London College of Fashion MA Graduates: We Spotlight Oliver Ruuger

The second in our LCF MA graduate interview series is Oliver Ruuger, whose work was a scene stealer in the ‘MA Fashion Artefact’ show. We were fascinated by the incredibly accomplished and confident pieces that felt more as if they were part of the collection from a very high end and well established brand, with not a small dash of the sculptural mixed with a healthy splash of sadism. This collection was awarded the MA Award in Design and Oliver graduated with a distinction.


Oliver is originally from Hiiumaa island in the Baltic sea. He moved from a rural village to London in 2004 to study BA Fashion at Kingston University, focusing on menswear. He won a design competition in his 2nd year of BA studies and as a result interned in New York during summer ‘09 for a well known American fashion brand, designing shoes, accessories and outerwear. This experience sparked his interest for accessories and he went on to do several other shoe and accessories based work placements during his studies, including for the fabulous Nicholas Kirkwood.

Oliver graduated with an award for studentship and went on to work as an accessories designer for one year, before applying for the ‘MA Fashion Artefact’ course, run by Dai Rees at London College of Fashion, for which he was awarded the Harold Tillman scholarship. Olivers MA collection of umbrellas, briefcases and sculptural saddles is a result of a personal exploration of design process, material and make. The pieces exhibit a high level of technical ability as he has combined incredibly hi tech processes with low tech manual, traditional workmanship to produce an accomplished body of work. Oliver is making his collection to order and is also interested in collaborative work.

Over to Oliver himself…


The final project for my MA studies is a collection of umbrellas, briefcases and saddles. I view the articles as luxury fashion products however I want the pieces to justify their value on their own without the whole luxury ‘bubble’ and hype. The pieces are sculptural, and although they are fully functional (apart from the saddles) they equally work presented as objects of contemplation in still life. The look of the work is derived from initial choices of ‘charged’ materials (bark tanned leather, tonewood, brass, horsehair) and realized through empirical research. The technical parts are resolved in a manner that they can lend themselves to further commercial fashion product development. Every component is designed and fabricated as an one off. I worked with an engineer and a jeweler for the metalwork, and produced the rest myself.

What would your dream job be?

I would love to collaborate with a fashion brand/film director/an avant-garde personality to produce further work.

Who or what has proven to be your longest standing inspiration?

ma mère

If not accessories/ artefacts, what other creative discipline would you have chosen?

any design based discipline appeals to me… possibly product design or architecture

Who would your ideal client be?

some illustrious eccentric

What is the most exciting thing that you learnt on your MA?

Not to worry too much and just remember that I am doing this because i love it.

What three words best sum up your aesthetic?

presence, sleek, industrial

For more inspirational interviews, just click here. Enjoy!

London College of Fashion MA Graduates: We Spotlight Zoe Grace Fletcher

We were invited to the LCF‘s MA Graduate show at Victoria House. It was a wonderfully diverse show and all of the featured graduates delivered very polished and desirable work. We fell in love with the work of four graduates in particular. Each approached their particular discipline in a unique way and we were inspired by their methods as well as the results of their labours. Here is the first interview, in a small series, and we hope that you enjoy learning about some new creative talents who are imminently to be unleashed on the fashion industry.

Zoe Grace Fletcher‘s MA was in ‘Fashion and the Environment’ and she focused on knitwear, and more specifically the knitwear industry within the British Isles. The pieces shown, however, initially grabbed our attention from a fashion perspective with their amazing proportion, colour and texture. We then looked deeper into Zoe’s approach and learned the amazing journey that she took to create those pieces

So, over to Zoe…


I have always been obsessed with creating, making, doodling, knitting – anything to keep my hands and mind busy. Knitting was the perfect antidote – as a self confessed perfectionist I love having the total control of creating the fabric and silhouette shape at the same time. During my degree studying textiles and fashion the enjoyment of seeing the full journey of processes that went into creating a garment spurred me on to my final project. I became increasingly dissatisfied with the types of yarn available at reasonable prices, and didn’t understand why it was more expensive to buy British wool than wool and synthetic alternatives that had been shipped half way around the world. Delving deeper I was horrified to find that there was little left of what was once a great industry in Britain. This realisation spurred me to learn more about how we can sustain ourselves with the resources that surround us, to try and slow down the fashion trend of buying, buying, buying and take stock of the value and the craftsmanship that goes into each piece of clothing we wear.


My work evolves around the idea of slowing down the fashion cycle, Exploring the possibilities for drastic locality within the British Isles. To inspire, utilise and push the boundaries of British wool within the fashion sector, whilst inspiring a new generation to connect with and value their clothing.
Using 100% British wool that I have seen sheared (and attempted myself!), processed and spun locally, connecting with local experts and businesses to forge links between different design sectors, using natural plant dyes grown in Britain, and utilising traditional knitting techniques from a modern perspective, I hope to engage the consumer on a more personal level, and connect with them whilst showing the true value of their clothing in a fashion-led collection.
My belief is that to move forward, progress, and rebuild a once powerful industry that can provide local fashions and trends to local people, we need to look back to the past to see how communities worked together when the world wasn’t so connected.  As well as seeing the importance of being interlinked globally with other nations, we also need to see the importance of being interlinked as transformed local communities.
To see a final collection of physical objects encompass many hard months of researching, learning, developing and making, as well as being able to pinpoint individual collaborations with lovely talented people throughout the designs was satisfying to see. Creating pieces in bold bright colours enabled me to challenge people’s perceptions of natural plant dyes and has spurred me on to think bigger and bolder next time.

