Interview with Sharen Kaur

With a pocket full of awards, this young and gorgeous designer is all set to hit the Indian market. Inspired from old bollywood and historic Victorian dresses, her latest silhouettes are structured and floaty. Sharen has a passion for design and making her own clothes and likes to keep herself busy all the time. Alongside with design, she is currently working in luxury retail at Harvey Nichols.

To have attended school in Cheshire and studying a combination of subjects from arts to business, studying textiles at GCSE level paved the way for her design career. She also studied these subjects till her ‘A’ levels and that further gave her the motivation and conviction to step into the astounding world of fashion. With a wavering mind between fashion and interior design, Sharen chose clothes over space for the love of textures and creating them with fabric manipulation.

A graduate, who now feels fashion as a business is not easy, remembers the time how pleased she was to have received an unconditional offer to pursue textile for fashion at London College of Fashion. At University, she was always looked up to for her unique style and inspirations in her collections. “I stay inspired by researching about different things and ideas that come to me, or things I see around me or things which stand out or interest me” says Kaur.

Her catwalk collection was instantly hand-picked by art-s-talker’s agents to feature in the “e-Creative” annual directory, presenting a selection of the best art & design graduates across 10 disciplines. After her graduation, she participated in Nick Knight’s world-wide competition for SHOW studio at Somerset house in 2009, after being selected to remake and interpret a pattern designed by John Galliano where she won the first prize. The exhibition SHOW studio was an occasion celebrated for the launch of fashion weeks at Somerset house and her garment was shown at the core of London Fashion Week 2009.

Most recently she has won an award for ‘The British Sari Story 2010’ hosted by The Bridging Arts Project and India’s sari retailer RCKC. The British Sari Story was an open call for a sari with a radically new style, fabric and patterns reflecting life in the UK today, by looking at Eastern and Western traditions of embroidery and exploring the way textiles and patterns which represent both cultures through a garment.

“Since winning the competition, I have established a relationship with RCKC and am currently collaborating on a contemporary sari collection. My winning sari was exhibited at The Knitting and Stitching exhibition 2010 at Alexandra Palace, featured on BBC radio and in The Telegraph, India. Finally, I have just won an award for ‘The Best young designer of the year for 2011’ by Fashion Designers and Craft makers (FDC) in the Young Designer Show where I showcased once more my graduate Womenswear collection (Riviera) and its contemporaries for the Spring/Summer 2011 look”.

The range is a Resort wear collection for spring and summer that is adaptable to seasonal trends due to its classic cuts. Elegant daywear combines silk and satin into layered kaftans. Detailed devore prints largely inspired by 70’s bohemian tribal print trends, elegantly metamorphosises daywear garments into sophisticated evening wear through a range of silk and velvet timeless dresses. Kaur’s bespoke resort collection targets high-end luxury fashion, is sophisticated and modest appealing to a mature audience between the ages of 35 – 50 years old.

Influenced by her Indian roots, she has spent most part of her life in Manchester. “I am attracted to the Indian Fashion industry for several reasons, coming from an Indian background myself I feel I have a natural flair and understanding of traditional clothing” confesses Kaur. She comes from a big family of having four siblings where each does their own thing. Sharen is the only one from the creative field, and loves spending time at home watching television, going for holidays with her family, meeting up with friends and going for Bikram yoga sessions.

In your earlier years, how did you decide that you eventually wanted to become a designer?

– I just knew that I loved it and there was nothing else that really interested me or excited me, so I kind of just stuck to it.

What inspired you to get into fashion design?

– While studying GCSE textiles I was really fascinated by the history of fashion (the corset) then seeing collections by John Galliano and Vivien Westwood that showed how much fashion had changed over the years, which is pretty much where it all began.

Did you have to train or apprentice with another designer? How was that?

– I had to do a group project as part of my degree in the 2nd year. It was ok, it has its good and bad points, and working with people who have a very different style from your own is not easy. The internships allowed me to focus largely on screen printing and laser cut designs; through which I have developed a technique of layering textures and unique fabrics across a color palette of bold hue.

