Double layer Swan Top And other thoughts

Although on the surface, it seems that the themes that I chose for the three conceptual ranges – Trans+Lucent, Carapace and Cardinal, are entirely unrelated, they do have a common thread running through them. They are all about the ways that we we protect ourselves. From life, from the world around us, from ourselves and from each other.

The main manners of protection that I am exploring at present, although there are many more which may well get brought in over time, are:

Physical (Carapace) through armour or through beauty. How similar we really are to insects. How we modify ourselves to protect our mushy insides from prodding through the creation of astounding outsides.

Magical (Trans+Lucent) Trans+Lucent was originally going to be about religion, particularly great gothic cathedrals protecting delicate stained glass windows and by extension the faith of those within.
At around the time I decided on this concept a number of big international designers simultaneously brought out stained glass window collections. Although what I had planned was very different to what they did, I decided to rather use that initial idea as a springboard to something that I would have more freedom to grow over time.

Symbolism in all its forms and with all its uses has always fascinated me. From creatures painted on cave walls to intricate alchemical diagrams to stark modern logos, symbols have always intergrated into every aspect of our lives.
Every culture throughout history has it’s symbolism. It’s magical tokens, talismans and rituals that keep evil at bay and subtly teach us about our own inner workings. What is especially surprising is exactly how universal and how relevant many of these symbols still are to modern and often secular lives and how many of the meanings are similar across cultures.

Nostalgia (Cardinal) nostalgia is a very modern protection. The first time nostalgia as a movement became obvious was the Victorian craze for medieval era. Never before have we had a worldwide civilization collectively look to the past as the “good ol days” Cardinal looks at how we wear our nostalgia to retain a romance and to deal with a too rapidly changing world and how easily our nostalgia can become dystopia.

Even though each range primarily deals with one theme, there obviously will be overlap such as in the Swan top.
I chose the swan as the first symbol to explore for Trans+Lucent after I randomly opened a marvelous book “The Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols by Udo Becker ” from our library looking for something else entirely and started reading about the symbolism of swans. They had never been on my list of “possibles” Probably because I always considered them to be a bit naff (although beautiful in real life) and absolutely done to death. The commonly held symbolism of swans as lovers and dying swans in ballets and for some reason, large amounts of young men and occasionally women been turned into swans in Eastern European fairy tales just held no interest for me, but suddenly after reading and doing a fair amount more digging in various other books and online, it all fell into place in the strange way that has been happening since I started on this journey.

I had wanted to start with a bird because birds mean so much to me on so many levels and Swan is my surname so it seemed to be a fortuitous start.

I started to sketch and it just felt right. The curves fell in the right place, the pose and the shape just happened. To be honest, the swan motif was one of the fastest drawings I have ever done and entirely without reference images.


The top itself I had been planning for a while. It is a double layer top which with it’s flat front, wide standing collar and double sleeves evokes the breastplate of a suit of armour, which is contrasted by the sheer fabric used. The finishing touch of the strong swan motif cutting across the front further brings home the armour feel with it becoming the coat of arms that could have been painted or etched onto the armour (or appliqued onto a tunic worn over the armour) to display either the wearer’s family arms or his allegiance.


Swan Symbolism: although there is so much symbolism attached to swans which does vary dramatically from culture to culture, (and a lot of it is about beauty, grace and love)  the part that really struck me is how black and white swans are particularly associated with gender, fluidity and mediation between elements.

The white swan often represents femininity with it’s associated attachments – beauty, the earth, spirituality (and a link with the next world), water and the sun, the black swan with the masculine and it’s associations such as strength, the black sun or moon, the occult and fire.

In alchemy, the Swan is associated with mercury and the spirit and is associated with the mediation between water and fire.

In other mythologies, swans can tell fortunes and portend death. The swan’s egg is often seen as the world egg.

I encourage you to make of it what you want. If it’s just a pretty top, that’s great, or you can choose the symbolism that speaks to you.  For me, the more I read, the more fascinated I become and more relevant to my life the Swan becomes and I attach my own version of these symbols to it. That is the beauty of all this.

What I am exploring with this is, how protective is a suit of armour if you can see and feel your heart straight through it, and through wearing that armour who do you become? My answer to the first half of that question would be “just enough” and I’ll leave you to answer the second.




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