What would your dream job be?
A creator of beautiful hand crafted pieces – knowing exactly where they came from and how they were made.
Possibly being an initiator for others to do the same and have a lovely platform for like-minded people to come together. As well as having the time to research and connect other designers and small businesses together to gain the best that we can out of our Great British resources – especially promoting the beautiful wool we have abundantly available, and continuing to push the boundaries of how it is used and interpreted in a fashion context to try and convert people away from fast throw-away fashion to loving one piece that can be dressed in many different ways to suit individual tastes.
I would love to experience many different areas of fashion design and see how sustainable thinking can be integrated into different sized business models – so I am open to many different research and design opportunities.

Who or what has proven to be your longest standing inspiration?
My local surroundings, friends and family constantly inspire me. Finding lovely people with genuinely amazing skills on my doorstep – that collaborate with me and teach me about subjects that go completely over my head as a designer, to create exploratory and unique outcomes always amazes me!

If not knitwear, what other creative discipline would you have chosen?
Since being really little I have explored every craft imaginable – I just love designing, making and seeing an idea come to life – I was never happier than when I was tucked in a quiet corner with some paper, pens, scissors and glue. I can’t sing, have no coordination or musical talent (except for a scratchy year on the violin) so it would definitely have to be an arty alternative that captured my imagination!

Can you see a place for sustainability at all levels of the fashion market?
Definitely, there are so many ways to incorporate a more valued fashion life-cycle, from up-cycling, customizing and buying vintage, re-skilling through education and workshops to encouraging people to treasure pieces for longer, combining a more ethical approach to production through providing a living wage and safe working environment within clothing manufacture, fair trade initiatives and organic approaches to raw materials, dyeing and finishing, combining technological advances within clothing, and creating valued pieces through traditional techniques and valuing craftsmanship skills whilst utilizing valuable resources effectively. Each different aspect overlaps and targets different areas of the fashion market- from high end to high street – so there’s no excuse!

What is the most exciting thing that you learnt on your MA?
That there is no one answer to ‘sustainability’, we have to continue to strive for more in many different areas, from bridging the gap between science and fashion, to seeing not only the importance of being interlinked globally with other nations, but also the need to be interlinked as local communities. Everyone on the MA had such varied opinions, principles and amazing skills that it was fantastic to work beside them, progressing such varied ideas and seeing such beautifully different outcomes all interlinking the need for change within the fashion sector.

What three words best sum up your aesthetic?
Practical, colourful, cherished.

Blink Interviews: Felicity Brown

The final interview of the year, and dare we say that we may have left the best until last? No, we couldn’t possibly say that. It would be rude to the rest of our interviewees- but maybe this one is about the most ‘up and coming’ or the ‘most fashion exciting’…

The subject is the wonderful Felicity Brown. We first spotted her work at February’s LFW when her inaugural collection was shown as part of Vauxhall Fashion Scout. We fell in love again when we saw her work at September’s Fashion Week as part of the NewGen designers. Have a look at our post on this great selection of talent, including the brilliant Felicity Brown.

Prior to launching her own collection, Felicity had designed for Alberta Ferretti, Loewe, Mulberry and, most recently, Lanvin. That’s an incredibly impressive CV to build up in a few years since graduating from the Royal College of Art. Her work seems to combine a certain fragility with a really modern feminine aesthetic that is utterly unique; as is Felicity’s working arrangements- she splits her time between her studio in East London and a wonderful atelier in the desert of Dubai.

Many thanks to Felicity, Henry and the team who made this interview possible. We are very grateful for the time that you gave us.

For you, what is the most important aspect of being a designer?
Having the amazing opportunity to create my own ideas.

How do you start developing a new season’s look?
I bury myself in lots of books and mountains of fabric

What project are you currently working on and how is it shaping up?
I am currently working on my A/W 2011 collection that’s very Bedouin inspired. It is looking a little wild right now and maybe a little too uncut but so far I am happy with it.

Which comes first for you, your personal aesthetic or general trends?
Personal aesthetic

What is currently inspiring you?
I have been looking at Central American masks. They are not pleasing to the eye but there is something appealing in the expression created out of all the contrasting elements.
I love the way that they mix up completely opposing things, like the way they fill the hair with crazy different elements and the extreme expression of the mask. They are so bizarre, so odd, I really like them.

Do you think that ethical and sustainable issues are at all relevant to what you do?
I wish they were but its currently only a wish because of the nature of the dresses, we are a small production. Its all very cottage industry at the moment.
But everything that has been made is hand made, from paper stenciling to hand dying and printing. All done in old traditional techniques giving the garments that look.

What or who are your longest standing design influences?
I admire Lanvin and Balenciaga

How would you describe the Felicity Brown aesthetic?

Any style secrets?
Keep it unfinished

Who would you like to collaborate with, past or present?
I would love something incredible like a day in Picasso’s studio and as for present, I would like to work with someone from a different discipline, like a painter.

What would you like your business to achieve in 5 years time?
To stay strong and true

Pencil and paper or computer and mouse?

Do you work differently in your Dubai and London studios?
Yes, in London you take it all in and absorb where as in the desert you can concentrate- it’s so still.

