” Campbell says of her bright crimson sculptural dresses and separates. Her second collection, now titled Bed of Water, is a lot more vampy. For the line’s designs, which include velvety corsets and abstract-print slip dresses, she was drawn to a spooky-glam aesthetic. “I love Halloween and the spooky season because I was born in October,” Campbell says. “I want to be the October designer, but I want to make really nice clothes, not costumes.”

Campbell drew inspiration for the new collection from her past. “The research began with an understanding of my history: I’m African-American with Caribbean ancestry,” Campbell explains. “There’s a lot of dark stuff in African American history, but there’s also a lot of rich color and soul.” In her graphics, Campbell depicted this by incorporating abstract patterns with deeper meanings. She says, “There are prints extracted from the last five seconds of a James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni interview.” “It’s a two-hour interview, but it glitches in an odd way near the end.” I took it, and I repurposed it in Photoshop, and then made prints from it.” The designer also experimented with a more industrial look. “My dad was a construction worker, and when I was younger, he would take me to the construction sites while he was putting himself through law school,” says Campbell. She used a heavy-duty, 1,000-denier canvas to produce some of the dresses. “I used it to create these very feminine, shaped pieces, but the fabric is [traditionally] used to make tool kits and tool bags.”

In addition to her distinctive vision for the clothes, the designer hopes to make Bed on Water more of a collective, where fellow BIPOC creatives can come to collaborate on various projects. “I want Bed on Water to be a multidisciplinary art house,” says Campbell. “I want to employ people of color and to be weird and alternative, and offer them a safe space—because sometimes we’re put in a box, by other people and even by our own people.” Until then, however, she says she already has some exciting fashion projects of her own in the pipeline. “I’ve already fully sketched out the next collection. I have more than 50 sketches,” notes Campbell. “I’m going slow and taking my time. If you look at my social media, you may think I do nothing—but I actually work a lot privately!”

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