For British designer, Catherine Quin, a career in fashion began with a leap of faith. During her tenure as a lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn, Catherine realized that the famed fashion school Central Saint Martins was a stone’s throw from her practice. She enrolled in design courses, which inspired her to leave law and move to Los Angeles, where she learned the art of design from the CFDA award-winning team at Vena Cava. Catherine further immersed herself in the field with marketing and sales experience at Barney’s and Nordstrom, and even worked at a local factory to understand the ins and outs of manufacturing. Her thorough knowledge of the industry shines through in the quality and beauty of her brand’s designs. Executed in minimalist black and tailored for effortless year-round wear, Catherine Quin’s namesake line is synonymous with ethical elegance. In the midst of Paris Fashion Week, Plan de Ville caught up with the designer to learn how this rising star runs her business. – Allison Taylor
Catherine, you’ve taken a unique path into fashion. I would love to hear about how you came to start your own line. What is one memory that stands out in your mind?
I launched my own collection to create the wardrobe I wanted wear. I travel a great deal and I wanted timeless, elegant pieces that had the versatility to effortlessly transition from day to night, whilst fitting into a single suitcase. The aim was to simplify the life of the modern woman and the daily ritual of getting dressed.
You practiced law before you began designing clothes. What was it like to make that transition?
The transition was really refreshing for me. I had been 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 learn about the design and creation process.
After a few years, I moved to Los Angeles to gain hands on experience in the fashion industry where I was working with Vena Cava. I was involved with various aspects of the business such as sales and marketing and then 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 line. Here I am!
Who have you learned the most from in your career thus far? Do you have mentors?
Thus far I've learnt the most from my father. He doesn't have a particularly deep understanding of the fashion industry but he does know business. He started his own, successful law firm years ago and his entrepreneurial spirit and drive have set a great example. He's been an inspiration and guide from the start and continues to remind me that the greatest asset of an entrepreneur is the ability and willingness to constantly problem solve. The fashion and legal worlds may be very different but there are universal challenges that all businesses face.
Tell me about your experience working at Vena Cava. What kinds of things did you learn, or incorporate into your own practice?
Working with Vena Cava opened my eyes to the fashion world. I observed every facet and really learnt the basics there, be it their design process or simply the market schedule. It gave me a hugely important overview of how a brand operates and the many cycles involved to take a product from conception to the sales floor.
What was the inspiration for your Autumn/Winter 2016 collection?
For AW16 I was inspired by Jean Arp’s ‘Grande Collage.’ I became fascinated by the concept of collage and its metaphorical qualities - taking fragments from the past, dividing them, reassembling them, then building them back up to form something new and modern.
The restrained intelligence and seamlessnes of the ’Grande Collage’ and the harmonious nature of the colored geometric blocks really inspired the colour pallette and for the first time we introduced the concept of guest colours: including midnight blue, burnt beige, and ivory in the collection to complement our mainstay black offering.
Who is the Catherine Quin woman, and how does she inspire you?
I would like to think that any woman can incorporate Catherine Quin pieces into their existing wardrobe. The concept behind each collection is always to create a versatile, trans seasonal wardrobe that’s as appropriate in the boardroom as it is at a cocktail party.
Travelling between LA and London exposes me to many of the women I’m inspired by and hope would wear my brand - woman of substance who are sophisticated global travellers.
Your monochromatic palette and seasonally fluid designs are wonderful assets, but do those qualities also present challenges?
At its core, the brand is dedicated to minimalist design principles offering timeless sophistication with a purpose. A big part of that ethos manifests as a monochromatic palette where the pieces form an elegantly neutral wardrobe that is totally interchangeable. Each piece has the ability to 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 the garments.
We are committed to this vision but it does, as you suggest, present some challenges mainly in how we transmit images of our collections to our consumers either in the media or online. The craftsmanship and high quality finishing of the garments are not immediately visible online for instance and the beautiful cuts and drape of the fabrics don’t always translate on a magazine page. In the instagram age people love to ’pop’ out of the screen with the brightest colors and boldest patterns so we offer a chic, understated alternative to that.
What is the most exciting part of your business?
I would say beginning a new collection is the most exciting, but also the scariest part. Delving into research and creating new moodboards can be really thrilling but sometimes a totally blank slate can be intimating. But then, like with a lot of things, once you dive in, exploring a new direction and theme becomes completely consuming and intoxicating.
What motivates you as a designer?
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. I’m motived to design beautifully elegant clothes that can really be worn in the world.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring fashion designers and fashion students, what would it be?
There’s going to be a great deal of admin involved so try to be as organised as possible from the very beginning. If you have systems in place from the start it makes life a lot easier down the road.
What’s next for Catherine Quin?
I plan to expand Catherine Quin into a lifestyle brand over the next few years. I’m looking forward to applying the brand’s minimalist, elegant aesthetic across different disciplines. So much of my collections are made up of pieces I want to wear but am unable to find and this extends beyond clothing. Starting with beauty products, handbags and jewelry then eventually I would love to expand into home-ware and interiors.