I feel most creative when…
When I’m buried in fabric.

Felicity Brown

Felicity Brown's Spring Summer 2011 collection

Felicity Brown's Spring Summer 2011 collection

Felicity Brown's Autumn Winter 2010 collection

Felicity Brown's Autumn Winter 2010 collection

Blink guest blogs for the CSF: ‘Joy’

Here’s the guest blog post that I wrote for the Bulletin, the brilliant blog for The Centre of Sustainable Fashion.

So, the subject matter this month is ‘Joy’ and this one turned out not to be quite as straight forward as I first imagined. I was thinking of posting pictures of things that bring me joy, and then I realized its not really these things that bring joy but moments, relationships and experiences. An unexpected smile and things seen out of the corner of your eye just get your heart fluttering far more than a new pair of shoes. Actually, scrub that- shoes are one of the only ‘things’ that will always bring joy, until they make your tootsies ache or give you a blister!
I realized that we all spend most of our day working and so I decided to think about what brings me job in my working life. Joy in your day job is not always something that’s achievable, but for those of us lucky enough to be perusing our dreams its a definite box to be ticked when you are sense checking the path that you have chosen. I thought I’d put the question out there to creative friend’s of “Blink” and here are some really lovely answers which I hope you will find inspiring…

Victoria Brotherson, Founder of ‘Scarlet and Violet’:
“When we get the first box of English sweet peas of the year I know the day is going to be a complete breeze. That is a truly joyful feeling. Also I am lucky enough to laugh a lot at work, mainly at my own and the team’s general gooniness, which is a tremendous joy. Then there are the moments of pure delight that we see on a customers face when they collect a bunch of flowers and they leave the shop. That is a weird combination of pride, relief and joy!”

Steve Wallington, Founder and Creative Director of ‘Inn London’:
“Everything!  I hopefully have managed to carve out a job that allows me to do all things I love. From meeting new & interesting people whilst traveling, documenting this through film and script and then curating and exhibiting the most talented people from across the globe. Cant get much better can it?”

Dilys Williams, Founder and Director of ‘The Centre for Sustainable Fashion‘:
“Its all about the people! And curiosity and surprise and great clothes – but mainly its the fact that my work offers me the opportunity to exchange thoughts, ideas and actions with some of the most incredible thinkers, doers and collaborators that you’d wish to come across.”

For me, I find joy in seeing my business, “Blink London”, evolve, develop and grow. You may launch your business with a fixed mission in mind, but if you don’t let the market’s changing requirements, your customer and your growing experience all combine to shape and tweak that initial plan, you may not have a business for long. I always feel joy when I complete a project and deliver it to a happy client (as well as feeling relief!).  I also get a real frisson of joy when I find something or someone that inspires me, just like the three people I have quoted above always do. Thanks to all of them for getting involved.

For more “Blink” blog posts related to the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, just click here.

Blink Interviews: Rob Ryan

In our opinion, Rob Ryan is one of the most romantic, creative and innovative artists working in London today. An additional joy is that Ryan’s work is so accessible via the broad product choice in his super cool store, Ryantown, on Columbia Road.
Robert Ryan was born in Akrotiri, Cyprus in 1962. He studied Fine Art at Trent Poly between 1981 and 1984 and then printmaking at the RCA from 1984 until 1987. Two years ago in July he opened Ryantown and his studio is located nearby.
We were really delighted and not a little honoured when Rob agreed take some time out from his hectic schedule to be interviewed for the “Blink” blog. Thanks very much Rob! Thanks also to Hazel for helping us to make this happen.

For you, what is the most important aspect of being an artist?
If it has to provide for you and your family, you have to get that aspect right. I’ve only recently been making a living from making art.
Its also really important to make an environment that you can be free to create in. It takes a lot of time, energy and commitment.
I’m now in the position of needing to make choices between jobs and what I decide to take on. Do I want to do anything at all or just work on my own projects? It’s a wonderful place to be but a bit scary. Although actually, I’m as happy now as when I’d just left college working as a cycle courier and being creative when I could. It’s the doing that is the excitement for me.

Which comes first for you, the text in your work or the imagery?
Either or both. Sometime one or the other, sometimes together. I constantly jot in notebooks and then piece it all together. The words incorporated in my work are kind of verbal doodles for me.

Do you think that ethical and sustainable issues are at all relevant to what you do?
In the creation of the work, absolutely. Recently we produced a printed silk scarf in India. We collaborated with NV London Calcutta to ensure that this was ethically created and that the workers were all well paid.

What project are you currently working on and how is it shaping up?
We are working on two exhibitions, the first one, called ‘The Stars Shine All Day Too’, opens today, so its been heads down while we’ve been getting ready for the launch. This show is in London at the Air Gallery on Dover Street and will be about new work mainly. The second show is in Stafford and opens on November 12th. It will be a mixture of new and old, almost as an introduction to my work.
This will be followed by a well-earned break and then it’s back to creating Christmas shop stock.
After that I’ll be working on a new book for next September. It’s a children’s story written and illustrated by me. It’s bigger than a classic picture book with lots more in it.

