Love print? Suddenly want to don a graphic motif? That'd be the influence of Holly Fulton, the designer with print at the heart of everything she creates. Since 2009, Fulton has blown our minds with her intricate, deco-inspired motifs (hello, lipstick print) that have made prints not only desirable again, but wearable, too. We caught up with the designer to talk about building a business from scratch, Joan Collins, and how to wear print from head-to-toe. Really.
Photographed by Eva K. Salvi
How did you get started in the fashion business?
"I came a really, sort of, circuitous route to having my own label. I initially wanted to be a vet but realised that I wasn't cut out for it as I'm far too sentimental, so I had a quick rethink and went back to art. I did a foundation course, still not knowing if I was going to move into fashion, then did a fashion and textile course, and then did my degree in womenswear. Eventually I did my masters at the Royal College of Art and then started my own label in 2009, so I had five years between starting my label and my MA where I did a wide variety of things. I went abroad and all sorts of stuff; I think these varied experiences helped me establish my commitment to doing my own thing eventually."
What is your design philosophy?
"When I started my own label, I wasn't intending to show, I was approached by Lulu Kennedy to do it, so I hadn't designed a collection that I thought I would ever produce. I just created a collection I loved. I've sort of started that way, so I have to continue that way if you like [laughs]. The label has a very graphic nature. All the prints are hand drawn, which gives them a point of difference. It is very labour intensive and probably not an incredibly realistic way to work, but it is what distinguishes our print from others. I do a lot of the embellishment myself and really work with the pieces in the studio. I really enjoy that side of it. It's that reinterpretation of couture-type technique without being big headed, that kind of hand work and how you can translate it into modern ready-to-wear that really fascinates me."
Who inspires you? Who are the figures that were instrumental to the start of your career?
"Yes, there are a huge variety of things that I love. When I was at art college in Edinburgh I met the artist Eduardo Paolozzi
for the first time, and he's been a huge influence on my work. His pop-art aesthetic and eclecticism is really influential and I still love it. When I started my label Lulu Kennedy was a huge formative figure and she really steered me and gave me that opportunity to have my own show. I worked for Lanvin prior to that and really shaped my resolve to do my own thing. Sarah Mower was incredibly important, as well as the British Fashion Council with its various initiatives. I think I've been incredibly lucky with the help I've had and the various people from myriad walks of life that made it happen."What have been the highlights of your career so far?
"The obvious highlights were in the first year winning a British Fashion Award for accessories which was quite overwhelming and unexpected at the time. We were very lucky to get supported by ELLE
magazine and get best new designer at its awards. It was a big benchmark, which is obviously fantastic when you are starting out. It is nice to have that recognition but probably more so the highlight for me is building the team and consolidating my studio. We've recently moved into a new studio, which is quite a big step, plus I've got a very very committed team who work with me. Just seeing their reaction to the collection is always really amazing. We kind of have that moment when we realise it has worked or hasn't [laughs]. That is a very rewarding moment."
Is there a specific person you have in mind when you are designing?
"I always think of myself which is maybe a bit selfish. I think if I wouldn't want to wear those things why the hell would anyone else want to. I really enjoy wearing my own work and do so quite frequently. Often I will use that as a gauge. We do create some things that aren't realistic for everyday wear but I like to think most things can be worn. It's not about creating garments that are unusable. Every season there is a new muse who sort of falls into the frame. One season it was Joan Collins, who I've always adored because of her attention to detail and her fastidious, almost relentless matching of clothing and jewellery — that sort of '80s thing. Other characters have been Jean Miro, a French actress, who I looked at quite a lot as I think I always wanted to be her, that pretty '60s beatnik.
You mention how important it is for your team to feel a part of what is going on in the run up to a stressful period like LFW; how do you keep positive energy flowing in the office?
"Everyone has a moment, myself included. I think the people are there because they want to be. It is hard work and the hours are going to be incredibly long, unfortunately that is part and parcel of it. I find it very hard to stop as I'm addicted to it. I genuinely have a passion for what I am doing and I can't bear to leave before I've finished as much as I can. I'm fortunate that a number of my team share that quality. People help you realise your vision. We always try to do the special pieces first, and then everyone reacts and we aim to live up to that standard. It motivates everyone to get through those last couple of weeks, which are the longest [laughs]."
Having set up your business and studied fashion at college, have you learnt some things the hard way? What has been the biggest learning curve?
"Absolutely. I had no concept of starting a business before I started it. I didn't intend to show at fashion week before Lulu Kennedy asked me and that was six weeks before the Fashion East show. You don't turn down that opportunity, you just get on with it. I made it but I didn't know what happened next. I didn't know how to do a show, or the showrooms or the selling; it was a completely new thing to me but you learn very swiftly. One thing I've really enjoyed is starting my business. You wouldn't think you could get much enjoyment out of starting a business plan but I actually have."
Marni jacket; Prada shoes; Holly Fulton ss'13 necklace, shirt, and skirt.
What is your favourite part of your studio?
