Interview with Klements Founder & Designer Charlotte Allen
I first met Charlotte Allen (below), founder of luxury accessory label Klements, on a pattern cutting course at college. We had just brought home our rescue basset hound, Rene and I was amazed when I got chatting to Charlotte and discovered she had two bassets herself. It was the first of a string of uncanny similarities, not least being 7 years later we were both married in the same month.
One of the most significant parallels we discovered when we met other than a fondness for obstinate dwarven hounds was that we both worked as fashion graphic designers designing placement prints for ladieswear.
Our paths have crossed professionally on occasion since then, but while my focus now is mainly super-commercial high volume childrenswear (which suits my problem-solving fast paced approach to design) Charlotte who is more emotionally involved in the design process and is extremely talented in the craft and art of creating visual works has developed Klements.
A graduate of the Nottingham Trent University with a BA in printed textiles and a masters degree in fashion design, Charlotte's designs celebrate the form and colour of plant and animal life and reflect her years of experience. Awarded the prestigious Paul Smith Design Scholarship, Charlotte travelled to Japan to use the facilities at the world famous Bunka Fashion University.
Deeply in tune with the natural world and values close to It's Nice Out's heart, here she gives us an insight into Klements, her design process and inspirations.
Can You Talk us through your design process?
Do you take a similar approach for every scarf/collection or does your journey to finished product vary with every design?
I must confess, I often feel like I don’t know what I am doing as I don’t have a ‘proper’ or organised approach. Each design starts life in a different way and each collection in a disorganised mess of ideas, thoughts, people, observations, lusts, books I have read, colours and things I have seen, or in some cases, the inspiration's origin is unknown, I just wake up with something in my head. It is very much visceral.
My prints tend to be hand drawn, or working from my photography; I might feel compelled to draw a walrus or something, or may have a particular set of photos I am desperate to play around with in photoshop. Other times I may have some imagery, I start putting a design together and then the scarf comes alive, takes narrative and a story begins to be told. Often things go wrong, I have to stop and look at it the next day with fresh eyes to decide weather to scrap it or work into it. If I have spent a day on a print thats turns out to look dated or rubbish I struggle to get past it, thats my mood ruined for the rest of the day. I admit I take it all a little too seriously.
On the Timelessness of her designs
How do you create relevant products with broad appeal without adhering slavishly to trends and catwalk direction?
I have no idea, its just instinct. I always design what I want to be wearing right now and I don’t worry about too much else. Personally I don’t buy too many clothes, but when I do they tend to be more expensive, well made ‘archive pieces’ that I will be wearing for many years. I want Klements to be ‘pass down / keeper’ pieces. Obviously we are all simulataneously inspired by similar things, for example the recession had an impact on everyones tastes and preferences, you can’t escape that. But when fashion dictates very specific things, that turns me off. Who wants to wear what every one else is?
Do you devise seasonal palettes for the range?
I have never set a palette for Klements. What tends to happen is colours I find fresh & interesting at that time get used. The palette of natural is a general inspiration, the clashes, the dark tones with neon shots. One day I will have to start doing this properly…!
Where does your interest in dark, macabre themes stem from?
A while ago in an meeting with Kinder Aggugini (who shows at LFW), he said my prints were perverse. I liked that, I think he had a point. A dark under current is often present, weather it be taxidermy, or an air of decay. I grew up spending a lot of time at my Uncle & Aunties small organic farm in rural Lincolnshire, I have always been obsessed with animals.
I preferred the animals on the farm to the girls at my primary school. I played with them, named them all, slept in the pig sty. And then they got slaughtered, I remember saying good night to one of my favourite pigs and the next day her head was on a hook and her trotters in a pile in one of the out houses.
Also my Mother lost her Mother when she was just 16, I grew up hearing about this and got a little caught up with life / death. Nature and life is so transitory, all the beautiful things we see won’t be there for ever. Its a sadness, and I think ultimately there is beauty in this sadness.
How did you find the processes of setting up manufacturing and finding an agent?
It wasn't really hard to set up the manufacture, I worked professionally as a print designer for a few high end labels before I set Klements up, so I had a bank of contacts and my favourite manufacturers already lined up. Keeping them in order and delivering on time is still a challenge!
In terms of finding an agent, that was all down to researching, meeting lots of people and going with fact & instincts.
Tell us about presenting to Harrods buyers
And how did it feel to see your first collection stocked there?
They were lovely and very interested in the collection. They invited me in after I sent them a few scarves, so I knew they must have liked them to call a meeting so that took off the pressure! To see Klements in Harrods was perhaps the most satisfying achievement to date.
What's Next for Klements?
I would love to take Klements prints on to garments. There is no better way of appreciating a print than worn on a dress or shirt, interiors have always interested me too. I'm impatient - I want to do it all now, but I am realising in business these things take time.
What happened when the monkeys stole your scarf?!
We were in Cambodia on an inspiration trip wondering around Angkor Wat temple, when we spotted a little group of friendly looking monkeys, I edged a little closer to try and get some photographs. I was dressed head to toe in print (like most days) although today these prints had quite an impact on these monkeys who made a bee line for me and surrounded me trying to pull my long skirt off. Luckily the skirt was well attached to myself, however my Klements scarf was not; one little brave fellow had it off me in seconds.
The monkeys went crazy playing with it, fashioning it around themselves. The farce proceeded by them being joined by many other monkeys pulling the scarf, running up and down the temples with the scarf blowing in the wind like a flag, this went on for over an hour. Crowds of tourists gathered getting photos. We attempted at one point to get it back, but a large male had it wrapped around himself and growled at me showing me his set of sharp teeth. So the Flamingo scarf now resides in Cambodia.
What I enjoyed the most was how interested in the print they were, studying it with their eyes, feeling it with their fingers. They were intrigued by the trompe l’oeil lace. The monkeys were fabulous; very witty, cheeky and intelligent. It was quite magical.
You have two low-slung studio assistants. What are their roles within the business?
Wallace Hound is in charge of security related issues, he alerts us to people at the door, ‘Ron’ from the couriers is now quite accustomed to the basset howls when he arrives. Although we have had a few issues with him sleeping on the job recently.
‘Lell hound prefers a more active role in the studio, modelling new season, sniffing new fabric bases, although she has does have a few bad habits too, the most expensive being her addiction to ‘wacom’ graphic tablet pens. She has chewed 5 up to now and is on her final warning.
I'm so thankful to Charlotte for taking the time to answer these questions, I appreciate it's actually quite hard to put the abstract and intangible into words. The images really don't do justice to the incredible vibrancy of her scarves, you have to see them to believe them.
For a limited time, Charlotte has kindly offered subscribers to the It's Nice Out Newsletter a 15% discount off all of the items in her online store. Simply enter your email in the box on the right of this page (or at the bottom if you’re on a mobile device) to receive the email newsletter with this and other exclusive discounts. The discount code will be in the next newsletter due to be sent 2nd May.
Klements is endorsed here purely on its own merit. This was not a sponsored post.