Thursday, 29 May 2014


The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries on the planet: it’s the number 2 polluter of clean water and in 2012 14.3million tons of textiles ended up in landfill sites.

BEVERLY SMART is an example of how it is possible to offer couture clothing within a sustainable setup.  Here’s what she has to say.

Q  How do you source your fabrics?

A Nearly all my fabric is overstock, ie, remains of unused fabric (over)ordered by the large clothing companies.  It’s the perfect example of upcycling.  I also work with fabric suppliers that sell sustainable and organic fabrics.  I have a preference for natural fabrics.  Not only are they are biodegradable, decomposing in a way that synthetics never will, but they are much more satisfying to work with and have an unbeatable aesthetic quality.

 Why do you source in this way?

 Initially it was a question of what was available.  I live in a beautiful but sparsely populated area, so there were virtually none of the traditional choices.  I scoured the local town markets and developed relationships with the traders there, persuading them to let me come and see their warehouses, so that I could dig around and find fabrics even they’d forgotten they had. One of those traders fast became my main supplier, and we’ve been working together for years now. He travels around France’s fabric producers and buys up their unsold stock.  Like me, he is passionate about cloth and knows exactly what I like.  I also go up to Paris where I have another couple of good addresses, all faithful to the upcycling principle.

What kinds of creative challenges do you face through this way of sourcing fabrics?

 Traditionally, a designer will be there at the beginning of the season saying, what can I do? When there are no boundaries, no limitations, it can be overwhelming. When you work within a ‘restricted’ choice, you say ok, what can I do with this? It’s a starting point. Limitations focus your mind.

 Where does your style come from?

 I’m always thinking how I can marry my personal design style to a choice of body types. I’ve always been unapologetic about the style of my collections being influenced by my height (I am 6’2”), even if for my store I scale everything down for a more average height.  The best selling sizes are 42/44, and the fact that I love bias cut, flowing clothes means that even if a particular dress looks ravishing on a size 38 for the photo shoots, it looks equally lovely on a size 44 because of the generous cut, the drape of a quality fabric and the simple, clean cut lines of the design.

 What are your design inspirations at the moment?

 I’ve just finished watching Series 2 of House of Cards, so the part of the collection I’m working on now (SS15) is inspired by Robin Wright’s formidable character Claire Underwood.
The other part is an ‘oversized’ range.  I’ve always adored huge enveloping clothes (I spent a lot of my time at college dressed in men’s suits, belted with a huge belt, à la Annie Hall) and I continue to be a fan of that style.  It’s all about balancing the silhouette.

Saturday, 18 January 2014


I spend time each winter in Cape Town sourcing my jewellery range for the shop. During my visit last February I met with representatives of The Keiskamma Trust, a community organisation that has a skilled group of embroiderers.  Prior to my trip I had been introduced by a client to Adinkra symbols, from Ghana.  I thought they were amazing graphics, and when I saw samples of Keiskamma's embroiderer's work I knew immediately what I wanted to do. Once I was back in France I sent out strips of linen with instructions and templates for my chosen symbols.  They embroidered them, sent them back to me, and I then incorporated them into my designs. The results are just beautiful.

Each symbol has a name and meaning. Their origin is unclear but it is thought that they are named after Nana Kofi Adinkra, once a king of an area called Gyaman in the Ivory Coast in the 19th century.  Craftsmen are thought to have developed them to decorate cloth.

The cloth artisan stamping the symbols onto the base cloth

Asante boys going to a dance in adinkra robes

The 7 symbols I chose for this summer's collection

The collaboration has been a huge success.  I am thrilled with the results and have made a limited edition collection for the shop.  I am already working on ideas for SS15.  It particularly brings me joy to be working with these talented craftspeople here in South Africa and having their wonderful work on display within my own designs.  I've been invited by the Cape Embroiderer's Guild to give a talk on this project whilst I'm here.

Names and meanings of the Adinkra symbols

Sunday, 24 November 2013


I am a passionate knitter.  Much as I love designing and making clothes, in an ideal world (where hand knitting would be paid what it is actually worth)  I would stop sewing at the drop of a hat to be able to just knit.  I remember my Aunty Babs helping me when she babysat for us at the home we moved from when I was 5, so I started early.  From the proverbial scarf I quickly progressed onto knitting for my Sindy doll (English version of Barbie). 