How has your design sensibility been shaped by your experience at LCF?

– It’s become very practical, we were encouraged to make things that were wearable and think of ‘hanger appeal’ so if the garment was on a hanger in a shop how would it look as appose to if it was on a mannequin. Would it still have the same appeal? It is the question you have to ask yourself. So now I actually think of the functionalities of a garment and when I’m designing I bear in mind the consumer’s lifestyle.

Where did your design inspiration begin? Were you first inspired by a single designer or movement growing up? Has this changed today?

– I think it was designers like Galliano and Vivienne Westwood for the punk movement but they kept their cuts clean and structured and quite British, which is one thing I loved. That got me into researching fashion and who they were and what they were doing in terms of making changes in revolutionary fashion that would make history.

How did the work experience change the way you work? And what were the lessons you learnt working with various fashion houses?

– I learnt that design development was the most important part of the design process and not to cut corners. Even if you have to re do something 5 or 6 times, it will be worth it in the end because quality is everything in luxury fashion.

What inspires your designs?

– Many things, mainly nature and the beauty of it and things that have strong colors that makes them appealing to look at.

Describe your philosophy about the art of fashion.

– I believe the attention to detail in the textiles embellishment of a garment can bring it to life by giving it ‘character’ it is no longer just a garment, it now has an identity.

It is also the most important selling point of every garment. Print especially appeals to me as I have an eye for intricate patterns and bold shapes. This specialist field has allowed me and will continue to allow, the freedom of expressing my creative knowledge of both eastern and western textiles.
Who is your inspiration?

– Galliano, McQueen, Halston, I love the construction in the cuts that meet with drapes. Not to forget the prints and embellishments.

How do you put your chosen colors together? Do you follow fashion trends?

– Colours come together by sampling to see which have the best visual impact. I like to experiment with dyes and different processes too. I find inspiration for color in fine art. Color comes from anything that inspires me at the time. I was always surrounded by color so it’s whatever catches my eye. Don’t really follow trends but it’s good to know of it, as guidance or something to refer back to when you have no inspiration.

When you create something, what goes through your mind?

– Wow, a lot of things really. The original idea tends to take me on a journey once I sit down and put pen to paper, but then I’m always thinking of ways to take that idea to the next level while creating and making, so that’s when the design development comes in. Although making patterns comes quite naturally to me and every time is different, so it’s hard to say exactly what goes through my mind.

Which of your projects has given you the most satisfaction?

– The project that was a worldwide competition that I won 1st prize for. Showstudio: fashion revolution at Somerset house, London. I re-made a jacket out of pony hide and leathers which was originally a John Galliano pattern. So it was very satisfying remaking an amazing pattern and experimenting with luxury fabrics that created a master-piece.

What were some of the things that you knew you were good at going in, and some of the things that you definitely wanted to improve on?

– I was good at pattern cutting and draping but wanted to improve on turning a drape into a flat pattern and sewing to a high standard.

What do you know now that you wish you had known before pursing your design education?
– That it was not going to be easy and the reality of the fashion industry and how a recession can make things impossible for young people. I wish I carried my business studies further into higher education because you have to be able to sell your work as well as producing it.

How has the design world changed for you since your education? Do you think it’s much harder for designers to break through to the working work in today’s society?

– The design world has changed in a way where there is no right or wrong any more, I am no longer being assessed by a tutor or having to work to a brief. so I have the freedom of doing whatever however, you don’t have access to the facilities that you did in university which makes it difficult because you have to run around from one place to the other and you’re on your own, you don’t get that guidance from a tutuor.

– Yeah definitely, I mean you need to have so many years of experience before you can get a paid job in fashion. When I was in education and studying, it was like this is what you need to get a job out there in the real world but now it’s like experience is everything and a degree is nothing.

Could you give a brief overview as to your background in the creative world and what role you have in the design world.

– Well I graduated from LCF, and then went on to interning at McQueen, Burberry, Jasmine Di Milo and London Printworks and doing design competitions in my spare time. My role as a young textiles designer is still to break through in the industry and stock in small boutiques.

