4 May 2011

Meet The Talented Dress Designer Who Shares Her Fabric Supplier With Chanel

Some of you lovely readers may already know that my great grandmother was a member of the Royal academy of sewing and was one of a team of women who helped make the queen mothers wedding gown, my own mother had a real talent for pattern cutting, so I'm thrilled to be interviewing Ele Horsley a dress designer from the Lake District near to my home town in Lancashire in the UK with a passion for designing elegant vintage tea dresses.

Q- Sharon- Hi Ele, what first inspired you to start designing your own dresses?

Ele  – Well, in a similar way to you, I have been inspired by my own grandmothers and the dresses that they used to wear. I used to love playing dress-up in the attic where my mother stored some of the special silk tea dresses that my grandmothers owned. And to be completely honest, that desire to dress up never really wore off! And as I grew older and wanted to buy dresses of a similar elegance and style I realised that there was not a ready supply, and I decided that there was only one way to remedy that situation. So here I am!

Q -Sharon- Ele you create bespoke dresses as well as your own range , what was it like training to be a pattern cutter?

Ele – Pattern cutting is not a skill that everyone enjoys learning at fashion school as it's really quite technical and mathematical, but I was lucky enough to really enjoy it! Having decided that I wanted to run my own business at the beginning of my degree I realised that the skill of pattern cutting is a vital one, and after leaving uni I went on to do a postgraduate pattern cutting course at St Martins in London. Now, as a professional pattern cutter, I am in a very good position, able to see an idea through from concept to finished product without having to compromise on the cut of my garments.

Q-Sharon- I adore the beauty of natural fabrics and would love to see a return to the use of natural fibres by clothing labels in the UK, You use silk in many of your dress designs, is it difficult to work with and what is the attraction of using it in your work?

Ele – Yes, silk is really difficult to work with. Especially when it is cut on the bias as many of my styles are! I often question my sanity, choosing to work with a fabric as slippery and impossible as silk, but when the dress is finished and floats and falls so beautifully I forgive myself! There is something about natural fibres that you just can't replicate with a synthetic fibre - the fall, the subtle sheen, the coolness/warmness.

Q- Sharon- You produce elegant short tweed capes, I'm aware the production of tweed is dying out, so it's great to see small companies such as yourself using the fabric in your work and keeping the industry going, where do you source your tweed from?

Ele – As a student I discovered a cumbrian tweed manufacturer called Linton Tweeds, who are based up in Carlisle and produce the most fabulous range of fancy tweeds. In fact, they are the tweed supplier to Chanel, so I'm in good company! They have a fantastic mill shop – I'm always like a kid in a sweet shop when I visit. I just love using local tweed to make my jackets and capes – there's a real sense of satisfaction to be gained from creating products from such local sources.

Q-Sharon-Would you say you are influenced much by fashion trends for each season?

Ele – Really honestly, I wouldn't say that my work is based too much on trends. I keep abreast of fashion and what's going on on the catwalks, but my work has a more timeless feel to it, influenced more by the past than the present. I always look to the 1930s ad 40s for inspiration as well as choosing another thread to follow, such as butterflies, nepalese sherpas, and most recently, deckchairs! Having said that though, I have had some funny moments when things that I have recently designed turned up on the catwalks completely independently!

Q-Sharon- What do you like most about being a independent clothing label?

Ele – The thing I appreciate most about being independent is that I can work on garments that I really believe in and actually like. I spent years as pattern cutter working on other people's designs, trying to channel their ideas, which was interesting and exciting at times but I always longed to be cutting patterns for something more pretty and feminine. As you an imagine, working alone has it's own drawbacks and can be really tough, especially in the current climate, but the benefits for me outweigh all of that (most of the time!)

Q-Sharon- You also produce a range of handbags, what do you hope that your accessories say about you as a designer and your brand?

Ele – Yes, I have recently expanded my range to incorporate accessories – clutch bags, shoulder bags and silk scarves. I wanted to be able to offer my customers the whole 'look'. I research vintage handbags and add my own twist to keep things current. I am particularly fond of the tweed bags which add a little touch of colour or brightness to any outfit. I am in the process of introducing a selection of leather bags too.

Q-Sharon-Ooh great to hear that your expanding your range of bags to include leather! Since starting your own company, what has been your most exciting moment?

Ele – Ooh, that's a difficult one! I have had some really proud moments, such as making an evening dress out of Buffs (sport/outdoor neckwear) for the Keswick Mountain Festival that went down so well that the head office of Buff bought it to display in their spanish HQ! And the excitement and pride of watching a wedding dress that you have made being worn down the aisle never fails to bring a tear!

But actually the best thing is something that has happened very recently; I have been chosen to sell on notonthehighstreet.com, an opportunity that I think will take my business to the next level – something that I am really really excited about!

Q- Sharon-Good luck Ele, with your collaboration with notonthehighstreet.com, It has been a real highlight of my week, to discover more about you and what goes into your label, I hope Ele Horsley continues to go from strength to strength.  One word to sum up your sense of style?

Ele – Timeless!




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