Texprint: from Interview to Première Vision Designs
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17 June 2016 by Roger Tredre
The creative director of Glasgow-based bluebellgray is one of the judges of Texprint 2016. Here, Fi Douglas tells us about her working life.
In little more than seven years, Glasgow’s bluebellgray has emerged as one of Scotland’s most dynamic textile exporters, leading the floral trend, and working with design boutiques and stores worldwide.
Company founder Fi Douglas is a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art. She set up bluebellgray to explore her love of colour and all things floral. But while her oversized water-colour blooms have become a brand signature, there’s much more to the business, as Fi told us.
Photo credit: David Pike
Can you explain the scope of your job?
As creative director of a brand my job involves every part of the journey from initial design ideas to getting the item onto the shop floor. Every day I have to balance the creative side with the business side of the brand. I work with my team to come up with the initial concept for the new season’s collection. Usually we travel somewhere as a starting point. I then paint or draw designs based on our research, working very basically with paper, pastels and paint.
My team then work to develop the designs onto products. We have brilliant suppliers all around the world making our products – and working with great suppliers and factories is one of the best things about my job.
Taking a product from initial conception to being on the shop floor takes around 18 months to two years and will involve various rounds of sampling and sign offs. I’m constantly looking at product and coordinating collections and products.
The brand and marketing side is also a big part of what I do, steering the brand in the right direction and keeping it on track. Being the creative director involves thinking about so many of the visual aspects of the business from the packaging to the merchandising and beyond – with the support of an amazing team!
I also work with our finance and operations teams on all the other aspects of the business. It’s really important to keep a good understanding of that side of the business too. And I work with our overseas partners to make sure they have designs that are relevant for their markets and to ensure the brand ‘voice’ is consistent worldwide.
What’s a typical day like for you?
It’s a cliche but every day is different in my studio. I have an amazing team around me to help realise my designs and make them a reality. I have two little toddler boys so I have to get them organised before heading to work; it’s a short 30-minute commute in my car.
My studio is based in an old townhouse in the West End of Glasgow with super-high ceilings and lots of really big windows so the light is amazing. I’m such a believer in the importance of a great space to work in that makes you feel good, I think it makes you more creative.
I start with a quick catchup with my team before answering emails for a few hours. I try and update my Instagram daily but our other social media channels are dealt with by the marketing team. On a typical day I will meet with the creative team to look over samples that have come in, making colour comments etc.
We work on a lot of products – currently 13 different product lines, everything from sheeting to tableware and beach towels – so we have a lot going on all the time. I might meet with the graphic designer to look over a new brochure design and the marketing team to make some decisions on our website and sales etc. We might have a customer coming into the studio to meet with us or an overseas partner coming to work through the new collections for their country.
I constantly strive to get more creative and design time. I block out days just for creativity and painting, and turn off my inbox! I’m a big believer in creative time, switching off from technology and just going for a walk, or travelling to interesting places and just letting your mind free. It’s hard to have new creative ideas when constantly at a computer. We have a weekly yoga class in the studio: the main reason is to give the team some downtime to just think or zone out. We strive to eat lunch away from our desks and do creative things like little work-shops, or trips just to free our minds, with no pressure attached.
Where's the growth coming in your business at the moment?
Our biggest growth is coming from our own website and selling directly to customers. I think customers like it because it means they can see the full collection and have the biggest choice. We have also started sourcing other product other than our own that complements our collection on our website.
Fabric and bedding are growing really strongly for us – they are consistently our two strongest areas. Bedding in particular is now a worldwide product so we are seeing brilliant growth in new territories such as the US and Canada.
What are the specific challenges of designing for Bluebellgray?
We have very high standards! I want to give our customers the best products possible and a brilliant experience so if something isn’t amazing we won’t add it to our collection, even if we have done a lot of work on it.
It does become more challenging the bigger you become – there is a tipping point where the line between commerciality and the exciting creativity can go too far in the safe commercial direction. It’s so important that the exciting new things keep coming through to keep everything fresh and modern. Sometimes it’s a challenge to encourage stores to buy the less safe new design choices.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find my team inspiring every day. I work with 13 incredible, amazing creative people who bring something really special to my life. Their outlook and aesthetics are constantly inspiring and they make my life better and more full creatively. We constantly spark off each other.
