Pragmatic Elegance : An Interview with Catherine Quin
A former lawyer hailing from London, Catherine Quin left her law firm behind and transplanted to Los Angeles, California to try her hand at womenswear. She is a rare breed to enter the sphere of fashion design; her devotion to quality and craft— regardless of speed— is a breath of fresh air amidst the sea of problematic business models that make up a sizeable portion of the industry. With a purist commitment to black, the collection explores the relationship between cut, silhouette, and texture without distraction, and aims to simplify the daily ritual of getting dressed without sacrificing luxury and refinement. The line embodies many of the principles and sensibilities that we find most admirable, and it is with great enthusiasm that we introduce Catherine Quin’s timeless creations to our inventory.
You went from practicing law, to pursuing fashion design, to launching your own line— a remarkable leap. How did that transition come about and how has your previous legal profession informed what you’re doing now?
The last few years have been quite a whirlwind! Only a few years ago I was working as a lawyer in a very structured environment in London. Some people really thrive off this high-pressure corporate environment but I always craved a more creative outlet. With my law offices nearby, I began taking design classes at Central Saint Martin’s and loved having the opportunity to research different imagery and design projects, and learning about the design and creation process.
A few years later, I moved to Los Angeles to gain hands on experience in the fashion industry. I began working for Vena Cava, where I was involved with various aspects of the business such as sales and marketing. I quickly became fascinated by life in the factories, the manufacturing process and how a garment went from concept to creation. I began working with production agents for various brands where I spent my days visiting factories and overseeing the manufacturing process on the ground. With this experience I then felt ready to start my own brand.
On a practical level my legal background facilitated a smoother transition from corporate lawyer to creative entrepreneur. Legal training instills in you the importance of organization, planning ahead and always to be mindful of various potential eventualities. I was able to found the company and perform the legalities involved myself, saving time and money.
The brand was created to meet the needs of my own personal lifestyle but also the lifestyle I know many women beyond myself experience. Working as a lawyer and traveling as much as I did, gave me a clearer picture of the real world and the demands put on the modern career woman. With this understanding of the consumer I now feel better placed to respond to their needs and my collections continue to have a sophisticated pragmatism at their core. I think women today are looking for pieces that work in any environment; modern classics that they'll have for years to come and the effortless and understated elegance of my collections enable women to seamlessly incorporate pieces into their existing wardrobe.
The luxurious quality of your garments cannot be ignored. Can you explain the work that goes into the construction of each piece?
Quality and luxury underpin each collection. From conception we fit each piece on a model to ensure the cut and drape of the garments hang elegantly from a real body and ensure they are comfortable to wear with suitable structure and fluidly. We then repeat this process numerous times until we are 100% satisfied.
The fabrics used in the collections are all luxury, natural fibres such as silk, cashmere and leather with the majority hailing from Italy. We ensure the construction is of the highest quality by lining the garments with silk so they feel sumptuous against the skin; hemming each piece by hand, and insisting seams are bound with silk, ensuring the longevity and durability of the garments but also that each piece is beautiful both inside and out.
Why did you find it pertinent to be well educated on each step of the production process and receive hands on experience? How this has influenced the ideology of your brand?
The values of the brand are heavily influenced by the industrial designer, Dieter Rams and the ethos of “less but better”. The brand’s ideology and aesthetic is based on integrity, simplicity, sustainability, and elegance.
If our garments are to emulate these values of elegant simplicity, timelessness and have the capability to last for years to come, then each piece must be made of the highest quality, sustainable fabric with the highest standards of craftsmanship. I have always felt that the most effective way to maintain such high standards is to fully educate yourself on the processes involved in order to accurately communicate what you require and voice your expectations in technical language your team will understand.
Describe the relationship you have with your production team and suppliers. How closely do you work with them and what is the importance of this to you and your business?
I spend most if my time in Los Angeles in order to work as closely as possible with my production team and maintain a hands-on approach with my manufacturing process. I really value being able to visit my factory every day, speak to my sewers, review the quality of the garments as they’re being made and make sure any issues are dealt with immediately.
The quality of the construction is so integral to my brand that it’s imperative that I have a good relationship with all the production team to make sure things run smoothly. It’s amazing how many different steps and people are involved in creating each garment so making sure the team feels supported and inspired is vital to achieving the highest quality.
This hands-on approach also means that ethically I’m able to personally ensure that the people involved with, or employed by, my brand have a decent wage and a good, safe working environment.
How has the move from London to Los Angeles affected your design ethos, if at all?
My minimalist approach to design is shaped by both my surroundings and my personal experience of bridging life between LA and London. The frequent travel and contrasting climates inform the pared back aesthetic and my desire to create a versatile and pragmatic collection that transcends occasion, weather and culture. My lifestyle has made me crave refined pieces that have the versatility to effortlessly transition from day to night, from LA to London, whilst fitting into a single suitcase.
I love the contrast of the clean, black silhouettes of my collection with the sunshine and blue skies of LA. Equally the collection’s sleekness and functionality works well with the urban and often industrial environment of London. Ensuring my designs can be worn as easily in LA as they are in London informs my design ethos and approach to each new season.
What was the motive behind your decision to work solely with black fabric? Do you have plans to explore colour in the future?
The premise of the brand has always been based on the desire to simplify the life of the modern woman and the daily ritual of getting dressed. At its core, the brand is dedicated to minimalist design principles offering timeless sophistication with a purpose. In my view many of the values of the brand are very much aligned with the values attributed to black – timelessness, versatility, elegance and pragmatism.
Creating a monochromatic collection allows the pieces to form an interchangeable wardrobe. Each piece can be worn in different ways, dressed up or down depending on accessories and occasion, thus enabling each woman to put their own unique personalities on their garments. I have always personally worn mainly black and I love how it’s intensity changes with the dimensions and form of the garment, the texture of the fabric and the movement of the wearer. Black naturally gives the most powerful contrast showcasing the lines and silhouettes of the pieces most sharply.
Black will continue to be the bedrock of each collection and every piece will still be available in black, but going forward we will introduce new guest colours each season. I'm excited for this evolution of the brand! We will begin with ivory for SS16 because it maintains the monochromatic purity and complements the black so well. It seems like a good time to introduce some lightness for the summer. I also receive so many requests from loyal customers asking for their favourite pieces in additional colourways, so I decided it was time to give women that option.