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Winser London

Published by Alexander Cohen on 7-May-2013 Conversations, Fashion
Tags: winser london, karen baird, , tartan week, new york

With April came New York’s ‘Tartan Week,’ a week dedicated to all things Scottish, and included parades, concerts and art exhibits throughout the city. What better time, then, to feature an interview with a Scottish designer?

Caledonia has had an unquestionable impact on the fashion world, producing some of the biggest names in design and continuing to do so with every new season. Several have enjoyed international success – from Jonathan Saunders seeing his designs worn by Madonna and Michelle Obama, to Christopher Kane’s huge success with his designs and his brand. Bill Gibb’s work with Baccarat led to a dedicated area in Harrods for his clothing and Vogue’s ‘Dress of the Year’ award in 1970.

It is not just the designers, though, that attract the attention of high fashion – the country itself a backdrop to Coco Chanel’s love affair with the Duke of Westminster and Lithlithgow Palace the recent site of Chanel’s ‘Paris-Edimbourg’ runway show, a celebration of Chanel’s history with the country. With the success of its designers – and with Karl Lagerfeld and company gallivanting around Mary Queen of Scots’ place of birth – Scotland has inextricable links with fashion creation and inspiration, and this interview with Karen Baird of the newly-launched Winser London brand offers insight into the experience of the modern and successful Scottish designer.

What is your role with Winser London, and how long have you been a part of the creative team?

I design and develop the all-important knitwear element of the Winser London Collection, and I worked with founder Kim Winser when she took over as CEO and owner of Pringle of Scotland in 2000. Kim approached me last summer and it has been very exciting to be involved in the development of this new range from its inception - the first collection just launched online for Spring 2013.

What was the inspiration/theme for your designs with the recently released line, and what influences did you draw on when creating your designs?

Recognising that women want easy elegance and effortless style at good value - but with stunning luxury yarns and fabrics - is the ethos behind the first Winser London collection. It draws on a British sensibility, using a refined colour palette and luxury textiles such as cashmere and silk to create a stylish range of quality garments. They are relaxed and easy to wear, and are affordable. With this in mind, we have looked back at legendary style icons such as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe for our designs.

Do you have a favourite piece from the collection? Why?

My favorite pieces from the knitwear collection are the Audrey Sweater, which is simple and elegant in pure cashmere. It has a wide neckline with a deep rib detail, and its slouchy style gives a modern flattering shape which will take you anywhere (especially teamed with our crop leg trousers!)
The other is a double-breasted cardigan in a Milano stitch which gives it a tailored and feminine style. It is a fine merino wool with horn buttons, and is an incredibly versatile piece.

Who are some of your favourite designers, past or present, and how, if at all, have they influenced your work?

I have the greatest admiration for Coco Chanel and her love of Scotland, Scottish Wool and Scottish knitwear manufacturing. Chanel continues, under Karl Lagerfeld, makes stunning clothing in Scotland. The show at Linlithgow Palace was exceptional.

How would you describe your style?

I work from a studio in my home in the Scottish Borders, and as a result my style is relaxed, versatile and warm. I love interesting details - whether it’s an interesting neckline, a ribbon trim on a cardigan, an interesting button or a flash of bright print.

How would you characterize your experience as a designer from Scotland? Was it different, do you think, in any way from your contemporaries in England or elsewhere? Has being Scottish influenced your designs at all?

I believe that having been born and raised in the Hawick in the Scottish Borders, the home of knitwear, very much influenced my understanding of quality and luxury materials. As a knitwear designer I understood from very early in my career the importance of the quality of raw materials and the great amount of human skill and knowledge that is required to bring a knitted garment to life.
Generations of my family have worked in the knitwear industry, so for me knitwear is not only my passion, but is in my blood.

Do you think Scottish fashion and Scottish designers show any definable characteristics or themes?

I studied at what is now Heriot Watt University in the Scottish Borders, where we were taught not only the process of design, but also the technical process of how a quality garment is manufactured. This went from the selection of raw wool and the spinning of the yarn tothe way weaving looms work and the washing away of the natural oils with soft Scottish water. An understanding and knowledge of these processes is rare in the world of design, and one of the reasons that you find Scottish designers scattered throughout the textile manufacturing countries of the world. I also believe that the quality of Scottish light, the colour palettes of our amazing hills and mountains and our ancient traditions in weaving and knitting provides Scottish Designers with an incredible inspirational resource right on their doorstep.

Winser London has already enjoyed success with their Spring collection, and their website is filled with great designs and the designers’ ideas about how you can wear them. Their clothing is available at WinserLondon.com, Net-A-Porter and at their pop-up shop at Gerrard’s Cross in London.

Alex Cohen is an Art History and Journalism student at New York University.

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