While Catherine Quin’s passion has always been in fashion, she found herself working as a lawyer in Lincoln’s Inn before launching her own clothing label. Keen for a creative outlet, Quin decided to take up evening classes at Central St Martins which was handily located opposite her law firm. Since establishing her eponymous label Catherine Quin in 2015, she has created a brand that aims to provide ‘calm, confident and grounded clothing for intelligent women’.
Marguerite spoke with this month’s ‘Mover & Shaker’ to learn about her holistic approach to culture, why she found it so hard to ask for help when starting her own business and the importance of having a good grasp of the manufacturing process when launching your own label.
Can you tell me about your route into fashion – how did you come to run your own label?
I had always been interested in fashion growing up but for whatever reason found myself working as a lawyer in Lincoln’s Inn. Feeling burnt out by the law I decided I needed a creative outlet and a mental escape from my day job. At that time Central St Martins was just across the road from my law practice so I threw myself into evening classes there, studying fashion design 2 nights a week. Although it’s rare to ever feel totally prepared for something new, these classes really gave me a taste of what a life in fashion could look like for me. I loved the evenings I was studying and after about a year I finally had the confidence to quit my job as a lawyer and build a new career as a designer.
Your label focuses on creating timeless, elegant pieces – what is your creative process when working on a new season?
Every new season usually begins with a new fabric. My designs are based around clean lines and a pared-back aesthetic that means there’s no hiding behind sparkles, loud prints, or bells and whistles! The quality of the fabric is therefore of the utmost importance and the texture and weight of these new fabrics then informs the shapes and silhouettes of the new season. My initial research and creative process is consequently very hands-on and involves visiting lots of different fabric fairs in London and Paris and scouring vintage markets and antique stores.
What have been the biggest hurdles for you to overcome since starting your business?
Probably the ability to ask for help. I’ve always been pretty self-sufficient and independent as a person so it’s been a real challenge for me to reach out and ask people for help with my business. Although I’m better at it now this is still something I struggle with and spend too much time procrastinating over!
What would your one piece of advice be to a young female who is keen to start her own fashion label?
You really need to have a good grasp of how the manufacturing process works. Ultimately the garments are the product you’re creating and selling to people so a lack of understanding of the fundamental production process can really come back to haunt you. Of course, there are production managers who’s role it is to manage the manufacturing, but it’s important you educate yourself because if you don’t know the process front to back you’ll be on the back foot with your factories and suppliers.
Which fashion designers do you look to for inspiration?
90’s Yohji Yamamoto has always been a big inspiration for me.
Do you see the modern woman as the working woman?
I see the modern women as capable and empowered, with a belief in equal opportunity. Setting gender discrimination aside, my view is that today’s world is full of opportunity and the very nature of how we perform our work and the expectations of society are changing rapidly which benefits women. With the advancements in technology, more and more people are realising that “work” doesn’t have to mean a conventional, 10 hour day, spent at a corporate job. And it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing choice. As more industries introduce flexible working hours and as the success and support for female entrepreneurs increases, it’s becoming easier for women to choose to work in a way that suits their lifestyle and family commitments which I think is fantastic.
You use luxurious fabrics such as silk, satin and cashmere from the finest mills in Italy – where in Italy do you source from?
I source the majority of my fabrics from northern Italy. There are two small, family-run mills outside Como that are my favourites. I visit them there and they come to see me regularly in London to show me new fabric techniques that they’ve developed. It’s really important to me to have a good relationship with my suppliers and build trust, warmth and longevity into our business relationship.
What is your favorite fabric to work with?
I love heavy silks; Heavy enough to feel protected but fluid enough to move and drape with the body.
Do you think it is possible for fashion to be fully sustainable?
I’d like to think so but we have a long way to go.
If you could invite four artists to dinner, dead or alive, who would they be?
I’ve always been in awe of Georgia O’Keeffe for her strength of character and independence so I would love to talk to her about her minimalist approach to life and philosophies on simplicity and isolation.
Ella Fitzgerald would be ideal for her dulcet tones and regaling her jazz world tales of time spent collaborating with Dizzie Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra.
Tracey Emin would be an entertaining guest and I’m sure she would introduce some controversial topics into the mix for some lively debates.
Barbara Hepworth excelled at being a woman in a man’s world with her humility and enormous talent. I just adore the purity and clarity of her modernist sculpture and I would love to hear more about how her experience of nature inspired her work and process.
Do you feel it is important for the visual arts and fashion to intersect?
It’s definitely important to me but I don’t think the connection needs to be imposed on everyone. I take a holistic approach to culture, identity and fashion so I love being inspired by the visual arts and bringing that into my practice to create a garment that can be worn by someone on the street. I do see clothing as kinetic sculpture in many ways so I enjoy making those connections and imbuing my collections with a sculptural element, for example. But it’s not for everyone. Sometimes people just want to wear a pretty dress and that’s fine too!
Want more? Check out Catherine Quin here.
Words by Lara Monro and photography by Luke Fullalove.