Luxury accessories designer Claire Corstorphine graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Design in Dundee in 2012, when I discovered her bold designs at the annual New Designers exhibition. Since then she has built a thriving business, gaining exposure for her beautiful handmade products in a host of Scottish editorials. I spoke with Claire about building her brand and what comes next.
Claire Corstorphine by Megan Thomas.
In what way did your art college prepare you for the outside world?
On a personal level, I’m not sure it did! When you have been in the same environment for four years where your time is managed for you, there is a sense of security and familiarity, so it’s a shock when the safety net is removed. In a creative sense, it taught me how to push my design process by looking at visual information in a more analytical way and by continually redeveloping my designs. With regards to running my own business, this is something I’ve had to learn as I go. I think there should be more support available to students who are aiming to get their products into the retail market. Learning practical skills like how to price your work, construct press packs or how to approach retailers is invaluable.
Since I first noticed your work at the New Designers fair in 2012 things have gone from strength to strength – what has been the best bit about developing your own label? And what has been the hardest?
The best thing is having complete creative control over your own vision. You are designing to your own brief, your own timescale and your own abilities. Seeing your designs on finished products and having people wanting to wear them is just the best feeling! The hardest thing, especially as an individual, is that you have sole responsibly in overcoming any pitfalls that might come your way, whether financial, personal or creative. You take on so many different roles you really have to manage your time effectively.
You have said that you were very dispirited at that fair, and my writing about your textiles really gave you a boost – why was that and why do you think it is so important to support young design talent?
New Designers was difficult as my mother had lost her fight to illness a couple of months previous and I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing in being there. It was hard answering questions about where I could see myself when all I was trying to do was get through the day! When I saw that my work had been featured in Amelia’s Magazine, it gave me the confidence that I had the beginnings of a product that other people liked too and it encouraged me to continue what I had started.
It’s hard to get a foot on the ladder in such a harsh and critical industry. Having a platform like Amelia’s Magazine supports young designers by giving them an opportunity to showcase their work and acts as a steppingstone to pursuing a career which often seems out of reach.
How did you settle on designing scarves, and what are your favourite ways to wear them?
I think it was a natural instinct for me to apply my designs to scarves. From a young age I’ve had the collecting bug and I’m fascinated by items that can be admired as beautiful objects as well as having a functional purpose. There are many ways a wearer can reflect their personality through a scarf, such as a statement turban or a conservative necktie. I personally like to wear mine relaxed, so I might wear one in a bandana style with a large point at the front, or tied to the strap of a slouchy shoulder bag.
How do you ensure that they are ethically produced, and how did you source your suppliers?
It’s very important to me to source my materials and manufacturing processes as locally as possible to ensure an environmental and ethical responsibility. All garments are digitally printed in Edinburgh by a company called BeFab Be Creative, who really understand the needs of the students and graduates they work with. I then sew all the garments by hand myself in Fife.
You have consistently been inspired by nature and in particular evolution – where does this interest stem from?
The current collection ‘Molluscs, Microbes and Mutants’ takes inspiration from the theories of evolution and explores imagery inspired by progression of natural selection towards modern day artificial creation. I think living and growing up in such a picturesque part of Scotland where you are surrounded by countryside, woodlands and beaches, has definitely influenced my work and sparked an interest in the natural world. Studying in Dundee also, meant there were connections to biologist D’arcy Wentworth Thompson who created the university’s first Zoology Museum. This was a great source of inspiration and I did most of my drawings from his original collections of butterflies and other creepy crawlies.
How are your designs created and then made print ready?
I begin my design process by firstly gathering a large body of sketchbook drawing and research. This is then digitally manipulated and embellished to create what has become a signature design feature; graphic collage from my own photography and vintage found imagery, combined with quirky illustration. There is also a lot of consideration in relation to composition of the design to ensure that no matter which way the scarf is worn, there is always an area of interest to be seen.
Do you have any plans to expand your range in the future and if so can you share any ideas with us?
I have big plans for the label in 2014 and I’m currently seeking funding to help achieve my ambition to elevate Claire Corstorphine Luxury Silk Accessories as a recognisable accessories label in the retail market. This involves developing the collection into additional items such as bow ties and tutorial materials, which will hopefully complement the current ranges.
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