What or who are your longest standing influences?
I’ve always been influenced by painting and fine art. Titian is the greatest painter ever, also Raphael and Donatello. I love Italian painting. I am a long-standing fan of German painting too. I’m massively into the Romantics like Mensel, Schinkel, Friedrich. It’s their solitary viewpoint, a thoughtfulness, something deeply introspective and a unique approach to landscapes.

How would you describe the Rob Ryan aesthetic?
Homespun, whatever I feel like doing that morning- whether it’s on to a plate or T shirt or an intricate paper-cut. It is what it is…

What is currently tempting you into making a purchase for you, your home or your studio?
We need to buy a new screen-printing surface, which is quite an investment. For me I’d really like a scooter. An orange Vespa ready to be covered in stickers would be perfect- its all about the colour more than anything.

Has your career developed in the way that you expected it to?
Yes and no. I didn’t think I’d be working as part of a team. I thought I would always be trying to do my own work, but didn’t expect it to become a company, with people helping me. I didn’t think of success, just of doing the work. I really expected to be self sufficient I suppose.

Who would you like to collaborate with, past or present?
People tend to come to me to discuss collaborations, rather than the other way around. If I could, I would really like to work with Tim Walker. He’s got a poets eye and I like that.

When do you feel most creative?
Mostly it’s just before going to bed. I keep a sketchbook by the bed. If I have a thought I jot it down. That inevitably leads to more thoughts and then I’m wide awake again so it’s a little counterproductive!

We’ll be heading to the London exhibition and we think you all should too. What a great opportunity to see some amazing new work from this wonderful artist. Thanks again to Rob and his team. We wish you huge success in both exhibitions and we can’t wait to see how the children’s book turns out!

Robert Ryan. This portrait was commissioned for a piece in 'Crafts' magazine

For more inspirational interviews, just click here.

Blink Interviews: Gaudion Bowerbank

We first met Gaudion Bowerbank when attending a course on working sustainably at the brilliant Centre for Sustainable Fashion. Gaudion Bowerbank were already well progressed on their chosen path towards showcasing amazing jewellery that had been created sustainably and ethically, and we have watched their business go from strength to strength over the past year- never swerving from their mission.

In 2009 Gaudion Bowerbank was born out of the desire this duo have for creating an environment which fosters artistic freedom and creative collaboration leading to more intelligent design; a studio-boutique that would promote the behind-the-scenes craftsmanship of the best contemporary jewellery in the world. Working from small studios or their homes, the designers’ devote fine materials, years of expertise, and the physical workmanship hours needed to craft the orders by hand, one at a time.

“It was really important to Kelly and I that Gaudion Bowerbank have a point of difference, we wanted to offer our customers and designers a new retail experience, something with traditional values but with a contemporary and fresh aesthetic. Yes, on a basic level it [Gaudion Bowerbank] is a shop, but it’s a gallery too, a window into designers’ studios, and the hub of a vibrant, interactive, creative community.”
Claire Gaudion, Co-founder of Gaudion Bowerbank

Gaudion Bowerbank won designer brand of the year at London Jewellery Week in June 2010.

In addition to running Gaudion Bowerbank; Kelly Bowerbank works as a Junior Fashion Editor at Asos. Prior to that Kelly worked on the fashion desk at the Guardian for almost three years, with editors Jess Cartner-Morley and Imogen Fox. Claire Gaudion, alongside her role at Gaudion Bowerbank, also works for Edina Ronay assisting with design, buying and website development. She began this job whilst studying at London College of Fashion, which is where Claire and Kelly met.

We interviewed Kelly Bowerbank, picking her brains on her inspiration and influences. Thanks for the time you have given us Kelly!

Tell us about your current design crush
I’m really excited about a textile designer we’re launching soon. She’s a very talented weaver who makes beautiful scarves and throws. To the untrained eye her work is haphazard and geometric; but each of the patterns that make up her pieces have a secret Morse code word woven into them. My favourite is the design based on the word ‘love’, if you don’t know Morse code, then you’d never guess that’s what it said, or indeed that it said anything at all. It’s such a clever, imaginative concept, and it makes for an incredibly thoughtful gift. I will be treating the special people in my life to one of her scarves come Christmas!

Do you think that wearability is more important than creativity?
My head says yes, but my heart says no! Seriously, I think that (for me at least), it’s about balance. What I wear has to keep me from indecently exposing myself, fairly dry if it rains, and at a pleasant temperature- those are the non-negotiable ‘wearability’ factors. However, I don’t believe that creativity has to be sacrificed to tick these boxes. Even wardrobe staples: white t-shirts, navy jumpers, black trousers, can have beautiful, unexpected design details. I heard someone refer to these as ‘premium basics’ recently, which I thought was nice.

For you, what is the most important aspect of being an independent retailer?
Being able to promote emerging talent. In times of economic difficulty, the large department stores and chains are reluctant to take ‘risks’ with little-known designers. We can be much more flexible and reactive in our approach, and it means we can support new graduates and fresh talent.

Which comes first for you, personal style or trends?

I have eclectic style. One day I may be dressed in homage to Mad Men, the next could be my take on military, and another I’ll be channeling Snoop Dog (yes really). Trends don’t massively influence me, but I do nod in their direction, especially when it comes to styling my outfits. There’s been a massive shift towards minimalism recently, so I’ll be putting a lot of our designer’s simple, paired back pieces to good use this season.

Do you think that ethical and sustainable fashion can compete with main stream high-street fashion?