I also love travel for inspiration, looking at things that you have never seen before can be incredibly inspiring and exciting. I’ve just come back from a trip to Marrakech which was amazing – it was bursting with incredible colours and imagery.
How important is it for you to support the next generation of designers?
I feel really passionate about supporting the next generation of designers. Design is an ever-evolving thing and to keep the world a wonderful, inspiring and exciting place we need to make sure the new designers coming through have the support and encouragement to reach their potential and allow their creativity to flourish.
What do you look for in great textile design?
For me it’s about originality, people ploughing their own path, looking for inspiration in the real world rather than looking at other designers’ work as a starting point. That pureness of inspiration shows in the end result and creates really exciting designs. A great sense of colour is important to me too – interesting colour palettes are a thing of magic!
08 June 2016 by Roger Tredre
Lawyer Simon Gallant is a long-time mentor at Texprint London, advising young designers on how to protect their work from knock-offs – and much more besides. We spoke to him about his involvement with Texprint.
Legal advice and guidance are among the support services offered every year to the 24 designers chosen for Texprint. For many years, Texprint’s go-to lawyer has been Simon Gallant, Senior Consultant with Gallant Maxwell, the firm he founded in 2006.
Gallant has had a long affinity with the industry – his first-ever job was selling clothes in London’s Berwick Street. Textiles is a global business, making it challenging for creative designers to ensure their work is not exploited elsewhere. Gallant’s focus at Texprint is on teaching designers the basics – starting with keeping a good record of designs and when they were created.
How did you first become involved with Texprint?
About 20 years ago I was introduced to Christian Dewar Durie (a long-term supporter of Texprint and council member) by a friend. Christian sweet-talked me into doing something worthwhile for young British designers at a time when the Far East seemed to be taking over the world of textiles.
You are a very busy lawyer – why do you enjoy mentoring young graduate designers?
I love seeing their work every year and am just amazed by the graduates’ incredible creativity. What has upset me over the years is seeing them get ripped off. I want to pass on the basics of the law and business. There are some nasty people out there!
I have always had an affinity with the industry. My first job when I was 16 was selling clothing in Berwick Street. My second was delivering clothes from a manufacturer to wholesalers all over the east end of London. I’m not sure how reputable my employers were. I’m probably some sort of poacher turned gamekeeper.
Do you think young designers are paying sufficient attention to IP (intellectual property) matters?
Obviously the focus should be on creativity but my experience is that many of the most successful designers are those who have a nose for business too. That means not being silly about giving away your IP and standing up for yourself.
What basic first steps should all young designers take to protect their original work?
Keep a good record of when you created your designs. It’s not rocket science and a simple card system or folder on your PC is fine. And be clear about what IP you are selling or simply just licensing.
© Jayne Goulding 2015
When a designer with relatively small resources finds someone is knocking off their work, what step should they take first? Is it wisest to turn to a lawyer straight away?
Good question, and always a difficult one to answer. Apart from the economic disadvantages faced by a young designer, there is also the fear (perhaps more imagined than real) of ‘getting a bad name’.
In practice, the answer varies. Sometimes a party can be shamed into settling a claim, fearing bad publicity, so a softly, softly approach could work. But in my experience the prospects of achieving a settlement will be higher if a lawyer is on board, even if the lawyer does not go in all guns blazing. If nothing else, the lawyer can take out some of the emotion and say things that a designer might not want to say for themselves.
If paying a lawyer is out of the question, you can always go it alone through the IPEC (Intellectual Property Enterprise Court), a small claims court, that means you won’t end up paying the other side’s costs even if you lose. The court staff can often be very helpful. In my experience, many designers have been able to get a decent outcome, even without legal help.
What kind of feedback do you get from the Texprint designers?
I often bring along a box filled with knock-offs, particularly of Liberty Fabrics, one of my clients. I never fail to be amazed by the jaw-dropping shock etched on their faces and it makes me realise – yes, this is shocking, we need to fight it!
Finally, I believe you also work in media and entertainment. Is the design sector behind the curve in relation to IP matters, or improving?
