British sculptural artist Zoe Bradley found inspiration in an origami flower that caught her eye at a flea market, and now she's making them by the thousands. The late fashion designer Alexander McQueen spotted her penchant for theatricality and quickly put her to work on his catwalk creations. Using the unconventional fashion medium of paper, she went on to create signature works for Michiko Koshino and IDN, and window displays for Tiffany, Missoni, Donna Karan and Lane Crawford. In town recently to create a dress from 3,000 red paper roses for a display at a mall in Sha Tin, Bradley quickly went to work; she had less than three days to complete the dress, which was fitted on to a 3.5-metre mannequin. The structure had to be moved onto a dais before Bradley and her team could cover the mannequin's petticoat, an enormous metal cage, with the origami roses. 'Making a rose can take from 30 seconds to five minutes,' Bradley says. 'But when you're dealing with 3,000 of those, you're dealing with quite a lot of man hours. The work is going to be day and night.' The paper dress installation was commissioned by New Town Plaza as a tribute to the late Princess Diana. The thousands of red roses are emblematic to the work's theme: love. 'The English rose is iconic, and kind of fitting, too,' Bradley says. 'It needs to be quite an English statement.' She reaches over to the table beside her and from a stack of metallic red paper selects one thin strip. 'I came across the idea when I found one of these [origami roses] in a flea market. So I took it apart, sat down with it, tried to work it out and tried to get my own take on it. Then suddenly, I'm making thousands of them in lots of different sizes. 'It's really about finding things in unexpected situations and making a beautiful artwork out of them,' she says, rolling and folding the red paper until it took the form of a flower bud. 'And there's your rose!' Paper is a difficult medium to work with, Bradley says, and an unlikely one for fashion. Even so, she loves working with paper because it is easy to find in any country, despite its sensitivity to moisture and vulnerability to wear and tear. Bradley uses an iridescent paper that has a metal filament running through it, giving the material 'good memory' and the ability to keep its shape. Many of the installations are not designed to last, as even the most durable paper degrades over time from heat, light and dust. Paper's impermanence contributes to the ephemeral nature of Bradley's work, which she describes as a nexus between fashion and theatre. Although she doesn't consider herself a fashion designer, couture gowns form much of her oeuvre even if they are not meant to be worn. She says they are fantasy dresses from 'magical fairy-tale sets'. 'In my world everything is larger than life, like Alice in Wonderland,' Bradley says. 'You want the apple, but you want to see the apple larger than life. Or a dress that's drawn completely out. There's a beautiful scene [in the Tim Burton film] where Alice is walking out and there are these roses that are twice her size. That's very much the way I see things - through rose-tinted glasses.' As if on cue, an assistant walks past carrying a gargantuan paper rose. It is a headpiece, measuring nearly 75cm in diameter, a nod to the late Isabella Blow, fashion icon and muse to hat designer Philip Treacy. Bradley worked with Blow early in her career. 'Isabella Blow was the underground of the fashion scene; I was lucky enough to work with her when I was at McQueen's because she was always coming to the shows and was a huge admirer of his work.' Blow's extravagant style has influenced her work, but Bradley's collaboration with McQueen has left a bigger impression. After graduating in fashion design at Middlesex University in 1997, Bradley started out as an assistant to McQueen; when she proved herself through work in silhouettes, he took her off the main line of commercial fashion and assigned her to special runway showpieces. '[McQueen] was an extraordinary character and quite scary at times,' Bradley says. 'He was based half the time in Paris, so sometimes you'd get a design scribble sent to you by fax and in two days time you needed [to create] a fully-executed outfit. It was really challenging and it's helped me get to where I want to today. I kind of expect that from my team as well.' Bradley considers herself fortunate to have worked for the fashion house when the brand was still young and edgy. The decision to leave and strike out on her own was difficult. '[McQueen] was a very inspiring person,' she says. 'The best of the best was working with him at that point. But, I decided I wanted to design for my own brand; I didn't want to work for someone else's design.' Bradley's work seems to have influenced two design students from Polytechnic University, Bethany Mak and Berrick Liu, who were also invited to exhibit original paper designs based on the theme of love. Mak created a soft organic silhouette with paper and feathers, inspired by the goddess of love. Liu's costume had a futuristic feel; black and white chevrons represented the miscommunication of lovers, according to the designer. Bradley says the students' designs are reminiscent of some of her past work. 'It's great to see how we inspire young students. It's nice to be able to give back.' '[Bradley's] dress is stunning,' Mak says. 'It's very feminine and elegant. If there was a small size, I'd want to get one.' It's unlikely that there will be a Zoe Bradley ready-to-wear line, however. While Bradley understands that admirers might want to own a part of her brand, she fears being trapped in the commercial world. And her designs may be too extreme for all but the most eccentric to wear. The dress of roses will be on display on the third-floor atrium of the mall until September 12. Anyone wanting to own a part of Bradley's brand can buy a signature paper rose online from her website, www.zoebradley.com . 'It's a rose that never dies,' Bradley says.