It has to, and it is. Today’s customers are shrewd, if ethical fashion doesn’t fulfill their requirements then they just won’t buy it. Of course, there is still room for improvement, but in recent years, the design credentials of the best ethical fashion has really improved to a point where is can easily compete with the fast fashion of the high-street

What season are you currently working on and how is it shaping up?
Gaudion Bowerbank doesn’t really work on seasonal basis, we just choose designers that we love and who deserve a platform for their work. We do apply some common sense to our operational schedule though, for example we wouldn’t launch a knitwear designer in June, when what women really want is is summery dress.

What or who are your longest standing design influences?
Elsa Schiaparelli and Martin Margiela. I’m the proud owner of a Margiela jacket, the shoulders are so huge that I have to go through doorways side on when I wear it. I’ve yet to acquire any Schiaparelli, but I’m hopeful!

What’s currently inspiring you?
We visit many graduate and new designer shows each year, and there have been some great ones this summer. Seeing all of the new talent, fresh and enthusiastic, re-affirms our ethos. Creating a platform that supports emerging designers, that’s inspiring. Claire and I are both also  really looking forward to the Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion, exhibition opening soon at the Barbican Art Gallery. I’m sure I’ll come out of there energized, notepad and pencil in hand, eager to design and create!

How would you describe Gaudion Bowerbank’s fashion aesthetic?
Minimal, timeless, and beautiful. A bold design statement.

What is currently tempting you into making a purchase?

Erm, I’m a little embarrassed by this, but I’ve literally just bought some Rebecca Taylor leopard trousers, despite lots of protests from my boyfriend. After the February fashion weeks I realised there was a huge gap in my wardrobe where animal print trousers should be. Mulberry and Ungaro presented some gorgeous ones; mine are charcoal and black, they’re made of really soft wool. They’re much nicer than what you’re probably imagining! If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m a sucker for fashion…

Any style secrets?
Wear at least one thing everyday that makes you smile. And wear it with confidence.

How has the ethical and sustainable fashion scene changed since you opened your business?

The awareness of ethical and sustainable fashion is growing all the time; both within the industry as more brands launch eco/organic/fairtrade lines, and with customers becoming more conscientious shoppers. Since opening the business, we’ve definitely perceived a positive shift towards sustainable fashion. A year or two ago people were engaging with ethical fashion because they felt they should, but now it’s because they actually want to- there’s been a massive change in attitude.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Seeing the craft behind the products. It’s amazing to be privy to the skill and the love that goes into creating them.

Any future projects that you’d like to tell us about?
We’re focusing on two main projects at the moment, expanding our product range and re-developing the website. It’s a massive job, the revamped site will look clean and modern, and the improved functionality will make the shopping experience much smoother for customers.

Any fashion regrets?
As someone who has indulged in almost every daft trend, you’d think I’d have lots! But fashion is too much fun to have any regrets. Live, wear and learn but never regret.

Whats the best fashion advise that you’ve ever been given?

Don’t save things for ‘special’, it just means you’ll never ever wear them.

Can you share with us your most fabulous fashion moment?
I felt pretty pleased with myself (and only mildly embarrassed) when Jerry Hall had to wait to pass, while the Japarazzi took my picture at an event at London College of Fashion. She was very gracious about it, and totally stunning.

Who would you love to work with, past or present?
Working with new and relatively unknown designers is one of the best parts of this job and what drives Gaudion Bowerbank. But there are of course some iconic designers and brands that we’d love to partner with. It would be amazing to do something with Pierre Hardy, I adore his shoes. You can spot his designs from a mile away, there is something about the proportions,  classic, contemporary, simple, yet creative. Whistles is one of my favourite stores and Jane Shepherdson is exceptionally talented- the Phoebe Philo of the high street. She has a sixth sense when it comes to design, she intuitively knows what women want and she doesn’t fail when it comes to delivering it. I’d never say no to a collaboration with Whistles or her or both!

Any final word of advise?
Keep the momentum and smile even when things don’t go to plan- they have a habit of working themselves out. Make time to see your loved ones even when you’re frantically busy.

Claire and Kelly at London Jewellery Week earlier this year

designs by Simone Brewster

designs by Simone Brewster

designs bu Lua Lua

designs bu Lua Lua

Blink guest blogs for the CSF: ‘Empathy’ with The Inoue Brothers

This is the post that I created for the Centre for Sustainable Fashion’s blog. My first ever effort at being ‘Guest Blogger’ and I was feeling the pressure! I think it was a pretty successful attempt, thanks to the very kind co-operation of The Inoue Brothers

The CSF team asked me to consider the word ‘Empathy’ for this month’s subject matter. So I put my thinking cap on and got my trusty Collins English dictionary out. After first thinking that it was a bit of an abstract concept to apply to fashion, I totally reconsidered my view point when I realised that if you don’t have empathy for your manufacturers, your collaborators, partners and customers then you would pretty much fall at the first fashion hurdle.

Collaborations are super hot topic right now, especially with Lanvin planning to add luxury to H&M with a collection landing instore in November, as well as Gap working with Valentino’s designers for a collection that will be featured in Colette. When I interview creatives for the “Blink” blog, I often ask whether they work best alone or in collaboration with others. The answer is generally that collaborations are not the easiest things to do, but are often the most creatively rewarding. You absolutely must have empathy for the other creative party for a successful collaboration. So, I started looking at partnerships and collaborations that I think are incredibly creatively successful. This lead me to The Inoue Brothers

Not only does this brand work in a brilliantly collaborative way both internally and externally, they are also working in a wonderfully sustainable and conscious way too. I felt this made them the perfect subject matter for the CSF’s blog- as well as reflecting the meaning of ‘Empathy’.

