5 Minutes With: Zoe Karssen

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Zoe Karssen is a brand that really needs no introduction. In under four years the label has become the everyday attire go to for everyone from Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne to Beyonce and Rihanna… and your’s truly, at least whenever I can afford to. Fash casual slogan tees may be the company’s calling card, but recent seasons have seen the addition of knitwear, denim and accessories. With stockists ranging from Net-a-Porter, Selfridges and Harrods to AVN Group in Russia, Zoe Karssen is the epitome of the 21st century sartorial success story. I caught up with Zoe herself to talk inspirations, in house arguments and top quality tees…

LPA: Tell me a little about yourselves…

ZK: I grew up in Winchester in Hampshire, an hour south of London. I studied at Winchester school of art and then onto Bournemouth arts school. I didn’t complete my studies. I already started my first job, so dropped out of education, in hindsight I really wished I finished. Quince grew up in a small city in holland called, Veenendaal. He also studied here and once he had completed his studies, he then moved to the UK to search for better job opportunities.

LPA: What prompted you to launch your label in 2010? Had this always been the plan or did something specific inspire you to do it at that point in time?

ZK: Quince and I met in London, but we moved to the Netherlands when Quince started working for Tommy Hilfiger. I went to work at a Dutch denim brand called, Blue Blood. That’s where a stylist saw me wearing a loose tee, which I had drawn a quote on with a permanent marker the night before (a T-shirt should always be loose fit. I hate tight shirts). The stylist used the shirt in a shoot for the fashion magazine, Glamour. The response was overwhelming and Quince and I saw an opportunity for a private label. It seemed to be at a time when retailers were looking for innovation in the store without any huge investments. Our T-shirts answered that need, we were completely naive and inexperienced but frankly, I think that actually really helped. We completely went for it, no holding back. Quince was full time and I myself in the evenings and weekends, alongside my full-time job (we needed to pay the bills)!

LPA: In just four years, Zoe Karssen has landed many of the world’s top stockists, more celebrity fans than I can even list and generally become one of the most coveted casual wear brands around. Did you have a set strategy to get yourselves there when you launched? And what do you think it is about your designs that people, myself included, find so irresistible?

ZK: We think that quality is super important for a simple item like a T-shirt. Both being trained as graphic designers in fashion, we’ve been obsessed with tees for fifteen years and have become specialists in mixing materials and treatments. The quality of our tees is better than that of many other suppliers. That I would say is a key unique selling point for us.

LPA: Having started out with a collection of easy to wear tops and bottoms featuring quirky prints, Zoe Karssen has grown to encompass knitwear, high end denim, basics and even a few accessories. How have you managed to balance expansion with retaining your strong brand identity?

ZK: We are always trying our best! There isn’t really a manual on how to do this .. its a lot of guess work for us and following our gut feeling! Plus, we have great sales teams behind us that bring a lot of experience and good advise each season on whats working and whats difficult. Then we have to filter this information to what we believe is best for the brand. We try to handle the growth slowly and surely! That’s our motto, don’t rush things too much. For example, when we added the knitwear, we spent several seasons trying to perfect it and get it right before we added another product group.

LPA: Despite how quickly Zoe Karssen has grown, you still manage and create everything in house including shoots. Why is this so important to you?

ZK: First of all, we are control freaks! Secondly, It’s far better to keep everything in house right now, as we keep 100% control and it keeps our costs low. We started this way and I feel like this is crucial to our brand message, it’s really all developed from our gut feeling on what’s cool. We have had such a great response to the brand image, that we don’t try to change it. But, of course it can always improve. It’s a dream, if it just gets stronger every season!

LPA: I always find it fascinating to learn about design processes and the different sources ways and places designers find inspiration. How do you take your collections from initial ideas to finished product? Do you have go to references or is it different each season?

ZK: We are constantly on the blogs and internet, pretty much every day, I have a folder on my desktop and every time I see something inspiring, I save it. By the time, we approach the design periods again, I have a folder ready to go with new inspiration. We also have a solid basis in all of our collections, our best fits don’t change, so it’s more about colour cards and cool new graphics than designing complete new collections every season, that way we can spend more time on the few new styles being perfect rather than having too many and not enough focus in the collection.