We have been behind the curve, especially because protection only lasts for 25 years. That’s a big deal with old established businesses with antique archives. But change is on the way – from next year, author’s life plus 70 years.
One of the big issues is that copyright involves supply chains around the world – usually starting in the Far East – but copyright is local in nature so there is an element of having to shop around. My jurisdictions of choice are the UK, France and the USA.
© Jessica Stewart 2014
30 May 2016 by Roger Tredre
Mexican-born embroidery designer Nadia Albertini, who worked for many years with leading fashion names in Paris, is now based in New York. And she’s coming to London to judge Texprint 2016.
She’s a busy, super-creative designer – and her focus is embroidery. Nadia Albertini has built an international name for the exceptional quality of her work, and is full of passion for her craft.
She grew up in Mexico City where she spent her school years learning silk painting, screen printing, dyeing and hand embroidery. After graduating from ESAA Duperré school in Paris, she started to work as an embroidery designer at Chloé. And she never looked back.
Where are you based these days?
I spent 11 years in Paris, working for various companies like Chloé and Chanel. I am now based in New York. We’ve been living here for a little bit more than a year now (I moved here with my husband Ben) and it has started feeling like home. I currently consult for three companies here.
At what point did embroidery design become your main focus, and how did that come about?
My grandmother taught me embroidery when I was six years old. I used to spend a lot of time with her, watching her embroider colorful floral cushions. During my studies at Duperré in Paris, I got my very first internship at Chloé, in the embroideries department. All the things my grandma taught me were very useful there and I loved it so much that I just kept doing it… And it has been almost 10 years now.
Do you think there's anything specifically 'Mexican' about your design work?
I don't think my designs are specifically Mexican. I draw inspiration from pretty much everywhere. I adapt my design esthetic and style to the theme of the season, no matter whom I work for. But surely, what Mexico has given me is a great freedom in the way I approach the design process: enjoy what you do and be passionate about it.
And it’s also about teamwork: it’s all about collaboration and creating links with people. What I mean by that is that we need each other: the brands need me to create the designs, and I need the artisans to actually make those designs.
Photo credit: Anne Laure Camilleri
How important is it for you to support the next generation of designers?
Embroidery is gaining more and more importance in fashion but surprisingly, there are not many schools teaching it. Young designers are the future of our industry, so I want to make sure they have access to these techniques. They must learn how to use them in order to incorporate them in their professional work later on.
So, for me, it’s important to pass on what I know through teaching or mentorships. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now and it’s a part of my job that I truly enjoy. It started when I taught the Couture Embellishment short courses at the London College of Fashion from 2010 to 2014. Then I gave workshops at Central Saint Martins. This year, I taught in Tokyo and next year, I’m planning embroidery workshops in Bogota and Buenos Aires.
What do you look for in great embroidery and textile design?
I want to be surprised and intrigued. Surprised by the techniques, traditional or modern, or a balanced combination of both. I want to ask myself: “How did they do that? What is it made of?” And intrigued to the point that I want to meet the designer, know more about them, their background, their world.
Can you explain the parameters of your job?
I work for fashion brands designing and developing their embroideries.
At the beginning of each season, I meet with the creative director and the design team. We exchange ideas for the collection and I bring my research: pictures, swatches, vintage trims and materials that I think could fit the theme. Once the direction is decided, I design embroidery swatches that I develop with our embroidery manufacturers. They can be made in India, France, Italy or China. I make small embroidery examples myself, on the frame. I need to show things as clearly as possible. And then I make sketches, collage, I give material examples to explain what we want.
I have very close and very good relationships with all the ateliers I work with. I have been working with some of them for years now, so we understand each other quickly. I travel often to develop the swatches directly with them. But if I cannot travel, we talk every day, either on the phone, through Whatsapp or email. They send me pictures, I make comments, they correct and then show me again. We have very little time to develop each collection so these periods are quite intense for everyone.
Once these swatches are back in the studios and are approved for the collection, it’s time to place them on the garments. It’s layout time, as I call it. We engineer the motifs onto the paper patterns, for garments, shoes and bags. Sometimes it’s done with the computer, sometimes by hand, either drawing or collaging. You need to know garment construction well for this process: how to avoid darts and reduce the density for gathers, how to play with the weight of beading if the fabric is bias cut. Is a fabric going to tear with X or Y technique? Should the fabric be fused before or after beading? Is the embroidery too dense for the garment to be comfortable to wear? Is the leather supple enough to be embroidered?
