“Once or twice every year I leave Belgium for a month, and I take my books, which I buy from flea markets. Everything is in the books, all of my collection that’s going to be born. This is where the world of my drawings begins. I have nearly 50 books now. Often they’re music books. I try to leave a little bit of the history, so you feel the life in the book, and then I bring a new life on top.”
Some recent books are stacked on the bench in her atelier, and others fill the bookshelves in the nearby house. Our interview stops while I browse through one. It’s a fascinating object in its own right, beyond the fashion creations it leads to.
In places, the original text shows through, giving an effect like the menus and bus-tickets used in collage by Picasso. She considers them, too, works in themselves.
“I often work with the same models: after all these years, they know when I do this [draws a curve] how to interpret it in the dresses.”
The books are a record of Tilley’s time and concentration. “When I leave for a month, I work night and day, and I’m alone. Sometimes my daughters come for a couple of days, but then they go back to Belgium. They have asked me, ‘If your house was burning down, what would you save?’ and I answered, ‘I’m taking my children and my books’.”
She has been working with these kind of books for more than 20 years. “I cannot do anything without my books. In them is all of my inspiration. But I need to bring them into reality. I go to sleep with it and get up with it.”