LPA: I can imagine that running a label together has both advantages and challenges. How do you balance the responsibilities and decisions between you? What’s the biggest argument you’ve had since launching the brand?

ZK: We are lucky because it’s very clear for us, we have strengths in different fields. Quince runs the business on a day to day basis, finance, logistics, production etc. He also takes care of all the graphics every season. I focus on marketing and the brand image and Quince and I share the design input. So long, as we don’t stray to far from this it seems to work perfectly.

LPA: Could we see further Zoe Karssen lines added in the future? Interiors or childrenswear maybe…

ZK: Never say never! I would love to expand into interiors, but right now we are still young and need to focus. Our main focus this year is on quality, delivering on time to our retailers, basically perfecting what we already have. I have a small project in the pipeline that should be launched at Christmas, but I don’t want to jinx it so I won’t divulge just yet.

LPA: What advice would you give to someone planning to launch their own business?

ZK: First of all, DREAM BIG! DREAMS CAN COME TRUE! Make sure, you have some start up funds, you do need some money to get going. Thirdly, ensure you have a good and reliable manufacturer.. go visit them to check it out (if you plan to manufacture clothing). Equally, it is very important is to have a great brand story with clear brand messaging and imagery, you have to stand out from your competition.

Visit and shop Zoe Karssen online (especially the palm prints, I’m obsessed) here

Love Ella. x

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Interviews 1 Comment

Look Du Jour: Gossip Girl & Personal Style

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Ella Catliff by Holly McGlynn April 2014_006

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Ella Catliff by Holly McGlynn April 2014_005

Ella Catliff by Holly McGlynn April 2014_012

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What: Coat, Shoes, Handbag & Glasses by Kate Spade NY (c/o), Shirt by J.Crew, Jeans by HUDSON JEANS (c/o)

Where: Dinner at Bob Bob Ricard followed by drinks at Soho House.

Good God I miss Gossip Girl. It was, and still is one of my absolute, all time favourite shows… As if you needed further confirmation that I am perhaps the least cool person on the planet. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly Breaking Bad, not that I’ve actually ever watched Breaking Bad but everyone does bloody bang on about it. GG’s plot lines may have got a little cray at times, and more than a little predictable towards the end. But the clothes, oh those clothes! Blair season 1 continues to provide sartorial inspiration some six and a bit years after I first clapped eyes on her delicious array of knee high socks, headbands, girly detailing and masterful, masterful colour coordination. This certainly isn’t a new fashion fixation for me. Not by a long shot. While writing this post, originally just titled “Gossip Girl”, I was struck with a sense of deja vu. My words seemed to be flowing a little too freely and I wondered if I’d read them elsewhere and was engaging in a little semi unintentional plagiarism. I mean come on, we’ve all done that. A quick browse through my Look Du Jour archive revealed that I had in fact written another outfit post of the same name back in December. Somewhat embarrassingly, not only was the name the same, the accompanying musings were practically identical too. This got me thinking about personal style. Of course, most of us are well aware that there are certain cuts or colours that flatter our figures and skin tones. But it’s more significant than habitually opting for A line silhouettes because they make one’s waist look smaller. After a while, the aesthetics and inspirations we go back to time and again essentially become automatic, second nature, an integral part of who we are. I’m not saying for one minute that we should be entirely defined by what we wear, but I think the role our clothes (and accessories, obvs) play in constructing, portraying and protecting our identity is fascinating and goes far beyond the realms of die hard fashion addicts, pre ordering next season Prada while the bills pile up. On an outward level, appearance is the first thing you notice about someone so deciding what sartorial uniform to adopt is effectively deciding who we want to be to the rest of the world. On a more personal and perhaps more important one, it can shape how we feel about ourselves and that in turn shapes, well, just about everything else. I know full well that when I wear an outfit like this one, bright colours, shapes I know suit my body, time tested Gossip Girl inspired girly aesthetic, I’m well within my comfort zone. Regardless of what a rubbish day I’ve been having, when I don this ensemble I feel like myself and confident enough not to give a damn about a few strange stares on the tube (seriously, what’s wrong with people!? See last week’s post). That’s not to discourage mixing things up now and again, hell no. If I’m in a good frame of mind anyway then totally stepping outside my usual repertoire in, say, a mannish trouser suit or vampy haute couture leather confection can be unbelievably liberating, all the while safe in the knowledge that you can swap it for something a little safer that makes you really look and feel like you.

