Laura Gillings’ Graduate Fashion Week diary
Introducing our womenswear winner and her mentor Henry Holland
Turning androgynous styling on its head, the winning Tu scholarship collection – from Bath Spa graduate Laura Gillings – is not to be missed. Doing the impossible by reinventing the stripe, the range is full of wearable separates that scream confident style. Here, Laura and her mentor, fashion designer Henry Holland, spill the beans on her journey from Graduate Fashion Week (GFW) to finished collection.
“Laura’s got an amazing level of design and really knows detailing and approach to fabrication. She’s got a very strong signature.” Henry Holland
Can you describe your collection and the inspiration behind it?
“The collection started from looking at 1960s and 70s tailoring and rock and roll styling of the Rolling Stones. They were a really big influence. I also looked at their girlfriends – Anita Pallenberg was a really big inspiration. I love how they used to crossover clothes – menswear would be worn as womenswear. It didn’t really have a gender.”
“The stripes and tailored suits and coats of that time were a huge inspo. I found an amazing striped suit that Anita Pallenberg wore – I wanted to bring that into now. That also came through with the slogan T-shirts. I really wanted to do something that showed power. That you can be who you want to be and wear these really strong clothes that show your personality. I feel like a lot of people are scared to wear their personality. So I chose bold, bright colours on purpose, to stand out. It’s all about confident styling.”
How has the collection evolved since the GFW show?
“It hasn’t evolved too much. There’s a lot of pieces that went into work from my original samples, which is fantastic. Probably 70 per cent of it is still the same. And the other thirty was adding in solid colour pieces that make it easier to style for the everyday.”
Are there any designers that have influenced or inspired your design aesthetic?
“Not that it’s very vintage – it’s 2003 – but there was this Marni jacket. A really bold, block red and white stripe that was very influential to this collection. It was a beach chair stripe and my coral and white suit came from that. I really loved the styling of it as well. I used a lot of vintage pieces… I deconstructed suits and looked at some shirts as well. I think using this as inspiration makes it more original.”
What do you think is the most important lesson you’ve learned from this process?
“It’s that commercial clothes can be really bold and bright. And that you always have to think about the customer. But the customer can change with your designs and adapt. So you adapt with the customer and they adapt with you, it’s a two-way process.”
What have you enjoyed most?
“The process of seeing my designs come to life through the suppliers that we use. It was super-exciting getting the packages and seeing they’d made things exactly how I wanted.”
What have you found hardest?
“At first, I was really scared that I would have to change my collection drastically. But by just adding a few bits in, it actually felt fully finished.”
Has the design team at Tu been a big support?
“Definitely. My manager has been amazing. She’s just gone on maternity leave and I feel like I’ve lost my fashion mum. She’s helped me throughout the whole process and she’s really helped with the buying side of it. I’ve never worked with buyers before and she’s helped me build a good relationship there so that when we’re sourcing fabrics, they know exactly what I want. That it feels premium and needs to have a certain aesthetic.”
What’s it been like having Henry Holland as a mentor?
“It’s been really amazing for me to come in and show him my work and him be like, ‘Yeah, it’s great.’ He really likes it, he’s really supportive and he’s been really optimistic about my collection.”
What do you feel is the standout, must-buy piece from your collection?
“The green jumper. The colour’s really rich and it’s really easy to wear. It could be styled really cool or really simple. And even though it’s a knitwear piece, the grassy green screams summer.”
Can you pinpoint a moment when you knew you wanted to work in fashion?
“I always knew I wanted to work in the creative industries. I loved textiles and art at school. But I don’t think it was until I got to college that I really thought I could do fashion. Making clothes was really exciting and I started designing them from there. It was quite an organic process, I don’t really think until I got to uni, I realised how much I loved it. And the course I chose – fashion design at Bath Spa – was perfect for me because it was a really tight community and I learnt so much there.”
If you could imagine any celebrity, alive or dead, wearing this collection, who would you pick?
“She was my muse so Anita Pallenberg. Her in the 60s, when she was in her heyday. That’s where it all came from.”
How did you first get involved with GFW?
“I first got involved years ago now. Along the way, I’ve judged different awards, done some mentoring and placements, so I’ve been involved at varying degrees over the last eight or nine years. Because I’m not a fashion graduate, I feel sense of duty to try and help the ones that are. I still have a bit of an imposter complex because I was a journalism graduate so I feel like I’m really fortunate to have been able to develop this career whilst not actually studying it.”
Why do you think it’s important to be involved in GFW?
“The number of jobs versus the number of graduates is just so disproportionate that I think GFW is an amazing entity so I like supporting it. With something that’s as vocational as fashion, there’s an expectation to have a certain level of experience. Even right from the get go in terms of getting jobs. It’s such a difficult thing to ask of someone without asking them to work for free for a certain amount of time. GFW helps give graduates that platform.”