Born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark, Japanese brothers Satoru and Kiyoshi Inoue combine Japanese sensibility and Scandinavian simplicity to create a really rather unique creative aesthetic that they term ‘Skandinasian’. In 2005, The Inoue Brothers launched a unique collaboration with the people of Bolivia to create hand-knitted Alpaca garments with sustainability, ethics and social responsibility at the heart of the collection. The Inoue Brothers are also working on a collection produced in South Africa, incorporating the traditional, indigenous craft of beadwork.

We were delighted when the team agreed to this interview. Thanks so much, particularly to Daniel, for your help and such a fantastic insight into what the Inoue Brothers is all about.

How do you go about deciding where to work and who to work with on your collections?

We started designing for clients in the UK and Denmark but mostly graphic and conceptual design. Since we were teenagers, we’ve always been fascinated by fashion but more as an artistic expression and not the industry. The vanity, greed and exploitation often seen in some areas of fashion had kept us away from it. However when we, through a common friend, were introduced to the alpaca fibre and craftsmanship of the indigenous people of Bolivia, we knew immediately this was something of interest. Finally, we saw a way of working with fashion whilst contributing socially, approaching the business and industry with content.

Our work ethics has now been established with this spirit, seeking out communities where craftsmanship and cultural heritages are rich. The communities we chose to collaborate with for our projects are therefore purposely chosen for their less enriched history of financial stability and opportunity.

How does the idea of sustainability impact on your collection?

Sustainability can mean a lot of things in regard to what context the term is used. In one sense the way sustainability impacts our collection is the way we chose to treat our production workers – with the utmost respect and decency. We demand a lot from them, but we are always sure to meet their demands – financially and work ethics wise. In another sense of sustainability we want to show the world what cultural crafts can be communicated in a new light. For example the Alpaca and the knitting that comes from its wool is a cultural heritage of the indigenous people of the Andes. In the same sense the beading crafts of the indigenous women of South Africa is a big part of their cultural heritage – and we aim to make these the focal point of our collections.

What are you currently working on and how is it shaping up?

At the moment we are preparing our Spring Summer 2011 collections in collaboration with the same community – Khayelitsha. We are also working on our Autumn/Winter collection continually with the people of the Bolivian Andes. This collection will be our biggest to date. We also have very exciting ideas developing, which will be released in the near future.

What does the word ’empathy’ mean to you and your business?

The very simple meaning of the word is ‘to share’. To share ideas, emotions and opportunities to better any circumstances with the outset of beginning with oneself.

How important do you think it is to respect the traditional cultural heritage and skills of the area you are manufacturing in?

It is of utmost importance! We work from a basis of empowerment. We want the people who we commission to feel proud that their cultural heritages as crafts are spread and sold in the Western world. We hope it empowers their everyday to strengthen and develop their culture and identity as a community.

What or who are your longest standing design influences?

Our main design influences are the people we work with. On the other hand we are very influenced by Comme des Garcon’s spirit in their boldness of style. As kids our dream was to work with them in some way and in 2008 this dream came true when we were approached to work on a collaboration. With their words, the reason they found us interesting was because they could sense a passion in the way we choose to work.

Has your business developed in the way that you anticipated?

We can safely say no. When we start a new project we have some initial ideas, but we always end up somewhere completely unexpected. When we go on research trips we take a long time before, preparing ourselves as not to have any preconceived ideas about the places we are going. We strive to keep an open heart and mind everywhere we go and embrace any culture we are so fortunate to have the opportunity to encounter. Therefore, we don’t know what our future holds, however as long as we uncompromisingly strive to uphold our beliefs we are sure for it to be with headwind but guaranteed excitement.

Many of your collections have been knitwear focused. Is this due to your own passion for knit or more due to the traditions and local skill set of place you were manufacturing?

Good question. Initially we started with knit due to the previously explained opportunity we had to engage in the fashion industry. But now, four years later, knitting has become something of passion for sure. It’s very hard not to get super excited about the end product when so much work, effort and love has been put into it!

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Scandinasian! It is a mix of Scandinavian simplicity and Japanese sensibility.

What’s the best thing about your job?

One of the best things about our job is overcoming obstacles that initially seem impossible and in retrospect seeing how all the little details and would be coincidences actually makes perfect sense. This always makes us smile. Another is when we see the positive impact in every aspect of the realms we work in, especially the privilege we have to work so closely with our manufacturing collaborators and clients and the positive vibrations they give us. This is something we are truly grateful for.

Any final words of advise?

Our way of working is all about the people we are privileged enough to be able to work with. The most valued part of our business is the relations we make and the new ones to come. These are only upheld when respect and human decency is the basis. And for us these things only appear when we feel we are able to empathize with our relations.

No man is an island entire of it self

Every man is a part of the main.

John Donne (1624)

The Inoue Brothers

Bolivian alpaca products

AW '10 collection

'Ubuntu' collection shoot

Blink Interviews: James Brown

We first came across James Brown’s skills at the Little London Fields festival, and we were hooked immediately. We featured one of his poster designs on the blog back in August. We just had to make contact with James and were delighted when he agreed to an interview with us.

