My first love has always been fashion. From collecting ‘Vogue’ to working in the PR side of it for a while, my need to be surrounded by beautiful, creative things is what has led me to the designer-makers of Meet the Makers. So having my very first interview with a fashion designer on the blog is a real honour. Saying that, I can’t actually take any credit for it! My lovely friend Hannah (who interviewed Piccadehli) got in touch with her old school friend Lucy Kemp, a now up and coming designer in New Zealand – the other side of the world no less! Pardon My French is Lucy’s own label and has shown at New Zealand Fashion Week for the first time this year. Can you even begin to imagine how exciting that is?! Read on for how a girl from Suffolk created a New Zealand fashion line, the reality of things to consider before starting your own business (hint: travel now) and travelling tips (well, you never know next time you’ll be in NZ)…
When did you know you wanted to become a fashion designer?
Although I knew I wanted to work in the fashion industry once leaving school to pursue further education, I don’t think it was until the second year of my degree that I thought I’d actually like to be a fashion designer. I was given the opportunity to make and sell some clothes by Kristine Crabb, a fellow student who had graduated and set up her first shop in Auckland on the notorious K’Rd called “Rip, Shit and Bust”. I jumped at the chance to have a go at making and selling some clothes, and it was whilst doing this, that I did for several years under the name “Magpie” that I thought I would one day like to seriously have my own label and business.
Where did the name PardonMyFrench come from? We amour!
There’s no big story behind where I got the name “PardonMyFrench” from. I didn’t want to go under my own name. I did a lot of brainstorming of name ideas and PardonMyFrench seemed like a great name for a fashion label. I like that people can interpret it in their own way. It’s a saying that is used often, especially by the British, so I suppose it’s a slight nod towards where I’ve come from in a very subtle way.
We were school chums back in the UK – have you been influenced by British culture or do you sway more to the New Zealand lifestyle for your fashion inspiration?
I am very much inspired by the British culture, a lot more so than New Zealand. In New Zealand, people are very laid back and have a much more relaxed style. I love how diverse Britain is in terms of its’ culture and influences and yet there are certain looks within fashion that are just so British. For example, a Burberry trench-coat. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get better than that. I’m a big fan of classic timeless designs when it comes to clothes. I love British designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. Both have been huge influences and inspirations to me over the years.
What’s your process like from the point of inspiration to seeing that delight on a customers face?
Every collection starts with finding an inspiration. Whatever the inspiration may be, I do quite a lot of research, learning more info on the subject and collecting up visual references. I like to have an idea of the inspiration before sourcing fabrics. I then take a trip up to Auckland to meet with the fabric suppliers and gather swatches of all the fabrics I like. I don’t usually start designing until I’ve done this. Then it’s time to get some initial ideas sketched down on paper. Ideas can always change once you have looked at fabrics as you may find something you weren’t expecting that really inspires you. Once I’ve got some designs done, it is time to start transforming these ideas into reality. I do the patterns, make what we call a toille (which is kind of like a practice garment to check the pattern works) from this I can make, design and fit alterations if need be. This process goes on until I’m happy with everything and then I can make it up in the good fabric.
Do you have a favourite piece of clothing past or present? We just love love love your pink and grey dog tooth cape…
I don’t think I could narrow it down to just one favourite piece. I would agree with you on the pink and grey houndstooth coat though. That was a piece I did in my very first collection for PardonMyFrench and I still absolutely love it. I also love the patterned “Ultimate Leisure Suit” which featured in my second collection. Both pieces were quite brave designs, both very bold and colourful. In New Zealand, a lot of designers tend to do a lot of black as it’s a very safe and sellable option. I like that despite this, both the coat and jumpsuit proved to be very popular both with the media and buying customers. It just goes to show that sometimes you have to take a risk and it will pay off.
When you go out with your girls, do they all want to borrow your pieces?
Haha, yep, it happens now and then. Most of my girlfriends buy from me every season though, so they often have their own PardonMyFrench rags to throw on.
What blogs/magazines do you follow or read for inspiration?
I always look at The Satorialist and Bill Cunningham’s features for The New York Times. I like to see what all the stylish ladies are wearing in other parts of the world and I always find these two the most inspirational.
I read recently that you have just moved into your very own studio. How exciting was that for you?
Getting a proper studio space has been amazing. I have a lot more space and it’s great not working at home anymore. In order to make ends meet, I have been working out of my parents garage, so it felt like a real luxury.
What are you most proud of, and what is your greatest achievement so far?
I’m really proud of everything I have achieved to date. I do so much of the work myself, I’m proud to have the motivation and work ethic to achieve everything that I have. I am just now getting ready to do my first show at New Zealand fashion Week (now passed). I think that seeing all my hard work on the catwalk for the first time will be my proudest moment.
What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
I feel like I started my label with a great understanding of the industry and how tough it was going to be. I was not wrong! I knew it was going to be a huge cost setting up the business but no matter how well you plan, I don’t think you really quite realise exactly how costly it can be. I wish I’d saved at least three times as much money as what I had saved up when starting out. There have been many times where I’ve completely ran out of money and wondered how I am supposed to pay all my bills. Luckily somehow, I have always just managed.
What advice would you give to any fashionistas out there who want to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t jump into business straight away, there is no rush. Get some experience working in the industry first. Live out all your other dreams first, as having your own business completely consumes you and leaves you with very little spare time for other things.
Any hopes, ideas & dreams for the future?
It’s one day at a time for me at the moment. I regret not having done more travel before starting the business, so I guess I hope I can find the time for that somewhere down the line.
Who, in your eyes wears it best and inspires you?
I don’t really have anyone in particular who I look to for inspiration for their style. When I started out my style muse was a character in a film: Margot Tenenbaum from The Royale Tenenbaums.
And finally… Tell us a little bit about life in NZ. We’d love to visit one day – any top tips?
New Zealand is a great place to live. Most people have quite a relaxed, laid back attitude. There are plenty of natural wonders to see, it truly is a beautiful country. As a tourist, you come here for the outdoors, not the cities. Whilst Auckland and Wellington (N.Z’S two main cities) are great and both very different from each other, they are not as impressive as say a trip to London or New York. I live in Napier which is a relatively small place, and it’s best known for its Art Deco architecture and its’ many wineries.
Take a look at Lucy’s collection over on her shop, and keep updated on Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram. Or just take a trip to New Zealand – why not?!
P.S. If you’re in the mood to accessorise your style more, check out here and here…