“Never switch off”
Menswear designer Charlotte McDonald has recently graduated from Kingston University London with a First Class Honours.
Her father’s Scottish heritage influences her final collection ‘Regeneration’ as she delves into the past and uproots over 50 years of her family history. Her garments explore the past lives of those living in deprived communities before the renovation of Glasgow and Manchester in the past decade.
Her collection is composed of oversized silhouettes, bold patterns and innovative tailoring. The kilt inspired trousers and crest-style embroidery reflect the unity of youth culture, while the sombre fabrics express an air of rebellion. ‘Regeneration’ provides a voice for the working class youth.
Can you describe your collection to us?
The development of my graduate collection ‘Regeneration’ was inspired by the Scottish Independence Referendum, the poll to decide whether Scotland should be an independent country that took place in September 2014.
This led me to look at my father’s family heritage, his family originated in Glasgow and later moved to Manchester. I refer to the working class culture over the past 50 years and focus on the recent regeneration of deprived communities in Manchester and Glasgow. I also looked at the rebellion of Jimmy Reid, a Scottish activist, and the effect Margaret Thatcher’s policies had on British industry.
The shapes of my garments are meant to be fashion forward. Their silhouettes mirror those of ‘hand-me-down’ clothing, such as a boy wearing his father’s clothes. Femininity combined with masculinity is presented in pleats and voluminous silhouettes, mirroring traditional Highland dress.
I used classical menswear tailoring techniques with a contemporary twist to contrast these feminine shapes with sharp details: a gentlemen’s lapel for example. Classic workwear such as factory and steel workers’ uniforms inspired the box pocket detailing and overall loose fit. The embroidered crests of Manchester and Glasgow are proudly communicated through the collection.
I intended the suiting fabrics to act as palette cleansers against textured surfaces such as moleskins, brushed cottons and satins.
You mentioned your father’s heritage and Northern political movements as influences. How has your family’s past specifically influenced your designs?
I was influenced by the photographs I found, in particular, pictures of my grandfather’s, ranging from 1950-1975. His images were of working class family and friends, houses, clothes and estates. I used scans of my grandfather’s overdue telephone bills from the 1970’s, as well as a photograph of my grandmother proudly wearing a Celtic scarf for inspiration. I also incorporated tartans from our family crest in the form of a pullover, re-creating the image of a working class family.
Why did you choose to look at deprived communities?
When researching the Scottish Independence Referendum it seemed that the younger citizens mostly voted ‘yes’ for Scotland’s independence.I wanted to present the voice of the young people in my collection. I refer to the classic ‘Ned/Chav’ of Britain: stereotypes of the lower class youth population. Tracksuits and low-tech sportswear are commonly associated with ‘Chavs’, so I used this image in some of my looks. I also looked at the rebellion and pride connected to football hooliganism. The “DON” embroidery on the back of the vest in my collection is similar to emblems on football shirts.
Did you have a particular client in mind?
My collection is geared towards a young man who has had to grow up in poor circumstances but has expectations to do well in life. His clothes are bold and oversized and require a level of confidence to wear them. They are sophisticated, yet the visuals on the pieces present a story and a sense of naivety and youthfulness.
Do you feel your collection is complete?
Nothing is ever really complete within fashion. People are constantly changing along with their environment. When designers revisit projects they have a completely different outlook. I would definitely like to revisit this collection in the future to see what my perspective will be.
What did you find the most challenging when designing your final collection?
I found it hard to make on the spot decisions such as choosing fabric. I also had to adapt my work schedule when problems occurred like a product being out of stock or a zip being too long. I learnt you have to be prepared and ready to adapt. Planning and anticipating are key.
Tell us about a specific aspect of your collection you are proud of.
I collaborated with an illustrator, Oliver MacDonald Oulds. We took my grandfather’s photographs and translated them into drawings. An embroidery company in North London, ‘Bespoke Embroidery’, allowed me to transfer Oliver’s drawings into stitch for one of my centre pieces: the utility vest.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to start designing their final collection?
Start with a broad approach and don’t decide too early exactly what you want to create. If you do, it will stunt you developing creative garments during the design process. A collection that has a strong foundation of research and personal interest will capture attention.
Never switch off. If you see something in the street that could be used in any way or simply inspire you, photograph it or write it down: an object, a colour, a story, a word. If you travel, take a camera. The most interesting concepts come from ideas completely separate to fashion.
Apart from the audience at your graduation show, who else has seen your collection?
I closed the show at the Kingston Internal show and also at Kingston’s Graduate Fashion Week 2015. Two of my main looks are in New York for magazine shoots which is exciting. When these return some garments will be sent over to a Japanese stylist. I am also presenting my collection on a runway for Skew Magazine in August.
What do you think of current trends in menswear?
The menswear market seems to be becoming dominant in the fashion industry. Male consumers are becoming more confident in what they wear. Androgyny has always been a large part of womenswear but this style has reached menswear in the presence of tight and revealing clothing.
What is next for you professionally?
This September I will begin my masters in menswear at the Royal College of Art. My aim for the summer is to document everything I do to use as future research and inspiration. I’m excited to challenge myself as a fashion designer and work with individuals who have the same drive and ambitions as I do.
What do you think is important in order to succeed in the fashion industry?
Fashion is not just about creating clothes that are aesthetically pleasing. A large part of fashion is about communication; it is a platform to communicate your own thoughts through design and practice. It is a subjective field to be in so you have to clearly communicate your ideas. Take criticism and learn from it. Most importantly, have confidence in your own work.