James Brown is an illustrator and printmaker living and working in London. Trained as a textile and surface print designer, James worked in the clothing industry for 10 years producing print designs for numerous brands from Levis to Louis Vuitton. James embarking on a new career as an illustrator in 2007.

James has been commissioned to produce work by publishing houses, magazines and newspapers and advertising and design agencies. Recent clients include Oxfam, Cancer Research, The Guardian and Faber & Faber . Alongside these commissions, James produces limited edition screen prints and linocuts. The traditional processes that go into the production of James’ prints are very important.

What are you currently working on and how is it shaping up?
I have just finished printing an edition for the V&A based the William Morris quote;
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
I tried very hard to make it beautiful! I do hope Mr Morris would have thought it worthy of hanging on his wall.

How did you discover your creative skills?
My parents are both illustrators, they didn’t pushed me into the creative industry but helped me in any way they could.

What or who are your longest standing design influences?
Edward Bawden, M.C Ecsher, Victor Vaserely.

What’s currently inspiring you?
Shoes. I’m working on a print of gents shoes to go with my HATS print.

Has your career developed in the way that you anticipated?
I have never really felt that I know where I am going with my career, but if I look back it has a very logical progression.
I studied Printed Textiles at college and spent 10 years working in the clothing industry, so I have just swapped from printing fabric to printing on paper.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?
Familiar and friendly with a nod to the past.

Do you work best alone or collaboratively?
I have never really done it before until recently. In mid September I have 4 screen-prints coming out which I have done with Cath Kidston. We are both happy very with them, so I guess that means the collaboration worked.

What’s the best thing about your job?
Truly enjoying what I do and seeing other people enjoy it too.

Any future projects that you’d like to tell us about?
I have two childrens books coming out next year. Published by Walker Books, they are both board books for babies one about shapes and the other about animals. Both are heavily patterned in high contrast colours. A page of horses from the book is one of the images below.

Pencil and paper or computer and mouse?
A computer is one of many important tools that I have in my pencil case.

Who would you love to work with, past or present?
I really enjoy making prints and posters for small events and businesses that I like and believe in, like the posters I created for The Scythe Festival and The Friends of Homerton Station

Any final word of advise?
Say yes to everything (within reason), you never know where it may lead you.

Designer James Brown in his studio in Hackney Wick, East London.

The flier for James' designs in collaboration with Cath Kidston


from one of the childrens books

The Scythe Festival poster

for the V&A

Thanks so much James. Another great addition to our series of interviews with inspirational individuals, I’m sure you’ll agree. Click here to see the rest of our interviews and get ready to be INSPIRED!

Blink Interviews: Scarlet and Violet’s Victoria Brotherson

Next in our schedule of monthly interviews, we have managed to catch up with the inspiration that is Victoria Brotherson, the creative floristry force behind Scarlet and Violet. We are fortunate enough to be based just around the corner from this beautiful store, so regularly indulge in flowers from Vic and her team. They are always incredibly busy, so special thanks for agreeing to do this for us!

Scarlet and Violet launched in 2006, based in Kensal Rise, North West London. Prior to that Victoria had worked as a florist for 15 years. It was an accidental career choice for Victoria who left university (she studied Fine Art at Oxford) but decided that she wasn’t cut out to be a painter. After passing by a shop with a ‘to let’ sign for 6 months, Vic decided to take the terrifying plunge into opening her own business. Scarlet and Violet was conceived as a workshop that would double as a shop, and it has grown into an eclectic and ever changing showcase for Victoria’s unique style.

Vic puts it perfectly when she says “We are good at making flowers seem easy and relaxed. Intimate dinners and small weddings are our forte. Lots of our clients ideal is that the guests think that they have done the flowers themselves, and I am very happy to be the invisible florist and carry on using the workman’s entrances and delivery doorbells!” Well, we can reveal that one of these ‘intimate dinners’ was  with Vogue and Louis Vuitton in the penthouse of the new Bond Street store, and a few of those ‘small weddings’ have featured the joining of some very well known names…

For you, what is the most important aspect of being an independent retailer?
Freedom is the obvious one. We can play with how the shop looks, we can decide which jobs we take on and maintain some kind of balance between work and rest (in my dreams!) There is no real rule book so making decisions brings challenges, and whether these are right or wrong, I only have myself to blame.

Care to share any floral don’ts or disasters?
Touch wood, no disasters yet. Don’t ever be snobbish about flowers, there are loads of inexpensive flowers and foliage that work just as well as the pricey ones.

Which comes first for you and Scarlet & Violet, personal style or trends?
Personal style for sure. Each of the girls in the shop has their own style when it comes to flowers  (and clothes!). Each of our clients is unique too, and that is something that is crucial to what we do. We have to have an understanding of their taste before installing flowers in houses or indeed coming up with ideas for a wedding. It is not about me inflicting ideas or style, but much more collaborative than that.

Do you think that ethical and sustainable issues are at all relevant to what you do?
Of course we try hard to find the most friendly options in everything we do. We create a lot of waste but the majority is flower matter and we pay some astronomical price to get it all recycled. We’ve talked about composting but there would just be a mountain!

