We love getting up close and personal with creators, and for this month’s Artist Spotlight we introduce you to Scarlett Cunningham. A London-based fashion designer bringing a new perspective to the fashion industry through her work and garments. Our interview with Scarlett is jam-packed with nuggets of wisdom that’ll give you insight into the lifestyle of a fashion designer and the ups and downs that come along with it.
Hi Scarlett, can you tell us a bit about yourself, what has inspired you to become a fashion designer?
From a very young age, I have always loved drawing and, it was my favourite thing to do growing up. It wasn’t until I was about 8 years old – I can remember my sister trying on new clothes and it suddenly occurred to me that I could draw/design my own. Since then, I knew it was what I always wanted to learn, study and create for myself.
What has motivated you to go from a 9-5 job to starting up your own brand?
Having worked for so many other companies from high end to high street brands, and learning how they work behind closed doors it made me realise that I could do it for myself. Working for other companies wasn’t enough for me to feel proud of, I learnt that very rarely will you ever be truly valued amongst many large-scale, creative teams. I wanted to create that value for myself and not have someone else define that for me.
What helped me realise this also was working with the creative holding group – Austieng. Without their support, it would have taken me a lot longer to get where I am today. Collectively, we have some many ideas and visions for design, and it’s much more satisfying to save them and to share them under my and Austieng’s name and not somebody else.
What is your stance on fashion and art, do you consider it to be a true art from?
Yes I do. I believe any form of creative expression is an art form. Whether you are an architect, a poet or a fashion designer – what connects us is that we all have a vision of what we want to express and stand for, which we symbolise through our work. Being a fashion designer/artist to me is a true art form. Whether you want to make a new silhouette, combine new technologies and fabrics or make a political statement through the way you want to dress others – it’s very empowering, liberating and almost therapeutic to me. I believe we all want to express ourselves at some point in our lives, being a designer enables me to do this and not be so apologetic about it.
Can you talk us through your creative process as a designer?
My creative process usually starts for me when a feeling or emotion has been triggered. It can be from a conversation that I have had or overheard, seeing a stylish woman walk past me on the street; but it mainly starts with me – I ask myself what do I want to create, that ultimately others will appreciate too.
I write down my ideas from shapes, feelings, fabrics then impulsively start sketching. Then the design development takes place, and I narrow down the designs to what I feel captures the best of what I’m trying to convey. I eventually make the final edit of the collection and then I start paying attention to the finer details such as stitching and finishings on each piece.
Have your experiences as a designer in the fashion industry influenced your work?
I feel like I’ve always had a somewhat signature aesthetic when it comes to style and design, which mainly stems from a more personal than a professional background. Although, I have noticed when working with various brands, how quickly you unconsciously adapt to their established style. For example, Marc Jacobs was very influential for me. Not just on the brand’s identity but also how they work as a team and how Marc values each individually. They became like a second family to me at the time, we would work 17 hour days at our busiest and nobody would complain, we were all just super excited for what we were creating, even if it meant grabbing Starbucks at 11pm and heading back to the studio. I knew I wanted to create that atmosphere and energy for myself one day.
What has your journey been like from – Carine 2014 to A Shirt Study 2016 – do you feel like you’ve grown as an artist?
Since 2014, I’ve grown so much both personally and artistically. The Carine collection is what I’m most proud of, however, I can see I was playing it a little safe as I was trying to find my feet. A Shirt Study has done that for me and working with Austieng has helped push me in the direction I’ve always wanted to go. Working under Austieng’s guidance has helped me take my work much more seriously and I’ve become somewhat unapologetic about it. I truly value what I’m doing and I know within myself and Austieng’s support it will only improve and grow from here.
What lessons have you taken away from working for brands like Hardy Amies of Savile Row, Céline & Marc Jacobs?
The most significant lesson I have learnt is that you have to believe in yourself. That applies to what you’re doing, what you stand for and what you wish to create. The three brands that you’ve mentioned, all have such individual design aesthetics, style and heritage that you have to immerse yourself in knowing all there is about each one to attain, respect and create the image that they stand for. I also learnt that true quality requires a lot of skill and patience. It cannot be rushed. Greatness takes time. It takes 13 hours to build a Toyota, but 6 months to build a Rolls-Royce. That says it all.
A few well-known brands have been accused of stealing designs. Why do you think this is happening?
Let’s be honest, this has been happening for a long time, however, I feel more so now than ever because the fashion calendar is so crazily demanding. People are witnessing clothes on the runway and expecting them the next day. There is a huge lack of patience for truly achieving originality and quality nowadays. And not just even on a consumer basis, highly established brands are now expected to deliver 4-6 collections a year with the pressure of each being better than their last. I personally think the whole idea and system of the fashion calendar is now outdated and unrealistic. I’ve seen various brands steal ideas from each other, it’s like keeping up appearances, it’s a very fine line.
Your work was featured in the May issue of Elle UK. How does it feel like to have your work grace such a respected magazine?
That was a great feeling, knowing that they approached me to be featured too. The Austieng team helped to bring it all together at very short notice which pushed us all but we worked efficiently to get the best result.
It made me believe in myself, even more, it was encouraging.
If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?
Nothing, except apologise less.
What does the future hold for Scarlett Cunningham?
Some more womenswear collections that will gradually include – jewellery, accessories and footwear. I’d love to do skincare and eventually set up my own charity. Austieng group is expanding, so it will be interesting to see the other ventures that I shall be sitting amongst and potentially with. But most importantly, make others feel valued.
Lastly, what advice would you give to young designers just starting out their journey?
However you are starting your journey, whether you have just graduated from design school or never worked within the design industry – the most important thing is that you must believe in yourself first. Don’t worry too much about academic grades or impressing the ‘right’ people all the time. Stay true to yourself and the rest will follow. Identify your weaknesses and your strengths and play them both to your advantages by reading, researching and talking to others within the industry to get a wider scope. Find your niche, to begin with, try to identify your signature style and stick with it. And one more thing – never compare or look at what other designers are doing whilst your designing. Let your ideas and process be as organic and raw as possible!
You can find more of Scarlett Cunnigham’s work here: scarlettcunnigham.com
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