My work also involves planning the work calendar, managing the budget and negotiating prices of all the embroidered styles.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I work for three very different companies, so each day is different and we have different styles of work in each of them.
I always start my days by checking emails. I have two phones, so I get about 80 emails every morning that I try to answer as quickly as possible. I’m in the studios at 9.30am. I work with the teams on the current projects: it can be research, fabric manipulations, weekly touch bases on the developments. It can be a creative session or a more strategic and planning-related meeting too. I like taking time to have lunch outside the office - it’s a very French thing apparently. I read the news or a novel or plan my weekly schedule.
My workday normally ends at 19.30. I go back home, have dinner with my husband or friends. I usually work on my personal projects in the evening: the book, or more research for one of my clients, courses planning, etc…
Where's the growth coming in your business at the moment? Any particular projects you would like to mention?
I’ve been very lucky in New York, I have good clients and lots of interesting work at the moment. I’m developing embroideries for the Spring/Summer 2017 shows that will happen in September and should start on Pre-Fall 2017 collections soon.
On a more personal level, I am working on a book project. It will be published in Japan in 2017 and it will contain embroidery tutorials, embroidery DIY projects. And I would like to start teaching on a more regular basis in New York, so I’m looking for new opportunities there too.
Finally, where do you find your inspiration?
I really enjoy the research part of my job. I have always kept examples of the embroideries I have done in the past, so I have a very good swatches library. I also keep tons of binders with inspiration images: from pictures, posters, interiors images, collage, illustrations. I love going to the library. To the Bibliothèque Forney in Paris or to the NY image bank and to the Condé Nast Library in the One World Trade Center. I also use Internet a lot and magazines. A lot of the inspiration comes from the materials themselves: how to use that sequin in a new and interesting way? What can we do with this gold cord? Or with ric rac? How to combine wood and pearls?
02 May 2016 by Roger Tredre
The director of design at British retail giant Marks & Spencer explains what she looks for in new talent.
High above west London’s Paddington Basin, Marks & Spencer design director Queralt Ferrer has just moved floor to a new office. The entire floor is in chaos with packing cases everywhere. At least there is calm to be found in the view from the window, overlooking the canal where the lunchtime crowd are chilling by the waterside.
Ferrer, who started her career in Spain – her home country – studying textiles at ESDI, is dressed for business in trousers and a mannish shirt with the sleeves rolled up. She speaks English with a strong accent, full of passion, energy and enthusiasm.
She was appointed last September to the newly created executive role at M&S of director of design for womenswear, lingerie and beauty, following two years running the Autograph and Limited ranges.
It’s a long way from Barcelona and La Coruña where the designer first made her name at Massimo Dutti, building the Inditex-owned brand into a retail nameto rank alongside its other global success story – Zara.
Queralt Ferrer knows full well the struggles of being a young designer. Back in the early 1990s, after studying at ESDI in Barcelona, she had intended to go into the family fabric business, focusing on men’s wovens. But recession struck and the company was a casualty of a downturn from which Spain’s textiles sector never really recovered.
So she ended up joining menswear retailer Massimo Dutti, then part-owned (and eventually fully owned) by Zara parent company Inditex. “One day, they asked me to go to Barcelona, do some shopping, and come back and say how I think womenswear could look.”
She came back, presented a grid of ideas, and found herself launching Massimo Dutti womenswear within two months – a pressure she appears to have relished. She stayed at Inditex for 17 years during the company’s period of stratospheric global growth before moving to London for M&S with her husband and three young children. “An amazing challenge – based in an amazing city!” she exclaims. “How could I refuse?”
What does she look for in a new designer? “The talent has to be there of course. They have to have fashion in their DNA, to love it. I look at the portfolio and how the designer interprets ideas. It has to have the wow factor. But there’s something else that is important – it’s how the designer sells the portfolio. If you work for a big company, you have to be able to sell your ideas. You can’t just be the quiet one in the corner.”
