When it came time for New York designer Shanel Campbell to photograph her new Bed on Water collection last year, she was faced with limited options. Due to the pandemic, she couldn’t have that many people on set, so she resorted to styling her clothes on mannequins instead of traditional models—a “creepy” choice, she admits, but one that ended up being much more intentional than she first imagined. “[The mannequins] reference this idea of the ‘ideal fashion body,’” Campbell says. “I’m someone who’s always struggled with body dysmorphia, and I’ve always been like, ‘Oh, you wish you looked like this mannequin.’” She saw a clever irony in displaying her clothes, which she envisions for all body types, on a form that has traditionally perpetuated a narrow viewpoint of beauty.
Seeing Campbell’s striking, energetic pink ruffle dresses and printed cut-out dresses on lifeless bodies indeed made for an eerie end result. And in a way, that mysterious vibe of her new collection—which fuses elements of Afrofuturism and club wear—is just as enigmatic as the brand itself. On their Instagram page, the brand rarely posts content, yet their money-print bras and skirts are currently sold 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. Campbell, who is from the Bronx and a graduate of Parsons, admits to deliberately keeping a low profile. Like her mannequins, she prefers to remain faceless, allowing her clothes to speak for themselves. “I’m a super private person, and I’m not really a social media person,” she says.
So far, Campbell has only released two official collections, but each one has shown extreme promise and a glimpse into Campbell’s creative mind. Her first collection debuted during New York Fashion Week back in 2018 (the line was called Shanel at the time). “My first collection was very witchy; it was all red, and even a bit costume-y,” says Campbell, who showed sculptural dresses and separates in bright crimson. Her second collection, now under the name Bed of Water, is decidedly more vampy. She was drawn to a spooky-glam aesthetic for the line’s designs, which include velvety corsets and abstract-print slip dresses. “Being an October baby, I love Halloween and spooky season,” says Campbell. “I want to be the designer that just takes over October, but making really fire clothes—not costumes.”