Which fashion designers have been important points of reference for you?

– Galliano and Cavalli. Also, Matthew Williamson, Pucci, Gucci and McQueen.

How do you negotiate the balance between fashion as art, and wearable clothing?

– Its coming from engineering the cuts, fashion is always wearable but not everyone is brave enough to pull it off and anything can be a work of art if it’s made right.

Where are your fabrics made or do you source them from somewhere?

– Both. Most fabrics are made in the Far East and imported but I travel all over London to source materials. I also print and embellish fabric to make it my own and use it to make my clothes.

Do you follow a set design strategy for your products?

– Yeah I normally do my research first on a topic, create mood boards and then design and experiment with materials and textures and colors. Sometimes I work backwards.

Is the conceptualizing and brainstorming part at the beginning of a project your favorite section in any new brief for you?

– No, I like getting stuck and putting an idea into action and then seeing where it leads me to, is how I work, because a good idea leads to a great idea and triggers off creativity to a another level altogether. I hate spending too much time on brainstorming ideas.

As with your previous collections, your latest collection unveiled many wonderful textural contrasts. How do you select materials?

– By their ability to be manipulated, so a lot of experiment with prints and processes.

Where can we purchase your fabrics/ products? Are they sold solely through design exhibitions?

– Anytime, just get in touch with me. I haven’t showed much work at trade shows due to the costs and I like to think of my work as exclusive due to the amount of experimenting that goes into the design development stage.

What’s the next step for you?

– I would like to travel the far east and work in India to produce and show a collection there as well as in Seattle fashion week.

After your route through design in a more recognized college route and then to be self taught in many areas. What route would you advise to the younger designers coming through today?

– Going to a specialist college does help but don’t rely on that too much, be proactive and network all the time. You never know whom you might meet and it’s not what you know it’s whom you know these days.

Tell us about your work and collaborations in India or how do you plan to break into that market?

– I think my style and designs will appeal to brave influential women that like to stand out of a crowed. There is definitely a market for my clothes, but it’s a small one. I think networking will help break into the market there.

India has always been known for its Indian traditional wear. What innovations according to you have happened over the years that were very inspiring and useful?

– I think bollywood has taken a very western approach to their costume now, which is making Indian women more independent and westernized in their lifestyle. It is inspiring and useful because it creates a market for me.

Which designers, artists or creative people do you admire?

– Bansky: the graffiti artist is amazing, I love what he does and how he does it.
What are you most proud of professionally?

– Sticking at what I do and winning the young fashion designer award of the year.

What would be your dream project?

– Something that goes worldwide.

What are you looking forward to?

– Meeting new people to work with and showing at a leading fashion week.

Your current projects include?

– An eastern/ western collection

What do you think, when you look back at your first works?

– Wow! Did I actually do that; I always look back at my work for inspiration to move forward.

How do you think the competition in the field is?

– It’s very intense, everybody thinks they got what it takes because they know the right people or because they’re already established but it’s hard. You really have to have something so unique, which has character and personality and can shine through.

What all does your product range include? What are you planning to add?

– Luxury kaftans and evening wear. I would like to add bags and accessories to go with dresses.

What skills do you need to be a successful fashion designer?

– Well flair, an eye for detail and a very strong passion for fashion to begin with. Also, the ability to construct shapes and patterns would help.

What is most challenging about a fashion design career?

– Having to exceed your previous collection and constantly having to be inspired.

What do you most enjoy about a fashion design career?

– Doing what I love for a living.

What other skills are important in a fashion design career?

– Pure creativity, knowing your market and who you’re creating for and knowledge of the industry is a plus.

How do you intend for women to feel when wearing Sharen designed clothing?

– Special and empowered with femininity.

In a nutshell, my philosophy is?

– Be brave, be beautiful.

What’s exciting right now in fashion?

– The new technology in fabrics.

Are people still spending money on designer labels in the recession?

– Yeah definitely. There will always be people in a position to spend.