Texprint London 2015
It’s an aspect of the business that Texprint also emphasises to the 24 designers selected each year for the Texprint show in London in July and for Premiere Vision in Paris in September. Texprint’s team provides mentoring and practical advice on sales and marketing as well as creative development.
Ferrer acknowledges this shows in the maturity of the designers: “I usually go to Texprint in the summer in London. The work is really good, they show amazing projects. And yes, the designers are also very good and skilled at presenting and explaining their work.”
As a major long-term ‘foundation’ sponsor of Texprint, Marks & Spencer plays an important role in nurturing young design talent in textiles – building on its long and historic tradition of innovation in fabrics. “M&S is a company with such a strong heritage,” notes Ferrer. “The museum and archive in Leeds are amazing and inspiring. We are looking at this even more as we develop. The new Alexa Chung collection is based on the archives.”
M&S colleague Karen Peacock, head of womenswear design, talking with a designer at Texprint London 2014
The Archive by Alexa Chung collection, supported by the cool, hip British model and girl-about-town, was launched in April. It enthusiastically taps into vintage M&S designs. The launch is part of an initiative to draw a younger, more fashion-forward customer to the British high street veteran. It’s selling both online and in more than 50 stores.
Ferrer’s design eye loves the mix of old and new, so often seen at Texprint. She appreciates the authentic thrill of a classic hand-created print, clearly showing the creative handwriting of the designer. At the same time, she acknowledges the importance of digital technology to refine and complete a modern commercial design.
So how does she find working in the UK and with so many Brits? “Ah, I was already used to that. We had 25 to 30 designers at Massimo Dutti with people from Kingston, Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion. The Brits were easy, very good at integrating!” Ferrer seems to be doing that pretty well too.
21 March 2016 by Roger Tredre
Texprint has stepped up its support for new designers through a Hero Mentoring scheme that is proving very popular.
It could be said that Texprint is one giant mentoring scheme – identifying new design talent emerging from higher education across the UK and helping 24 names every year to take the first steps in their careers.
But sometimes a designer needs someone else – an external mentor, who is not too familiar with the work. Georgia Fisher, who was a Texprint designer in 2014 and was subsequently mentored by textile consultant Hilary Scarlett, remembers: “After two years of focusing on my work, I was too close to it, too convinced it simply spoke for itself. To have someone looking at it who was completely outside was really helpful.”
Hilary Scarlett is an experienced and well-known London-based fabric and colour consultant who worked for many years with East Central Studios and is a long-term contributor to Textile View magazine. She has a great network of contacts as well as a finely tuned understanding of the importance of presentation – perfect for commenting on a young designer’s portfolio.
She recalls her first meeting with Georgia at her house and studio in late 2014. Despite their gulf in experience, the two designers found they had plenty in common: Scarlett was herself a Texprint designer back in the late 1970s and she also studied at the Royal College of Art.
Hilary was thrilled by Georgia’s “beautiful, beautiful samples” – Georgia won the Texprint Interiors award in 2014. But she observed that her portfolio needed revision to demonstrate a much broader display of her talent. “Georgia has an innate ability for the handle and feel of fabric, and a great sensitivity for colour and proportion. The portfolio needed to show her diversity, particularly in colour and drawing skills.”
Georgia Fisher, winner of 2014 Texprint Interiors award sponsored by the Clothworkers' Company; shown here with Christopher McLean May, then Master of the Clothworkers' Company
Georgia appreciated the comments and quickly reworked her portfolio. She also remembers how much she enjoyed hearing about Hilary’s own career. “There are so many different jobs in textiles that you don’t know about. It was really helpful to learn from her experiences.”
Georgia Fisher on her stand at Première Vision, September 2014
The two designers remained in contact by email and phone, and met again at Première Vision in September 2015. After her Texprint experience, Georgia had worked freelance for a while, selling some of her samples. But she really appreciated continued contact with Hilary as well as Texprint sponsorship director Joanna Bowring, who helped arrange a paid work experience opportunity with Laura Miles’ WOVEN Studio (May 2015 interview). That morphed into working with Miles as part of the fashion team of Vanners, a silk mill based in Sudbury, Suffolk, with a 275-year history. And that led in turn to the offer of a job at Vanners in the autumn of 2015. Mission accomplished.
