Charlotte Taylor: Grannies & Penguins
One of the reasons we’re so keen to cover VFS is the fact that a young designer called Charlotte Taylor is exhibiting there. Charlotte studied at St Martins and, after graduating, worked at Luella. Last June. She decided to launch her own label but, while most new designers seem to lock themselves away to design their first collection, Charlotte opened a digital doorway into the process with her blog.
When we were describing the HNT concept to people, saying that we wanted to launch a blog/webzine/whatever that focused on new designers, they would invariably ask us “Like who?” and Charlotte was the example we used, so we were delighted when our intrepid roving reporter was able to interview her.
“The blog was set up, in the beginning, as a marketing tool to launch the label before any designs were actually seen,” Charlotte told Jack. “I’ve built up a readership over time and that’s how Vauxhall Fashion Scout got interested – Susie Bubble wrote about me on her site and she was one of the panellists.”
Charlotte’s funding the venture out of personal savings and, to save money, she moved back home with her parents on the Isle of Wight, after having lived in London for seven years. “I’ve taken over the top floor to use as my studio – it’s really serene. I’m 26 so it’s a bit cheeky to move back home but my parents are really supportive. My Dad reminds me to eat when I’m so busy that I forget!”
The inspiration behind the collection is surprising. “My first inspirations were grannies. There are lots of grannies on the Isle of Wight and that progressed into penguins because of the way they walk like grannies.
“The colour palette comes from the Emperor penguin, all the yellow and orange, with the purples and blues blending into the blacks. And some of the shapes are inspired by the curves on them. It’s all about the pleats and the folds and how things move and hang. I’ve always wanted to create elegance in a subtle way, in a feminine way. Nothing’s slutty or trashy – it’s all simple, Audrey Hepburne-esque elegance, with flicks of Dick van Dyke, from my favourite movies when I was a kid, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with the stripes, the tweed, the school blazer with piping. I aim for the details.”
Price-wise, she’s keen to make sure that the collection is accessible. “I’m want to keep the prices low. I don’t want anything to be over £450, so my mates and the person in the street can buy this collection. A dress costing £200 or £300 is much more accessible than a £600-£700 dress by Luella or Marc Jacobs. I want to position alongside the spin-off brands of those labels, opening up a wider market.
“People are looking for something different. The Top Shops and the New Looks and the Primarks are churning out clothes at such a huge rate that everybody looks like clones when you pass on the street. People want a little bit of exclusivity but they can’t afford a £700 dress so they’re going for younger designers who’ve got that lower price point.
“I intend for the headscarves to be my entry-point products for the collection, that people can buy into, like the perfume and sunglasses that large labels like Chanel have.”
In terms of her ambitions, Charlotte seems to have her feet very much on the ground. “I want to keep it small, I don’t want to run before I can walk. I don’t really aim to get more than five stockists for the first collection. Ideally, I’d be looking at boutiques like Brown’s Focus. I really like the intimacy of it and that it’s got a real heritage to it. I want to build up good relationships with honest people and good shops that want to work with me and who want to push the brand, want to sell it. I really want to keep it a personal thing, make it like a big family.
“That’s a big part of my brand and my blog has emphasised that. I have a lot of interaction with my customers and I actually get people emailing me, asking for advice, who are doing the same thing which is very weird because I’m obviously at the early stages. I’m trying to be as honest about my venture as possible. I talk about things that go wrong just as much as about things that go right. I think it’s interesting for people to know what goes on behind the scenes of fashion.”
“This bit up to now, making the collection, is easy. Actually selling and progressing the label on to the next level, generating brand interest is so hard and a lot of people fail at that stage. I see this as a business. I’m not a real arty-farty – I love designing, that’s why I’m here but I understand I can’t carry that on unless I have a good business. I have a business advisor who’s a friend of the family, who I meet with on a monthly basis and he really pushes me. He basically creates a ton more work for me, by doing business plans, marketing plans, strategies, goals. He’s brilliant because he thinks of things in a different way.”
The advice is obviously paying off because Charlotte’s very clear about what the next steps are. “Next season I want to do a show. I’m really enjoying working with Vauxhall Fashion Scout. They’re a really good organisation, very business-like, which I really like, so I’d love to do something with them next season. I’ll probably apply for the Merit Award and also the On|Off award. I want to try and sell to more boutiques after that and online as well. I think my collection photographs very well and I think it would be quite easy to sell online.”
You can see the full collection at Charlotte’s blog. We love her creativity and boldness, the bright colours and the fact that she’s approaching the whole affair with such a strong commercial focus. Needless to say, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Miss Taylor’s progress and we hope to speak with her again in a few weeks to find out exactly how she’s progressing towards those goals.