I just found this photo on the web (and I'm pretty sure Mum still has this booklet in her sewing box) and seeing it again for the first time for years I am smiling to myself whilst I realise how early my style inspirations were formed.  I guess I was a Chanel fan before I even realised who Chanel was.

I knitted TinTin sweaters for Paul Smith in my younger days ...

... and I've knitted all through my life; there's something about the contact of the needles and yarn in my hands that I find so satisying, and it's my way of relaxing.  It's such a part of my life now that if I have an evening where I'm home too late to pick up my needles I feel like I've really missed something.

There are always examples of my latest hand knits in the shop and they fly off the rails.  They are all one offs, and I like to think they show what you can do with 2 needles, some yarn and a little imagination, an alternative to what comes to mind for most people when they think of 'hand knitted jumpers'.  

This year I had the opportunity to participate in a Yarnbombing project in Narbonne, where I live. For those who haven't heard of Yarnbombing here's the Wikipedia definition:  Yarn bombingyarnbombingyarn stormingguerrilla knittingurban knitting or graffiti knitting is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre rather than paint or chalk.  I can't tell you how much fun I had playing with different designs and stitches.  It was a voyage of discovery and quite an inspiration.  I picked up my crochet hook again too in the interest of speed (crochet is so much faster than knitting) and love the results.   

And knitting is making its way back to an "acceptable" past time for women other than white-haired grandmothers.  The move to "hand made" in our society has been growing for over a decade, and more and more people are discovering the satisfaction of standing back and admiring (and having admired) something they have physically produced, as well as discovering an age-old skill.  And of course, this leads to an appreciation of the beautiful hand made work that comes from those countries that we have historically exploited and a realisation that we should pay them a more realistic price for this labour-intensive work (even if this battle is still waging in Western society: hand made versus "intellectual" work, and don't even start me off on the "female" skills versus "male" skills monetary value discrepancies).  

So, why not get out those needles, search youtube for some tutorials, and get knitting!

Monday, 18 November 2013


We all get bored with our wardrobe and have experienced that feeling of standing in front of the open doors, gazing at everything hanging up, and seeing nothing that inspires.  That's just the moment to stop looking and start playing.  I mentioned in My Signature Dress how that hugely successful design came about, and it's an idea that lends itself to other garments, particularly skirts. Here are just a few of my ideas that have worked well.

The elasticated waist skirt is simply hitched up under the arms and belted for a simple and stylish dress.

The drawstring waistline of the skirt becomes the halterneck of the dress version.

This bias cut skirt works really well as a dress, here over slim indian style trousers.

So, next time you're stuck for something 'new' to wear, just remember that a skirt is never just a skirt, and how much fun you can have just by adding a belt!

Monday, 28 October 2013


In yesterday's Sunday Times STYLE magazine there was an article entitled Meet the Theresas.*  "They are over 50, fabulous and living proof that your fashion shelf life doesn’t scale down with age", says Laura Weir, Fashion Features Director at the magazine. Well, Halleluja to that.  Despite that fact that her referenced photos include 2 Hollywood actresses and the divine Inès de la Fressange (guaranteed to make most of us sigh with the knowledge that we are never going to look that good), I see myself and my friends in the women she writes about, and my list of regular clients certainly fit into the category of women who create their own style that suits the life they lead, aren't frightened of fashion, and have the means to make it happen. Laura Weir says that the 50+ age group spend more on clothing, footwear and accessories for themselves than any other age group, worth £2.7bn, or a whopping 41% of the total UK clothing market.  

I made my fashion victim errors in my youth, as did we all, and by the time I started designing my own collections for others, that desperate need to wear the 'latest' fashion was long behind me and I had found the joy of designing clothes that were in harmony with my aesthetic taste and my need to create my own statement about who I am, rather than trying to cram a square peg into a round hole, so to speak. The fact that my designs are about how I dress obviously means that they do not have universal appeal, given my body shape, but it's the only way I know how to design.  In fact, I believe it's this very element that attracts the clients I have, like-minded women who are looking for individuality, comfort, elegance and quality fabrication, and are prepared to invest in pieces that they know they will wear again and again, regardless of what is happening in the 'fashion' world.