"There is one table that is higher than all the others, which is perfect for drawing. I do the majority of [my drawing] after everyone goes at 7pm; that's when I get my space and spread out. It is my favourite time to do some serious design work. The studio is quieter and you can put your stuff everywhere and reflect on things."
How do you keep constantly creative? Are there any routines, practices, or processes that keep your creative energy flowing?
"I think it is just natural. I'm always excited by things. I'm a ridiculous hoarder and I love clothes and patterns. Anything jewellery. I'm constantly excited by new things I come across. There is never a shortage of ideas; it is more about pulling it back. When I'm drawing a collection I probably draw between three and four hundred sketches and then it takes me ages to whittle it down to the thirty that I know I have to have there. I will work through a lot of stuff to get to that point. I love drawing and could just go on endlessly. The team has to say stop, "there are 600 things here, it's not possible." I think I'm constantly inspired by what I"m seeing from various sources. "
Print appears to be part of your design DNA; what is it about print that you love?
"It didn't used to. I had a total shift during the time of my MA. I had such an amazing time when I was at the RCA, we used to compare our year to Hair the musical as we were all having this big love-in together and were working hard. I started letting everything loose within me. That is when I got into print and pattern. I'd always been fascinated by it. My house is a mess of things from different eras, all highly patterned. I've got a psychedelic sitting room that reflects my work. I have a real love of '90s Moschino and Versace print, they are quite jarring but I'm drawn to clashing colour combinations. I think it was always latent within me, but it wasn't until I moved to London that it flourished."
Some folks are scared by print; how would you advise wearing it with confidence?
"A lot of my collections are full on and with a lot of jewellery; it can be quite daunting, but I think a lot of people break themselves in gently. You don't need to look at my runway collection and think you have to wear it head to toe. It is taking a small bit and distilling it down till it works for you. Start off with jewellery and see the reaction you get. I think people like seeing other people wear colour and print. It provides a visual stimulation to the onlooker as much as the wearer."
Are there any people in the public eye who you'd love to see wearing your designs?
"I'd like to see Angelica Huston wearing my designs. I've always loved her. I think it is interesting to see a wide variety of women wearing [my designs] — girls in their mid-twenties to women in their '70s. I always wanted it to have diversity. I don't think [the label] is targeted to someone young; I wanted it for someone who is sure of colour and loves print."
How would you describe your personal style?
"Everyone always says it is "borderline bad taste" because they'll see the clothes and they'll say, 'are you sure?' and I'll say, 'absolutely.'" For me it's about bringing together too many things in one outfit that to me look completely right. I think it is all about confidence. I'd say it is quite an eclectic sense of style."
Vintage Valentino shoes.
What do you like to wear when you are working in the studio?
"A lot of print. I love Timney Fowler
from the '80s and '90s. I love wearing their stuff. Also, vintage Moschino. I wear a lot of vintage in general mixed in with new basics and a lot of my own stuff as well. Everyone always jokes that I like to wear "printed sacks," which is basically true. On a day-to-day basis I probably will be wearing a brightly coloured T-shirt dress with a big jewel. That is my uniform."
Dries van Noten top; Holly Fulton SS'12 skirt; vintage Valentino shoes; '20s bakelite necklace from Paris; '70s rhinestone earrings; '70s perspex bracelet; Atelier Swarovski; Holly Fulton ring.
How are your preparations coming along for LFW?
"Good. We are always incredibly last minute but I know now not to panic. You always get there and you can improvise, and we'll make something else. We're making quite a lot of pieces by hand this season. I enjoy having that connection to things that will make it onto the runway."
Are there any buzzwords for the new collection that will give us a hint about what we can expect to see at your LFW show?
"It is has an Oriental theme but whether you will see that is hard to say. We start with something that moves into many different routes. Our muse was Ali McGraw, but again, whether you will be able to see that, who knows!"
Aside from your new collection is there anything else that you are looking forward to with your brand?
"We are hopefully doing some swimwear ourselves and there are some very exciting collaborations coming up that I can't quite talk about yet. We've got things happening in different product categories that will launch over LFW. One of them will have an electronic slant, which is probably quite an unexpected thing, but we had a lot of fun with it. There is an accessories-based collection at the end of the year, as well as a seasonal Christmas-y one. I love working in different fields other than fashion, which is exciting for me as a designer and us as a team to see our prints transposed into different walks of life."
Where do you like to go in the city for inspiration?
"If I want a bit of sheer escapism I go to Kensington, to Lord Leighton's house
. It is something I stumbled upon when I was at the RCA. It is like a normal early-Victorian building on the outside but on the inside it's total mysticism — all Arabian tiles internally; it is a strangely calming place. If I want to forget about East London for a bit I head down there. I also think it is nice to go to the outskirts of London and discover new bits of it too. I also escape back to Edinburgh for a change of scene."
If you weren't a designer what would you be doing today?
"I would be in antiques, as I think I would be good at it. I always think I should give it a try. I love history and it is an inspirational source for me, and a logical move to go into that field."