Since you certainly pay attention to women’s fashion, do you have any preferences?

– Sample sales.

Where do you think of your designs and projects?

– While I’m having ‘me’ time or when I’m really bored and daydreaming.

Describe your “style” like a good friend of yours would.

– It is a vibrant eclectic mix of contemporary urban culture with a classic twist.

In what ways do you find fashion an effective portal for addressing serious issues?

– By making statements, eco and organic is a great start for fair trade.

If you could change one thing about the industry what would it be?

-The rag trade and exploitation of the Far East.

Which are the new markets for your products? And do you have to rethink your product for the East?

– Barbados, Dubai, south of France and Spain. No I don’t think the original idea has to be changed, I think there is a small market in the east for my stuff.

What is your day-to-day like?

– Well its very random, everyday different, sometimes I could be working a normal job and sometimes running around London to source fabrics.

What are key steps to becoming a successful designer?

– A great idea, a strong team and marketing it correctly to its audience.

What have you learned from your career about your life in general and vice versa?

– That having a career is not the most important thing in life and life is for living and sharing through love.

What do you side-by-side with design?

– It has to be music it’s my second love after design as it has a way of taking you on a journey through someone’s mind and feeling a certain way just like creativity does.

How important do you think teamwork is?

– Very! You have to be able to get along with the people you work with and have a mutual understanding.

I’m good at…

– Chilling and being a bum (laughs), drawing, painting, and screen-printing.

But I’m very bad at…

– Time keeping and lying.

In moments of weakness I…

– Think everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.

What do you never leave the house without? Your back-pack essentials?

– Yeah, I think all you really need is an open mind to step out into the great outdoors and appreciate life.

The most surprising thing that ever happened to me was…

– Winning the first prize in a worldwide competition.

A phrase I use far too often…

– Are you being serious?

I wish people would take more notice of…

– The bigger issues in the world!

Describe yourself in three words? Crazy. Sexy. Cool.

Describe your work in one word? Different

The ideal night out is…

– A crazy Drum and Bass rave.

How big a role, does the likes of Facebook and twitter have in your daily routine? Which is your favorite format to interact with?

– Social networking sites don’t really have an impact on my work, I use facebook for my personal use to interact with friends and networking for social reasons like finding out where the best parties are at.

What does 2011 have in store for you? Has the beginning of 2011 been a positive experience for you so far?

– Yeah I like to think so. I’ve been away to Barbados which was a great start to the year. It is a wonderful place with beautiful people and culture which was very different from the one I know, but I like discovering new and different things and especially cultures so who knows where life is going to take me next. I don’t have any plans set in stone.

Where do you see yourself in five years down the line?

– I hate questions like that; I don’t believe that there should be so much pressure on people to know where they want to be in terms of their expectation of life. I believe in just being there and enjoying and letting life carry you to your next destination.

What do you have to say to the next generation, particularly for those hoping to follow in your footsteps?

– Travel, explore and find your individual style. Be yourself and make it evident in your work.

What’s so special about London?

– London is where it’s all happening in the UK. It’s so diverse and multi-cultural which is nice to see. Anyone and anything goes therefore, anything is possible.

What made you stay in London?

– I studied in London and felt it was the place to be if I wanted to break into the fashion industry.

London Hotspots:

Bars & Clubs: Hoxton/ Shorditch/ Brick lane (east end)

Eating Out: Again I love the east because you get a mix of things at a decent prices and there’s a great vibe about the trendy east end. But Tyabbs is amazing for a good curry!

Shopping places: West end is where you can find everything in one place, but I prefer the sample sales which are around the east and the markets. Petticoat lane and Sunday up market.

Must see (sight-seeing): Personally I like the east end where there’s a lot of character from the likes of Jack the ripper and the Kray’s twins. I also love going for walks around Tower Bridge, which is a really good must see! But for tourists, jump on a topples bus, there’s some really good places in the west too.

Your all-time favourite hangout: You guessed it…… Brick lane!

Tanvi Gupta