Why did you choose Laura as the Tu scholarship winner over all the other contestants you saw?
“It was a really hard decision when we were looking through all the applicants but I wanted to choose somebody that had a commercial approach to their design, that could work well into the Tu team structure. And that’s what Laura was.”
“She’s got an amazing level of design and really knows detailing and approach to fabrication. She’s got a very strong signature. She’s proved that amongst her own strength and identity that she can work within a brief for a certain customer base. This is a really strong attribute to have for a designer.”
“Some of the other applicants were almost too rigid in their own identity. After interviewing them, we realised they were very focused on areas they felt were part of their signature and DNA and these just wouldn’t have translated or worked. And then other people had massively creative designs that just wouldn’t have translated, without completely bastardising their approach so you completely lost all sense of them. It wouldn’t really be fair to do that.”
How would you describe her design aesthetic?
“She has a really nice approach to tailoring. She adds lots of femininity to something, which people would often think as being quite androgynous. She has a really strong sense of colour and print. Her approach to print is quite graphic.”
“Laura’s strength is in separates, which is quite interesting. A lot of young designers now find it easier to design dresses because they think more about looks. But it’s obviously a bigger challenge to design separates because you’ve got to consider how it’s going to work together.”
Stripes feature heavily in Laura’s collection. Do you see this being a big trend for 2018?
“I think stripes are always a big trend. I consider stripes a bit of a non-print, print. The way she’s incorporated them in different ways in the collection makes it interesting because it’s twisting something that’s quite established on its head. She’s got her own approach to stripes, which I think is pretty much impossible. They’ve been used in every which way that there is and I think that’s actually something that’s unique. I’m also working on some stripes for 2018 in my own collections – for spring/summer, as well as winter.”
If you could imagine any celebrity wearing Laura’s collection, who do you think of?
“I think there’s different elements. Some of her tailoring I could see on somebody more bold, like Rita Ora or Charlie XCX. But I think the shirting gives more femininity so someone like Kate Bosworth would look really nice in that purple shirt.”
Which piece from do you think will be an instant sell-out?
“I would hope the lilac shirt. What’s smart about it is the volume’s added somewhere that people are conscious about their figure and shape. A bigger sleeve gives you a smaller waist.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Stay true to what it is you want to say through your work. It’s very subjective what we do. Some people will love it, some people will hate it. If you stay very true to your brand DNA and your ethos, no one can take away from you. They might hate it, but at least it’s me. They can hate me, that’s fine.”
Would that be the piece of advice you’d give to aspiring designers as well?
“I think it would be. The first part is figuring out what is your DNA and what you want to say. What are the things that make you, you? Then making sure that you don’t veer away from that.”
Did you have a mentor when you were starting out?
“Not officially but I had a lot of friends in the industry so I used them a lot. Both for introductions to factories and suppliers and also for ideas, approaches and ways of doing things. Like Katie Hillier, she’s a really good friend. And really early on, people like Stuart Vevers made me some handbags. I was really lucky in the fact that people I met socially got behind what I did and helped.”
So it was more like a support network?
“Definitely. London is a bit of a support network. There’s an amazing network there to be had. There’s certain designers I can email about anything. And real level of respect around the challenges that we have, as well as the running of a fashion company and business. Also, we socialise together. That’s essential. There’s definitely some people that are more social than others. I’m not going to lie and say everyone’s best friends but there’s groups and really close partnerships where people will share information and help each other out.”
Can you pinpoint the moment you knew you wanted to work in fashion?
“When I moved to London. I grew up in the northwest, in a place called Ramsbottom, outside of Manchester. And fashion isn’t a career choice that is ever spoken or heard of. It’s just not on the table. I knew from 13 I wanted to live in London so I only applied for universities there. But I think it’s really hard to decide what you want to do at 17.”
“Not really knowing what I wanted to do, I applied for a journalism degree at London College of Communications, part of the University of the Arts London umbrella. I chose to do it to get a skill that was quite broad. So that I could then narrow that down to writing about a certain thing once I decided what that was.”
“I was living in halls with all the people from the different University of the Arts. There were people on fashion courses, and people on graphic design courses. This blew open all these doors of industries that I hadn’t really considered before. And then after four days on that journalism course, I tried to move to fashion.”
“But I stuck with it and I’m so glad I did it. I went and worked for anyone and everyone that had fashion in the title. And that’s how I found myself at Smash Hits by mistake. My sister knew someone in the advertising department. And then I was fashion editor at 21. So it was the right place for me.”
Have you learned anything from working with Laura in this process?
“I’ve learned that commercial processes are massively different from what I do. It’s all about your customers. There’s real misconception in the industry that high fashion is high fashion, and high street is high street, but it’s the same process. Same but different. The only difference is who’s buying it.”
Checked out our menswear winner’s journey yet? If not, read it in full here.