Want to get involved in the fashion industry? Listen to what CSM lecturer and accomplished designer Christopher Kelly has to say.
While many of our interviewees tend to be exclusively designers, we were lucky enough to get in touch with Christopher Kelly, a radiant lecturer at Central Saint Martins. Kelly has been involved in the fashion industry from a multitude of angles, including as a designer, producer, stylist, retailer, and of course as a lecturer. Kelly's perspective is a must-read for any young designer who would like to be more involved in the industry.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in fashion?
I suppose in a really clear sense, during my first year foundation [at university]. Experimenting with different areas of art and design, especially fashion illustration, is when my interest peaked. But in a more general sense, I’ve been playing with clothing since I was a young boy, I always loved it.
What is your creative process like? Is it more of a step-by-step approach or free flowing?
Step-by-step, I usually have a spark of an idea that might come to me, lately more accessories focused, which come out of a functional requirement. For example, if I’m riding my bike and feel I need a place to put my water bottle, I’d come up with a water bottle holder. I look at things from a functionality perspective. Or I suppose, it’s becoming a bit more selfish, for example a personal design to make a new hat, as I wear a lot of hats. I get inspiration from things around me, exhibitions especially.
How has the industry changed since you began your career?
I’ve experienced various areas of the industry; retail, styling, and I’ve spent the longest time in design. I suppose it’s become more open and accessible. When I graduated it seemed like a closed world, to gain access was quite difficult. With social networking that has opened it up really widely. Using the Internet in a more common manner has helped too. I’ve been in the industry for a long time now and I can really see this: it’s about understanding the people and the layers, and understanding the different platforms to show and communicate your work.
Do you have any fashion muses?
My first and foremost is Grace Jones, for her defiant and strong stance, a powerful woman. I wouldn’t make clothes that she would wear, but her sentiment always resonates with me. Also Björk, her confident style, expressing an individualistic attitude and style, which I love.
What has been your most interesting/exciting moment in the industry?
I have a few moments. First, as a student working as an intern for the Alexander McQueen shows back in the day. I was a dresser on the carousel show and the insane asylum show. They were amazing moments in fashion, and being close to somebody that I had aspired to be when I was a young designer and being with legends, and close to his creations was incredible. Working on those shows was when I felt like I was in the industry. He embodied what the fashion industry was for me. The second moment would be my first show at London Fashion Week. I now have my brand, Christopher Kelly + but started a collaborative label (TdlM) back in 2009 with my design partner, Sara Flamm. We launched that in miniature, we created scaled anthropomorphic dolls that took inspiration from the original ‘Theatre de la Mode’. We wanted to get into the industry and because we were young with not so much money, miniature was the way to go. We hit the zeitgeist and our show gained great press attention. The really special moment was when we were able to see our names written on the off-schedule information at LFW.
If you could work with anyone in the industry, who would it be (and why)?
At this stage of my career I would say Hussein Chalayan. I work across fashion, set design, prop making and art direction and he works in a way that resonates with me. He’s not restricted by what fashion is; his more famous shows include tables turning into dresses, etc. These kinds of design fusions really excite me, and the attitude of using materials that wouldn’t normally come together really resonates. I saw his recent dance show where he created outfits that corresponded to dances, it was the most amazing show. When I had my previous label I was really excited about creating outfits that had movement and ease, dancers and dancing were some of my aims.
What advice do you have for young creatives that want to get involved in the industry?
I’m also a lecturer at Central Saint Martins, so this comes up often. I would say learning who you are stylistically is key. You need to have a confidence in what you’re trying to put out there. It can be anything, not confining or comparing, but owning the identity of what you want to be.
Also, I would advise to gain as much industry experience as possible. If you are planning to launch your own brand there are a lot of potential pitfalls you need to know about so spend time working in the industry before launching on your own. A lot of CSM graduates start their own brands soon after graduating. The area that seems to impact on the success of these brands is the understating of garment production. Learn this and your journey will become much smoother.