by Olivia Louden

Charlotte Allen’s designs show a fascination with the macabre. After attending college in England and Japan and working for other luxury brands, she decided to start her own label called Klements in 2013, and is showcased at Young British Designers. Recently, Charlotte was selected to design a collection to be sold with the London Natural History Museum. Her work ranges from the delicate to the dark, and is often both at once. I got the opportunity to ask Charlotte all about her work and inspirations, which spans everything from Nirvana and Seattle grunge to the fleeting nature of life. 

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Does designing scarves provide more liberties than other garments?

It can be: imagery can be freakier, colours can be bolder, clashing, and scale can be monstrous in ways you may not get away with on a worn garment. A garment is more of a commitment.  But then it is just a square which presents its own constraints – normally four corners and possibly borders containing a print.

As a print design, I find no canvas more liberating than that of a dress to be worn on the human form – that’s why I started Klements!  I also love the infinity of a repeat print. As a child I loved looking at my grandparents wallpapers and curtains to work out the repeat.

Do you have any professional art and photography training? How did you begin to incorporate your own images into your work?

I attended Art college where I specialised in Fine Art. Then my degree was in Printed Textiles and later a Masters in Fashion Design. I always played around with photography on the side, along with painting and drawing. I guess I was super interested in fashion even back when I was oil painting in Fine Art and one of the frustrations were the painting was on a flat surface and then would be put away or hung up and enjoyed by just a few people. Also there was only one original. I like how a garment can be replicated and for more eyes. I love the way fabrics move and float.

During my Textiles degree I learned how to use Photoshop and everything came together and my art works came to life.

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Walk me through your entire creation process.

The season usually starts with multiple inspirations that have been hanging around my head during the previous season. Literature, films, people, travels, the general mood all feed into a collection. I always start with the prints; normally the intensively drawn and painted prints come first as they can take weeks just for one print. As the pressure of the season builds I start adding in quicker prints, or photographic prints. I get everything up on big boards, stand back and try to decide which pieces I want to be wearing right now. Lots get scrapped, lots more get created. Around the middle of the season I normally hit a doom spiral where I hate everything; I think everything is awful and it feels really dark. I talk it through with my certain people whose opinions I trust and come back to it from a new perspective. I (hopefully) start to feel inspired and more positive and start to see the narrative and story emerge. A common thread of what I have been trying to say during the design process becomes clearer. Hopefully at this point I become excited and start working much later into the nights. This is often the most exciting part of the season, where I’m excited about what I am creating.

I then dream up the garment shapes that I feel are fresh and right for the prints. It’s often what I am feeling I want to be wearing or what do I feel is missing from my wardrobe. I work in a very instinctive way; it’s all gut feelings and reactions. I then get fabric strike offs and play around with them on the mannequins. I decide which prints will work on which garments and either create the repeat prints or engineer the print to the pattern pieces.

I am never entirely happy with the collection; its never good enough, but as the season goes on and I get the sample garments back I start to enjoy them again. The test is what do I want to wear from the samples. The pieces I can’t wait to get back and get on often are the best sellers. I learn from that season and move on to the next one. It can be exhausting!

submission fashion magazine, online fashion magazine, fashion magazine, fashion magazines, jute magazine, jute fashion magazine, style, fashion, editorial, model, New York, NYC, New York Magazine, NYC fashion magazine, New York fashion magazine, London, England, UK, Klements, Young British Designers, Charlotte Allen, designer, Oliva Louden

Tell me about your Seattle to LA road trip. What did you discover about the places you visited and people you met?

The trip was a fantastic journey, learning lots about how Klements works in this market and who the customers are. Also, as a kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, the grunge scene was a huge influence. Finally, getting to Seattle was a dream and it did not disappoint.  I learned Seattle and Portland have similar climates to London and what sells well in London generally sells well there. The silks can be heavier and the prints can be darker and macabre!

We hosted trunk shows along the way and I got to meet the actual Klements customers. What an incredible collection of women! I felt very moved. I always dreamt the Klements customer was bright, eccentric, and vibrant with plenty to say and she certain is! Women from their 20s to their 80s arriving wearing Klements from previous seasons, clashing, put together in ways I would only dream of. I met lots of very interested, intelligent women who worked in various fields, but were unified in their love of colour, pattern and authentic design.

We then drove down to San Fran through the Redwood forest and on to LA. As the weather got warm, the silks got lighter, the kaftans started appearing! The colours by the time you reach LA can be super bonkers and tastes become more fun. The weather and beaches seem to attract people to the more colourful, playful side of Klements.

submission fashion magazine, online fashion magazine, fashion magazine, fashion magazines, jute magazine, jute fashion magazine, style, fashion, editorial, model, New York, NYC, New York Magazine, NYC fashion magazine, New York fashion magazine, London, England, UK, Klements, Young British Designers, Charlotte Allen, designer, Oliva Louden

Tell me about your influence from the grunge scene. What specifically about that music and style shows through in your designs today?

I was a teenager in the 90s, so bands like Nirvana, Skunk Anansie, and Nine Inch Nails helped form of my taste levels. I grew up in Nottingham where we were lucky to have the institution that is the Rock City. We always had amazing bands passing through and the Saturday nights there were legendary. These tastes in a darker and more macabre aesthetic have shaped the brand feel. It may not always be super literal to the out side, but it’s often more about the imagery I am drawn to and use in the prints; taxidermy is often photographed or drawn, there may be flowers, but they will be decaying with twisted vines and thorns.

We may produce a beautiful dress, but it will always have a dark more serious edge. We avoid anything too pretty. The Dr. Martens used in styling and our relaxed over sized shapes are perhaps the more obvious signs.

What’s new in the Cult of Nature collection?

New for the Cult of Nature collection are the silk chiffon ‘Empress Kaftan’ – across various prints which sold really well. We also did very well with the Dusk Dress and new short sleeve dress. We started working on bright base colours which brought many of the prints to life.

submission fashion magazine, online fashion magazine, fashion magazine, fashion magazines, jute magazine, jute fashion magazine, style, fashion, editorial, model, New York, NYC, New York Magazine, NYC fashion magazine, New York fashion magazine, London, England, UK, Klements, Young British Designers, Charlotte Allen, designer, Oliva Louden

How can one reflect the zeitgeist while still maintaining their originality?

I think this again goes back to working in a visceral way. You absorb things moving forward and changing the mood and the climate. When you come start a new season little changes and shifts happen. The things that feel fresh are a result of all you have drank in during the previous 6 months.

What is it about the natural world that is both beautiful and inspiring?

There is nothing more inspiring or mind blowing than nature’s beauty and her cruelty. When you study the detail of a plant or an animal you realize it’s more incredible than you could have imagined. But also respecting the fact that beauty and life are so fleeting; everything must die to give way to new life.

submission fashion magazine, online fashion magazine, fashion magazine, fashion magazines, jute magazine, jute fashion magazine, style, fashion, editorial, model, New York, NYC, New York Magazine, NYC fashion magazine, New York fashion magazine, London, England, UK, Klements, Young British Designers, Charlotte Allen, designer, Oliva Louden

Finally, what’s next for you and Klements? What do you have in the works?

It’s an exciting time; the business has grown quite quickly over the past year. We have lots of new stockists and continue to work with our stockists such as YBD who have supported us since our very first season. We have sales trips to Paris and again to the US over the next few months. For SS18 we are also launching printed body suits and base layers to be worn under our silk chiffon sheer pieces, which we are confident will really build the look of Klements – multiple layers of our prints! We also have been working on some new painting techniques which have become prints for SS18 – we can’t wait to reveal this to the world!

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