Caitlin Charles-Jones is a knitwear designer and founder of her eponymous luxury knitwear label, which she hand makes in her Cotswold studio.
Caitlin Charles-Jones is one of those rare and lucky people who knew from an early age what she wanted to be when she grew up, in fact she doesn't 'remember ever wanting to do anything else'. Already tipped as one of Vogue's 'One's to Watch', Charles-Jones' impressive CV boasts a BA from Kingston University where she won the Stuart Peters Visionary Knitwear Award, an MA from the Royal College of Art where she won the Swarovski Crystal Award, and work experience at the legendary Italian fashion house, Missoni. Most recently, she has started her own luxury knitwear label, focusing on 'clean, bold and wearable silhouettes, unusual material combinations and intricate embellishment', which she debuted at London Fashion Week in September. We sat down with her to find out more.
what is your earliest memory of making something?
My parents have an interior design business and my mum made curtains for people, so I grew up surrounded by beautiful fabrics and we would sew things together. I actually remember drawing outfits for my friends in the playground at primary school before I even knew people did it for a living!
how would you describe your brand?
I would describe my brand as 'luxurious simplicity'. I aim to design clothes that people can relate to and recognise. Clothes that aren't intimidating or restrictive to wear but are luxurious in their fabrication and construction. It's really important to me that my clothes can be interpreted into someone's individual style. That's when my designs really come to life!
what inspired your latest collection?
My new collection is inspired by landscapes and their translation into graphs, maps and plans. It's the idea that something so wild and complex can be reduced to readable lines on a page. This is the underlying theme as the garments themselves are recognisable, bold pieces but the construction and fabrications are really intricate.
are there any pieces you are particularly fond and/or proud of?
I am fond of the polo dress. I just love it! It's so easy and comfortable to wear and it suits any body shape. However, the piece I am most proud of is the flower dress. I worked with local craftswomen to produce crochet flowers and they are all hand sewn together - the result is crochet that looks modern, clean, and hopefully unexpected.
WHEn you are working on a new collection, whAt is your starting point?
It's always a bit daunting to begin with. I usually start with words rather than imagery. I look through books and magazines to see if there is a phrase or description that sparks something and I always write down my ideas. When I fix on something, I start to look for imagery, artists and objects to build a well-rounded story. I never include fashion imagery in my research as I find it really distracting so I often look to architecture and objects for inspiration.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO YOU TO PERSONALLY HAND-MAKE YOUR WORK?
When I was studying I took the making process for granted. I specialised in knitwear, so even though I loved the making process I had no choice but to do it all myself. Since starting my own label though I have discovered that I wouldn't be fulfilled if I were designing without making. For me the joy is in the whole process... the idea of creating something that is entirely mine from a single thread. This is why, wherever my business takes me, I want to always have a workshop so that the initial process starts with me.
How do you balance creativity with commerce?
This is something I'm learning all the time! Luckily my aesthetic naturally leans towards silhouettes that are more wearable so creating commercial pieces actually suits me. However, I do try and add elements of the unexpected to ensure my designs are unique and interesting.
what do you think are the biggest challenges new fashion designers face when starting out in the industry today?
There are so many! Getting a job is really tough at the moment. As the old saying goes... you need experience to get experience. Getting that first foot in the door and getting paid for it is really tough, as at graduate level there is often someone willing to do it for free.
In terms of starting a new label the actual practicalities pose a problem. In my case, as a knitwear designer, I have a lot of big machinery and so I need space, which in London is definitely hard to come by.
What advice would you give to an aspiring designer and maker?
The motivational advice I would give is that if you work hard enough you will always achieve more than you imagine, even if it's not in the way that you originally planned. Also always be open to new and unexpected opportunities as you never know who you might meet and where it might lead. In a general life sense though, my advice is to be kind - it is so often forgotten and yet can make all the difference.
What does success look like to you?
For me success is turning my passion into a viable business. I know it doesn't sound very romantic but it's true. Even when my dad is really stressed at work he says he's always thankful that when he gets up in the morning he gets to go and make a living out of doing something that he loves.
Which women do you admire & why?
I admire women who have taken their own path and maintained their humility and kindness in whatever they do - I really admire Emma Watson for this.
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