Studio Visit: Charlie May

I first met Charlie May through her delightful blog Girl a la Mode, with her long hair and simple, flowing clothes she cuts a dramatic figure -and one that is still quite memorable even after a few glasses of champagne at an event.

First and foremost Charlie is a designer, now onto her second season she kindly let me into her studio to find out more about her working process and the story behind her label.

What inspires you?
I’m a lot more inspired by landscapes and nature than I was before. I went back to Devon recently and I did a few blogposts. It was funny it was the exact same imagery I was looking at and being inspired by for my Autumn Winter collection, it links back to my hometown without even realising. I think maybe it comes from growing up in the countryside, there’s a lack of people and you can be alone with your thoughts. I’m not a loner but in London it’s very intense and I do think I miss the quiet of home.

So I think at the same time, the bleakness of nature and urban decay inspire for the same reason, very sparse landscapes, apocalyptic. I’ve tried to keep it simple as the clothes I wear are very simple so I don’t really know whether that’s my style. I’m more about individual beauty rather than clothes overpowering you.

Sometimes you don’t want to make a statement with your clothes, like when you’re a teenager and you want to be a goth, you want to blow their minds…
I was totally like that! I was a goth, a punk and a riot grrrl and a kawaii, with loads of colours. I think being in Devon is a small town and everyone is such a surfer or a townie and then you go to Camden and you’re like ‘oh god!’

I discovered fashion late, in college. I didn’t really get on at school too well, the art stuff didn’t inspire me it was all old painting. I went to college and did a business degree thinking that I wanted to own shop because I liked clothes but I had no idea I was creative. My mum and gran grew up making clothes and they have sewing machines.

Through being a Riot Grrrl and punk I was customising my clothes and all of a sudden it exploded and I realised I was doing the wrong thing. So I changed to an art course where I could do fashion in the second year. I think it was in my second year that I shed all my colourful stuff and found my style.

Did you made skirts out of pillowcases?
Yeah, I remember making something, hoping it was a skirt and starting off with square pieces and then I discovered lycra. It was just after college, I never thought I could sew. I remember finding old patterns and it was just brown paper with big red felt tip marks all over it, it was really basic. It was nice to see how I’ve come now to see how it all works.

So what was your thinking behind your Autumn Winter 12 collection?
Autumn Winter I did something very different from Spring Summer, I wanted dark sumptuous colours, I wanted it to be silks and wool. I got silk dyed myself to match the suede so it’s one-colour outfit. I don’t think it will be as stripped as the Spring Summer collection but it was easy seeing the evolution, I’m really into all the natural fabrics of silks and wools.

I see you as someone more at home with an AW collection
Making a proper coat was a first for me, I made a trench for my Spring Summer but that was very simple so it was nice to do a proper coat. I’ve done a suede long skirt with a zip in the back and that was very beautiful. I just love working with leather, I could easily make a whole collection with it. I went to Somerset to get this really fine, supple glove leather.

I really wanted to do an evening dress and then I started panicking and imaging red carpet dresses, thinking ‘that’s not me’ but I’m really happy with how it turned out. I think I’ve always got an underlying bondage theme running my collection, it has an underlying sexiness.

It’s that weird limbo state isn’t it?
I’ll really want to go to sleep and I have to rip myself out of sleep to write something down because it might be a brilliant idea… But usually it isn’t! A few things I’ve gone through to toiling and when it came down to it it just didn’t work. It worked in my head. It’s just there all the time and you’re always thinking about it. Even when you think you’re thinking about something else you’re always working things out in the back of your mind. Especially when you’re lying in bed going to sleep, you’re thinking ‘I should do this’

I do all my own patterns, I start out designing the collections, roughly what I have in mind. Then I do the toiling and so much changes during this part, new ideas come in. Just yesterday I decided to redo the last outfit and now I’ve decided to do something completely different. I discover what’s exciting as I delve into my research for the collection,

There’s always a few months in the run when I’m thinking about the clothes I love to wear. This season I’ve got lots of open back shirts, I just think it’s so chic for women to have their shoulder blades out. Thinking about what I like to wear influences what I design as well.

Your own dress sense really reflects that, you don’t dress of a certain age
I’d like to think I don’t design for myself, but I totally do. Last season one of my favourite bloggers Fashion Fear was really inspiring me, any strong woman who isn’t afraid to wear something. I know that if I’ll love to wear then there’ll be so many people out there who’ll love to wear it.

There’s definitely somehting in that woman who isn’t afraid to be dramatic or strong, do you think that’s a by-product of your Riot Grrrl days?
I’ve never thought about that but yeah I think you’re right. I’m so drawn to strong women, Tilda Swinton would be my ideal woman to wear my collection. I’m still definitely into feminism, it’s always there in the back of my mind. I still listen to the same music that I used to even though I don’t dress that way.

Charlie May is stocked at Bengt from May.

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