What are your thoughts on this? Don’t hold back, I’d so love to know!

Love Ella x

Images by Holly McGlynn

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Look Du Jour 2 Comments

Monthly Must Haves: April 2014

Spot the feeble fraudster who claimed she’d never be swayed by pool sliders and is all of a sudden finding herself dreaming of these green bad boys… As for Phillip Lim’s latest array of Pashlis, the feelings I have for these bags are so far from normal. TBH all these must haves are, well, must haves and I must have them all!

monthly must haves april

1) Rodarte 3D Heart Motif Sweatshirt, 160, click here to buy
2) River Island Pink Floral Skirt, 25, click here to buy
3) Whistles Maya Gladiator Sliders, 225, click here to buy
4) 3.1 Phillip Lim Medium Leather Pashli, 805, click here to buy
5) Peter Pilotto Elizabeth Printed Silk Cloque Dress, 980, click here to buy
6) Acne Yellow Frame Sunglasses, 240, click here to buy
7) NW3 by Hobbs Yellow Cat Socks, 6, click here to buy
8) Charlotte Olympia Mandy Wedge Sandals, 595, click here to buy
9) Marni Striped Cuff Boyfriend Jeans, 250, click here to buy
10) NW3 by Hobbs Yellow Cat Jacquard Sweater, 69, click here to buy

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Shopping 1 Comment

Introducing: Karen Mabon

This “Introducing” post is unbelievably overdue. I actually learned of the talented Karen Mabon when I judged Mulberry’s Brilliant Britain competition way back in 2012! Mabon’s brand was a fledgling dream at that point but, as you’re about to find out or perhaps already know, a lot has changed since then.

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Bull in a China Shop Silk Scarf

Originally hailing from Black Isle in Scotland, Karen Mabon, studied at Edinburgh College of Art before heading down south to complete her education in the hallowed halls of London’s Royal College of Art. After graduating she cut her industry teeth working for the likes of Margaret Howell and Fred Butler until 2012 when Mabon decided to go it alone and launching her eponymous line of silk scarves and handmade jewellery. I doubt I need to tell you that independent accessories labels are ten a penny these days. Some demand prices that would make an Olsen twin blanche, others come in more at the pocket change end of the scale. Some supply wares so gorgeous you’d flog your grandmother to own them, others are essentially market stall tat. Basically, there are a LOT of accessory start ups around with more starting up by the minute. You have to be offering something pretty special to stand out from the crowd. Karen Mabon is doing just that.

karen mabon

Beverly Hills Hotel Silk Scarf

Calling on a smörgåsbord of references, from pop culture and the artists that inspire her, to quintessential English pastimes and subjects so unbelievably ordinary their existence probably never even crosses your mind; Mabon’s work is a delicious fusion of eclecticism, detail and wit. One scarf might see Tippi Hendren fleeing from a flock of seagulls, another a vegetable patch being ransacked by rabbits, another a traditional British seaside holiday scene. When depicted on accessories (or any garments for that matter) poetic and traditional scenes run the risk of looking overdone or dowdy, while tongue-in-cheek designs can easily slip into novelty territory. If this was the case with Karen Mabon’s work, I wouldn’t be writing this post. Between the all encompassing array of influences she employs, and their playful yet intricately constructed depiction, Mabon toes the line between nostalgia and modernity just perfectly. These accessories are fun – who’s not going to crack a smile with Panthers at a party parading around their neck? – but not naff, not by a long shot. This is no doubt helped by the design process involved in the creation of each piece, a feat as impressive as the fact Karen Mabon’s managed to carve a niche for herself within the overcrowded accessories market. Each motif is constructed from layers of hand drawn images. Rather than using a repeated print, each design is a complete and individual composition, holding a distinct narrative and realised on the finest Italian silks and cashmeres. The jewellery pieces feature individual motifs from Mabon’s painstakingly created scarves, offering the kind of mix and/or match potential I’m an absolute sucker for.