What project are you currently working on and how is it shaping up?
We are doing a book, so far so good! I can’t give you any more details just yet…

What or who are your longest standing design influences?
I think I am really quite rooted in a very classic style. My preference is always for the old. Textiles and interiors inspire me more than anything.

What’s currently inspiring you?
All the foliage we have at this time of year in amazing so I would say “green”.

How would you describe Scarlet & Violet’s aesthetic?
I can’t it always sounds really contrived when put into words. Its much easier to make something!

What is currently tempting you into making a purchase, for you, your home or your shop?
We have just got a load of old milk bottles and french flip top jars which are brilliant with really mismatched flowers.

How has the floristry scene changed since you opened your business?
I think most consumers buy  flowers from the supermarket rather than independents so we have to make sure we really do present something unique as we can’t compete any other ways.

What’s the best thing about your job?
The sense of satisfaction when I make something that just works still gives me real pleasure.

I feel most creative when…
I am in the shop alone either really early or late and surrounded by all the peculiar things we have in there amongst all the flowers.

Any final word of advise?
If you ever see something you love and can afford, it don’t leave it there! This applies particularly to antiques and one offs.

Click here to see more interviews with people and businesses’ that inspire us.

Scarlet & Violet

Scarlet & Violet

Scarlet & Violet

Scarlet & Violet

Blink Interviews: Tallulah and Hope

Tallulah & Hope is a niche clothing brand selling luxury kaftans, ponchos and accessories exclusively on line. The brand has just launched so “Blink” thought we’d get in there first and interview the creative duo behind this exciting new label.

Lisa Ispani and Zoe Holborough met 9 years ago. At that time Lisa was a PR, and Zoe was a stylist. They became instant friends; but continued to work independently on various projects.

Lisa worked for years with Versace and other luxe clients. She organized fashion shows in Milan and Paris amongst other insanely fancy events, and also helped launch new designers and brands.  In 2006, she went freelance. Amongst other projects worked with her husband’s award-winning restaurant group Canteen and launched his visionary design studio Very Good & Proper.

Zoe, meanwhile, worked with Brit designer Russell Sage, Parisian hipster and super-stylist Camille Bidault-Waddington, and as personal stylist to the entire Osbourne family. Three years ago, she launched ‘Lady Sew and Sew’, a local sewing class which rode the vanguard of the hip ‘make do and mend’ movement.  Zoe has held sessions at art previews and private events, and she had her own ‘Lady Sew and Sew’ tent at Camp Bestival.

In 2008, while holidaying together, Lisa and Zoe began discussing dream holiday wardrobes- and envisaging the perfect kaftan. It would be so well cut that it would fall perfectly on whoever wore it. It could be worn in a multitude of ever more stylish ways. It would be the one piece you ever need to take away with you; the one thing that could be relied upon to make you look amazing without investing any effort at all. This was the dream that led to the creation of Tallulah & Hope. It took two years to perfect an this year, they made their fabulous kaftan collection a reality. Lisa and Zoe are particularly devoted to their print designs, which are entirely exclusive, and very limited edition. Each print will run until it sells out– after that, it’ll be gone. Well, that’s a ‘call to action’ if ever we heard one!

Do you think that wear-ability is more important than creativity?
Ideally you need them both!  The most successful design is about having both beauty and function.   Tallulah & Hope is all about beautiful garments that are also really useful and wearable. At every stage in the design process we have been led not only by aesthetics but by the ease of wear and practicality.

Which comes first for you, personal style or trends?
Personal style every time, as you move into your 30’s you develop your own understanding of what works best for you. High fashion trends are always interesting to watch but ultimately its about your individual style.
We love this quote from Lauren Hutton “Fashion is the zillion things you are offered each season; style is what you choose”

What is currently tempting you into making a purchase?
Chanel brown leather clogs for SS2010, Stella McCartney’s linen piquet trousers and a pair of 1978 ‘Bang On’ Vintage sunglasses from Oliver Goldsmith.

What’s the best thing about your job?
Doing what we love, making beautiful garments, being our own bosses and hopefully building a successful business and brand.

Can you share with us your most fabulous fashion moment?
Lisa- For me it was when I working as fashion PR. I was collecting Sharon Stone from the airport in Milan, as she was a guest at one of the shows. I was waiting for her to come through the arrival gate.  Like a vision from a movie she come striding through wearing a full length fur coat with sunglasses on, hands in pockets and a trolley piled high with 20 Louis Vuitton cases followed behind her.
Zoe- when I was working with Sharon Osbourne when she was judge on the X Factor, I would regularly drive around central London with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of precious jewelry from Bond Street. On one occasion, as I didn’t want to leave the jewelry in the car,  so I wore nearly million pounds of jewelry to get my legs waxed!

What season are you currently working on and how is it shaping up?
Our focus is on introducing new and exclusive prints every few months. Our launch collection features two signature prints ‘Sandgrouse’ and ‘Starlings’ in two different colourways. We are now finalizing our new print stories and colourways which we will release later in 2010.

Any final words of advise?
If it feels good, it is good.

Thanks so much to Zoe and Lisa, not only for this interview but for putting so much temptation our way! Now all we need to do is book the holiday worthy of such a stunning wardrobe… We wish Tallulah and Hope the amazing success that it most definitely deserves.

Tallulah and Hope

Tallulah and Hope

Tallulah and Hope