Did Hilary enjoy the experience? “Oh yes! It’s such a delight to see a talented student’s work. And I was delighted to help out because Texprint helped me at the beginning of my career: I met lots of people through Texprint and got a job soon after it finished.”
From Hilary Scarlett in 1979 to Georgia Fisher in 2016 – that’s 37 years! And these two creative talents, separated by many generations of Texprint, have both built successful careers in the textile industry – the perfect end result for the charity.
13 March 2016 by Roger Tredre
Pentland, the fashion, outdoor and sports brand group, is stepping up its sponsorship of Texprint. We spoke to creative director Katie Greenyer, who has been a passionate supporter of Texprint for 27 years.
She’s the fast-talking, super-colourful creative director of Pentland, the London-based group that nurtures a flourishing stable of sports, outdoor and fashion brands ranging from Speedo to Red or Dead, Ellesse to Berghaus. In no particular order, she likes Airedale terriers, the colour pink, Liverpool, playing table tennis, red lipstick, Aesop night oil, gin and tonic, a nice cup of tea and Essex.
But back in 1989 Katie Greenyer was just another young designer fresh from college (Fine Art Printed Textiles at Liverpool School of Art), selected by Texprint to exhibit her work at Interstoff in Frankfurt.
She says: “Texprint gave me my first break in the design industry and put me on the straight and narrow. It changed me from being someone who just drew and loved doing print and colour into actually thinking this is a commercial, viable thing for me – something that I could do.”
Greenyer, who is now a member of the Texprint Council, is a passionate supporter of the charity’s work in supporting the new generation of designers. “The first opportunities that Texprint gives are so important – they are the ones that give you the confidence to have a career in the creative industries.”
Back in 1989, Greenyer also had no hesitation stalking the designers she admired – with impressive results. She pitched up at Christian Lacroix’s atelier in Paris (sans invitation) and was soon creating designs for the great French couturier. Back in London, she hounded Wayne Hemingway, founder of Red or Dead, who told her to p*** off and find someone “mad in England” – she promptly came back with Stanley Green, an eccentric who spent most of his life patrolling Oxford Street with a billboard reading “Less Passion from Less Protein”. Hemingway gave her a job. Pentland bought Red or Dead in 1996, which marked the beginning of her long association with the group.
These days, textiles is a relatively small part of her focus, but she realised early on that her experience as a textile designer gave her an ability to work across all forms of creativity in the fashion sector. Her work is about “colour and composition, about having a real aesthetic and a commercial approach. I’m constantly asking: Is it commercial? Is it right for our brand? How can we do it better? That’s what I ask our team.”
The scale of the Pentland creative operation is impressive. Careful attention to recruitment is essential for nurturing an innovative culture within the business. Pentland has its own ‘design pool’ of up to eight designers who work on 11-month paid placements, rotated across the brands to develop their experience and explore where they are most suited to work. As designers are employed in full-time positions, more places open up in the design pool for a new wave of young names.
It’s a clever approach. Texprint designers have come to Pentland through this process, including most recently Charlie O’Byrne (Texprint 2012), who was talent spotted by Pentland design pool manager Tamara Sivan.
Do these placements always work out? Aren’t some of the young designers occasionally a little difficult? Greenyer laughs: “I like difficult! It’s part of being creative. I am difficult too! I sometimes compare my job to herding cats.”
Both Sivan and Greenyer have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the design colleges and universities of the UK with a wealth of personal contacts. Pentland are constantly setting projects for students, enabling the company to keep in touch with the best creative talent in the country.
Pentland was founded way back in 1932 as the Liverpool Shoe Company, but it was the acquisition of Reebok by Stephen Rubin in 1981 that catapulted the business into the major league (it was sold in 1991). Since then, the company has established a global reputation for successfully nurturing brands and combining commercial acumen with creative flair.
The company is based in Finchley, north London, where Greenyer worked with Rocktownsend architects to design a work environment that has won plenty of awards and is abuzz with energy and colour (it includes a swimming pool and gym). “We’re a family business,” explains Greenyer, paying tribute to the Rubin family. “What makes us truly different is our appreciation of people.”