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Midnight Feast Silk Scarf

Karen Mabon set out create pieces that captured the “romance of the everyday” and her quirky play on the mundanities of life does so beautifully. And judging from the fact her wares are now stocked everywhere from Liberty of London to the National Maritime Museum to Strumpet in New York and The Beauty Candy Apothecary in Singapore, I’m not the only person who thinks that! I’m currently coveting the Beverley Hills Hotel scarf like mad but frankly, they’re all must haves. Oh and not stupidly expensive either (think £85 to £110) yay!

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Fashion 1 Comment

Look Du Jour: Saying No To Normcore

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Ella Catliff by Holly McGlynn March 14_009

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What: Club Monaco jacket (c/o), French Connection t-shirt, Paige Denim boyfriend jeans (c/o), Anne Bowes Jewellery necklace, Quay Australia sunglasses (c/o), Hobbs shoes & clutch (both c/o)

Where: Dinner at The Electric, Notting Hill.

God, I felt so embarrassingly cool when I put this outfit on. The boyfriend jeans, the pattern clashing overload, the red leather… my thought process was along the lines of “NAILED IT”! That confidence somewhat waned when I entered Hammersmith tube station and my ensemble caused a group of youths to basically keel over in hysterics. But I thought, screw you all. You know nothing about fashion, fools. In retrospect, I think I maybe did look a little nuts (it was perhaps the glasses that did it) and when my Dad saw these pics his response was, “at least you’ve still got a sense of humour”.

But do you know what? I’ve decided I don’t care. I felt fabulous and that’s at least half of what matters. Plus, the fact that this look is basically the antithesis of normcore makes me endlessly happy. These jeans may be nice and roomy and the block heels wonderfully comfortable but let’s be honest, anyone who puts together this many prints clearly has no desire to fit in. You see, I just don’t get normcore. It’s not so much the aesthetics that leave me cold. The idea of spending everyday in grey, eschewing heels in favour of understated plain white trainers and generally keeping it casual may bore me almost to tears but whatever floats your boat. And while no fan of minimalism or perennial casualness myself, on others it can look fantastic. But beyond how that understated turtleneck or logo free pair of sneaks look, if they make the wearer feel confident, stylish and generally good about themselves that’s brilliant. No, there are two things that baffle me about this whole normcore shabang. Firstly, its premise; the notion of settling for sameness, accepting your fate of immersion into a sea of faceless blandness. It is pitched, not as a specific sartorial choice but genuine, couldn’t-care-less, normality. This leads on nicely to the second thing that peeves me about this phenomenon, the fact that, largely speaking, its premise is complete bollocks. Whether its a music journo in a thermofleece at SXSW or a Brooklynite rocking nondescript jeans and an unbranded baseball cap, the look is every bit as stylised and deliberate as that of the FROW-ing blogger, madly instagramming their sculptural, pom pom trimmed hat. Applied to the middle aged, mid Western tourist the concept of normcore would make sense. But of course, said Dad jeans wearer wouldn’t dream of referring to their “look” with such a name. I can’t help but feel that once a phenomenon has this kind of hashtag worthy moniker, a gazillion articles written about it’s origins, then it is by definition no longer really normal. A “how to get the look” feature on normcore immediately renders it about as effortless as head-to-toe digital prints or winter leg. I’m not saying that magazines should refrain from publishing these kind of pieces about normcore, more just that it’s rather ridiculous to pretend that hipsters and editors donning pool sliders means that they no longer care about making a statement with their lewk. Ultimately doing a Dello Russo is much the same as channeling Steve Jobs. Only one is infinitely less fun to look at that the other.

How do YOU feel about normcore?

Love Ella. X

Images by Holly McGlynn

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Look Du Jour 6 Comments