As Freemasons' Hall plays host once again to events at London Fashion Week, Lucinda Weston talks to up-and-coming fashion designer Kirsty Ward
A feeling of serenity prevails as you walk through the Great Queen Street doors of Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden. With its sweeping marble staircases and ornate ceilings, this stunning Art Deco building has a refined elegance. Explore a little further, however, and you might be surprised to find a fashion show in full swing, with models marching down a catwalk to the accompaniment of a thousand flash bulbs.
A flurry of fashion darlings regularly descend upon the Grand Lodge in February to promote both new and seasoned designers to a global audience of media buyers, celebrities and style leaders as part of London Fashion Week. This year’s show saw Kirsty Ward showing her second collection from her own label. Kirsty is one of thirty designers to have taken part in the week-long Vauxhall Fashion Scout Autumn/Winter 2011 event, which showcases new and upcoming designers and runs alongside the main London Fashion Week events. Hosted at Freemasons’ Hall since 2006, the independent showcase also off ers support to new designers both through funding and mentoring, and has been described as a talent goldmine, launching the careers of Peter Pilotto, William Tempest and BodyAmr.
The Grand Lodge’s Old Board Room has been converted into the backstage area for the show and Kirsty is crouched in a corner, surrounded by rails of clothes hung next to the grandiose portraits on the walls. She is helping a model into monstrously high shoes, her petite frame cloaked in an azure kaftan and she looks calm despite the chaos around her. As makeup and hair artists speedily get to work on the models, assistants make last-minute adjustments to the clothes so that they will fit slender frames.
From over two hundred designers to apply, Kirsty was selected by a panel of industry insiders to be one of four womenswear designers to take part in the Ones to Watch show. This is a stage for new designers to gain exposure, with experts on hand to off er help at every step of the way – from creative input to production and promotion of the event.
Front of house, the Prince Regent Room is a vision in white – a long catwalk runs the length of the room with models making their entrance to pulsing music as an army of photographers clamber to get the best shot. Kirsty is the first to show her collection and the four hundred strong audience look on largely expressionless as they furiously scribble down notes.
Kirsty’s collection is a combination of sculptured sheer dresses constructed in voluminous layers to frame and flatter the female form, and statement jewellery made from plumbing materials. A selfconfessed B&Q addict, Kirsty sees jewellery as an extension of the clothes, and her pieces combine bright Perspex, copper hardware and beading in striking designs.
‘While I like to use a lot of volume and be bold, I also want my clothes to be wearable,’ explains Kirsty, believing that clothes should be approachable. ‘This season I experimented with putting jewellery in between the layers of fabric, as well as with the pattern cutting. I used a muted brown and yellow colour pallete and a lot of Aertex and mohair.’
As the Ones to Watch show comes to an end, Kirsty and her fellow designers walk hand in hand down the catwalk to rapturous applause, before rushing back stage. Catching her quickly she is in a state of elation, beaming at how well the show went, despite ‘a few shoe issues’. The journalists dash back to the media room to file copy, while the buyers are able to get up close to the collection and place orders in the Exhibition Room – Freemasons’ Hall’s very own temporary boutique for the week. The collection is a hit, getting a fantastic response from buyers.
Kirsty honed her style – or what’s known as ‘design handwriting’ in the industry – at London’s Central St Martins. This was followed by an internship at Preen London, which paid nothing but taught everything, and fifteen months designing for eminent designer Alberta Ferrettiin Rimini, Italy. Back in England and collaborating with boyfriend designer David Longshaw on a jewellery collection to much acclaim, Kirsty then decided to go it alone – for the first time giving herself completely free rein.
Despite having her own window at Selfridges’ flagship Oxford Street store in January, Kirsty is refreshingly down to earth and speaks of the many challenges in starting out in fashion: ‘I love what I do so much I would work for 24 hours a day if my body would let me, but being an up-and-coming designer there are always struggles, especially on the money side of things. My time costs nothing, but buying fabrics and producing the garments does.’
Kirsty has a family friend who sponsors her, as well as the funding she received from Vauxhall Fashion Scout, but admits she has the odd moment of doubt when she thinks about chucking it all in and running a sweet shop instead. However, spurred on by an overwhelming desire to make things and a passion for fashion design, Kirsty could be fast approaching a tipping point in her career where she is not just the one to watch but the one to wear.