As my extensive sweater collection will attest, I bloody love a good knit. Especially a knit that deviates from your classic monotone cashmere. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but personally I’ll take a psychedelic camo intarsia pattern or graphic lightning motif over an understated shade any day of the week. At the same time, quirky stylistic nuances are all well and good but when it comes to cashmere, you want to know that there’s a level of quality and integrity behind its creation that will stand the test of time and honour to this fine fabrics heritage, not to mention justify splurging on something plush. Queene and Belle fulfils all of the above. Produced by artisan craftsmen in the world famous town of Hawick in the Scottish Borders and masterminded by women with knitwear in their blood, Queene and Belle concocts contemporary cashmere that combines peerless quality and playful, must-have-it-right-now design. I caught up with Founder, Angela Bell to talk inspirations, aspirations and the art of knitwear…
LPA: love the idea that with three generations of in the knitwear industry before you, cashmere was in your blood. Were there any moments of teenage rebellion when you wanted to do something dramatically different or did you always feel passionate about what you do now?
AB: There was never a time when I wanted to do something dramatically different. Since I was very young I always knew that I wanted to go to Art College, and my passion for what I do now certainly developed during High School when I started to make my own clothes and avidly poured over the latest fashion and music magazines. I loved The Face magazine which really inspired me, and if anything I would have loved to have gone into graphic design but the pull towards fashion in the end was too great!
LPA: Queene and Belle only uses cashmere from Todd & Duncan, the oldest cashmere spinners in the world. Why is this so important to you and to the brand? What are the advantages and disadvantages sourcing your staple fabric solely from the company?
AB: Todd and Duncan produce a consistently good product and offer an excellent stock service, they are based around 70 miles away in Kinross so the cashmere doesn’t have to travel far to be knitted! I think this is great in a world where products are travelling thousands of miles before reaching their final destination. I don’t see a downside to buying my main yarn from one supplier as long as the quality and service is excellent.
LPA: You launched Queene and Belle with the aim to create a label that moved cashmere away from its associations with traditionalism and conservatism. What were the biggest challenges you came up against trying to reinvent the fabric’s reputation and how did you overcome them?
AB: When I started Queene and Belle in 2000 lots of new labels and designers were appearing in the market. There was an air of excitement and a willingness from buyers to set aside budget for somebody or something new. It was really the perfect time to do something different, and Queene and Belle was accepted quickly as being quirky with an optimistic artistic approach. Scottish cashmere was traditionally seen as classic sweaters or twinset and pearls and I didn’t shun that heritage, I decided to embrace it’s fundamental classic roots and give them an injection of newness by updating silhouettes and incorporating modern quirky graphics and colour in the form of intarsia.
LPA: I absolutely adore the quirky and imaginative motifs that feature on your knitwear. How do you come up with the ideas for them each season? Are there certain sources of inspiration you return to or is do you always look to something new?
AB: The intarsia motifs I incorporate into the collection generally change each season although I have certain favourites I always explore further, such as North American Indians, their craft and culture. I have done buddhas, skulls, stars in every format, peace signs are a big favourite, imagery which has a certain spirituality really appeals to me. Recently the collection has developed a more ‘luxury street edge’ with the use of classic Americana graphics such as bold varsity numbers and wording. Their graphics work well on the cashmere sweatshirts they give them a fresh sports luxe feel, great with denim.
LPA: Today Queene and Bell is an internationally renowned brand worn by the likes of Madonna and Michelle Pfeiffer and stocked all over the world. I can imagine it wasn’t all plain selling though, what difficulties did you come up against launching an independent business? And what advice would you give to someone trying to do so today?
AB: I think when starting a business you need to have good suppliers, people who believe in you and are willing to have patience and understanding – this is key. You also need to be very careful with money, make sure you keep enough in the business to pay suppliers on time as this solidifies the relationship, this in turn will help you get good on-time deliveries which in fashion is imperative. I have always kept good healthy relationships with my manufacturers, paying them on time and working through the problems. I never really had any major difficulties when launching Queene and Belle, only the stress that comes with money and getting paid for goods invoiced out. Some countries are worse than others and some customers are worse than others! and I quickly learned some hard costly lessons!
LPA: Talk me through a typical day in the Queene and Bell studio…
AB: A typical day at Queene and Belle starts with a short team meeting to go over what hand work needs to be done for production on that particular day. I will then drive to the mill in Hawick where my cashmere is produced, I normally go over any problems they may have, check samples and draw up new neck cuts for the sampling department. I am very hands on, this way I get exactly what I want and my pedantic approach can save a lot of time and money. The rest of my day will be spent replying to e-mails, updating social media, web and general business. When I am designing the new collection I am immersed for days surrounded with sample body shapes, fabric developments, graphics, books, magazines and non stop drawing. I never have any difficulty coming up with new ideas, the real difficulty is deciding what to go with and what to leave out!
LPA: Besides the gorgeous cashmere, Queene and Bell also incorporates cotton sundresses and other non knitwear pieces into its collections. When did you add these in and what prompted that decision? How greatly does the design and manufacturing process for these piece differ from that of the knitwear?
AB: I have been selling my cotton and silk dresses, shirts and blouses along side the cashmere for over ten years now. Initially when I started Queene and Belle I styled the collection with vintage cotton Victorian and Edwardian pieces I had collected over the years, and I used to hang them with the knitwear when selling the collection at exhibitions. All of my customers loved them, and Lucille Lewin from Whistles at that time suggested I make my own versions and gave me the name of an excellent manufacturer. I love vintage cotton and lace, the fine detailling and the light airy quality they have. I think the look works well with my cashmere, fine femininity combined with sport luxe is a look I love.
LPA: Which designers and brands do you love to wear? Aside from Queene and Belle of course…
AB: I love Golden Goose for sneakers, Japanese brands Zucca for trousers, Undercover for the t-shirts and accessories (love the dark humour) R-13 for denim, Toga Archive for dresses and I love my black on black Susannah Hunter oversize roses bag it goes everywhere with me.
LPA: What is your ultimate aim for the Queene and Belle brand?
AB: My ultimate aim for Queene and Belle is the same as my original aim….. to continue to make beautiful things for people who love special unique items and to always enjoy doing so!
Love Ella. X