The lovely Fronza, from the SS12 collection

I also believe that the 50+ age group can wear clothes that a younger woman can't. It takes the sort of confidence that comes with age and experience to be able to wear such pared down clothes and choose the right accessory to make the look yours and yours alone.  You should wear the clothes, not have the clothes wear you. 

One of the best compliments I ever received was from a French woman in the village. She said how much she'd always loved choosing what she'd wear each day, but after a few months of living in Lagrasse got fed up with the comments "who does she think she is?" However, since I had opened my shop and she'd seen me around the village each day in my designs, it had given her the confidence to get back out into the fashion world and put on her gladrags, even if it was only to go and buy her baguette. Of course, it's not Lagrasse that's the problem here, and it would take too long to go into the pyschology behind that silly comment, but it's proof that the more inspiring examples you see, the easier it makes it for you to assume your rightful place.

It's encouraging to see that high street brands are finally realising that there is a huge market out there that until now has been largely ignored, and with more and more older women demanding their place in front of the camera and media eye, laughter lines and all, it would seem our time is finally come.  In any case, I shall carry on doing what I always have, putting my style out there for anyone who appreciates it, walking the walk, talking the talk and loving it.

* You will only be able to access the full article if you have a Sunday Times subscription.  If you don't but are curious to read it, email me and I'll forward you a copy.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


A good few years ago now, I was getting dressed to go out to dinner, and I had 'nothing to wear'.  So I started playing around with what I had in the wardrobe, and took out a long semi-circular wrapover skirt that I hadn't worn in a while.  The urge took me to pull the skirt up under my arms, twist the waist ties together and pull them around behind my neck.  I looked in the mirror and gaped ... behold a fabulous dress!  That was the dinner outfit and the next day production started,  A skirt that doubles as a dress, and visa versa.   This is that very "skirt":

In Lagrasse by the river, with the old footbridge in the background

There's nothing I like more than a garment that can be worn more than one way (and that will be the subject for another post).  I refined the cut and made the design up in lots of variations and it was a winner from the start. Its bias cut flatters almost every shape, is multi-size, so allows for those holiday waistline variations, and is about as feminine and flattering as you can get.  Yet again, simplicity is the key.  Here are two versions:

Fronza photographed in the full length version, in the Monk's Dormitory at the Lagrasse Abbey

Joëlle wearing it as a dress, then a skirt,  from the SS11 photoshoot

When I asked Kate McLean, my graphic designer, to design a logo for my business, this was literally her first proposition, and it's stayed ever since.

The great thing about this garment is that there are so many ways of wearing it.  Here are some photos of Laure, one of my lovely clients, who has that je-ne-sais-quoi when it comes to wearing clothes.  She dived into the shop a couple of summers ago, grabbed this dress off the hanger, disappeared into the changing room, reappeared a minute later with it tied like this, and hung around long enough for me to take a few shots.  And she walked out of the door wearing it, the ultimate compliment to the designer.

As a wedding dress:

 Some colour variations:

This dress is so popular, so classically beautiful and so much part of me that I'm not ready to push it out of my collection any time soon.

Monday, 14 October 2013


As my regular clients will know, I design and produce two collections each year.  Each collection features new designs, but I also keep a basic 'capsule' collection within the main collection itself, made up of timeless designs that have universal appeal. 

In each capsule collection, there will always be a dress, a skirt and trouser and a couple of tops, a jacket and in the winter range, a coat.  Essential items that create several stand-alone outfits, and that mix easily with the rest of your wardrobe to extend their range even further. 

My Jenna jacket is just one of these and I thought it would be interesting to see it here in various fabrics, on various models, to illustrate just how versatile it is.

Summer 2011, Winter 2011/12 and Summer 2012

Winter 2012/13 and Summer 2013

And below, further variations.   These coats are all variations of the same basic Jenna jacket design.

Winters 2011, 2012 and 2013