Creating Beauty – Herts fabulous designers

Cecilia Mary Robson's harlequin inspired designs

Cecilia Mary Robson's harlequin inspired designs - Credit: Archant

Meet the Hertfordshire designers who are showing the world how to cut it. By Sandra Deeble

Klement scarves by Charlotte Allen

Klement scarves by Charlotte Allen - Credit: Archant

British fashion designers have always known how to cut it. From Anya Hindmarch to Zandra Rhodes, UK design talent not only flourishes at home, it continues to be one of our most valuable exports – the British Fashion Council estimates the industry is worth £21bn. And it’s not all happening in London. Or New York, Milan or Paris. Hertfordshire has its own crop of fashion designers, all of whom have realised the county is a winner, particularly when seeking inspiration for their work.

Charlotte Allen

Charlotte Allen - Credit: Archant

For Charlotte Allen, designer of printed silk scarves and owner of the label Klements, moving from Nottingham to St Albans last month has nourished her creative spirit and sparked ideas for a new collection.

Emma Louise AW13 collection

Emma Louise AW13 collection - Credit: Archant

‘For autumn-winter 2014 I am going to do a print based on all the elaborate door knockers in the Fishpool Street area in the city,’ she says. ‘Inspiration comes from everywhere. When I design I start with something and it’s almost like a story. You get into the zone and things happen.’

Actor Ray Winstone's daughter Lois modelling Cecilia Mary Robson

Actor Ray Winstone's daughter Lois modelling Cecilia Mary Robson - Credit: Archant

Charlotte’s scarves are made from Italian silk and are produced in a factory in Como. They recently graced the windows of Harrods. Charlotte has only just unpacked and settled into her garden studio, but she’s hoping to have a pop-up shop in St Albans open in time for Christmas.

Cecilia Mary Robson

Cecilia Mary Robson - Credit: Archant

‘I fell in love with St Albans. It’s such a beautiful place. I love the countryside. I’ve got two Basset hounds and it’s perfect for walks.’

Graeme Ellisdon

Graeme Ellisdon - Credit: Archant

Charlotte has discovered that Tring Museum is perfect for a day of sketching, and she loves The Foragers at the Verulam Arms.

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Starting out as a fine artist in portrait painting, Charlotte studied print design at Nottingham Trent University and went on to do an MA in fashion design. She was awarded a scholarship by Paul Smith and gained experience working in his print studio. She describes her style as having ‘a bit of a dark, even macabre, twist. It’s beautiful but not girly.’

A made-in-Herts designer is Emma Cunnane. Based in Potters Bar, who started her label Emma Louise London in 2010.

‘I grew up in Barnet and I went to East Barnet School. I remember the first time I used a sewing machine. It was in a textile lesson in Year 8 and I remember thinking, “Actually, I’m kind of good at something”.’

Rather than doing a foundation course as most designers do, Emma went straight to De Montfort University to study fashion design. She now makes all of her clothes in Potters Bar and they have been worn by Louise Thompson on Made in Chelsea.

‘I do really simple stuff. I design the prints and then the fabric is printed digitally by the Silk Bureau in Worcestershire. A lot of what I do is placement print, so I can’t bulk cut. I want to make stuff that flatters.’

A great fan of Stella McCartney, Emma acknowledges the highly competitive, fast-moving nature of fashion. She says that she couldn’t have started her business without help from her family.

‘I’m very lucky. My dad brought us up to think we should give things a go. But it does still terrify me. Every now and again I’ll think, “What am I doing?”’

When she downs tools at the end of a day’s work, Emma enjoys relaxing at The Cock and Dragon in Cockfosters and The Black Horse, Barnet.

If you are a regular at The Dog and Whistle café in Hertford, you may have spotted the much-lauded designer Cecilia Mary Robson.

A graduate of Cordwainers and the London College of Fashion, Cecilia has worked with greats of the fashion world, including Giles Deacon, Vidal Sassoon and Replay. Ray Winstone’s daughter Lois has modelled Cecilia’s collection on the catwalk and singer Ellie Goulding wore her clothes when she appeared on Jonathan Ross’s show.

So for someone who is a Londoner – Cecilia was born and raised in Islington – and who has also lived and worked in New York, Paris and Berlin, why Hertford? ‘A big reason was for the family and the dog. There’s just more space. And for me, it was an adventure. We’d been living in Victoria Park, Hackney, and I thought, “Where else can I go apart from the moon? I know, Hertford.”’

Cecilia’s great-aunt was the actress Dame Flora Robson, who as a Hollywood film star played opposite Laurence Olivier and Errol Flynn. Cecilia knew her as a child and says she has been her greatest style influence.

‘She lived in Welwyn Garden City, in Handside Lane. But apart from that I didn’t really have any connection to Hertfordshire. We practically just put a pin in a map and found Hertford. My father was an artist and there were lots of artistic-y people walking around the town. I fell in love with it straightaway. She laughs that when she first moved to Hertford, her London friends would arrive for a day’s visit ‘unsuitably clad for a muddy walk with a dog across a field.’

Cecilia is about to launch a new business alongside her own label. ‘The idea is to bring high-end design to people in bite-size chunks. The craft world is already doing it, but at the moment there’s nothing for people who are design savvy. I’ll be teaching, and you’ll be able to make something beautiful and totally useable that will blend with your wardrobe or home.’

You Made This will be county-wide and Cecilia says that we’ll see it ‘popping-up’ in cafes, theatres and manor houses.

Since she moved to Hertford four years ago, Cecilia says she seems to get chatting to people everywhere. ‘I keep meeting people in Hertford who love clothes and design. I really like being here.’

If you don’t catch her drinking tea in The Dog and Whistle, you might get chatting to Cecilia drinking ‘milkshakes at Leaf or a nice cold beer at the Cowper Arms in Letty Green’.

‘It’s the local Hertfordshire countryside that really holds me and keeps me grounded,’ says Graeme Ellisdon, founder and owner of luxury brand Osprey London and the Osprey Home store and cafe near St Albans.

‘Hertfordshire born and bred’, Graeme founded Osprey London in 1980 and has lived in Kimpton ‘or thereabouts’ for over 30 years. His obsession as a young boy with ‘beetles, bugs, butterflies and abandoned birds’ nests’ in the Herts countryside is now reflected in Osprey Home.

Graeme, who enjoys walking his dogs on the Brocket Hall estate, makes the point that if you create good design and style, people will come. ‘Visitors often are amazed that such a place can exist down a country lane,’ he says, talking about Osprey Home. ‘It’s a store in the middle of a field.’

Which proves Herts has the most authentic example of the fashionistas’ favourite – the destination store.

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