it’s a warm sunny day outside but I’m in the Cockpit Arts Centre to meet a young designer that has a
studio here, it’s a creative hub full of artists and designers using the spaces to build businesses and
futures. Outside some workmen are sawing, hammering and building, at the other end of the shared
space a lady works a loom. I’m here to see Caitlin Charles-Jones, one of the brightest rising stars of
the industry. Caitlin has an ease about her, sitting in her chair surrounded by notes, pictures, mood
boards, wool and some terrifyingly complex machinery including “The Duchess”, there is an air of
someone relaxed and easy to talk to not only about her career so far but the wider industry and of
course we couldn’t chat without discussing her beautiful dog, Morse.
She is known for her knitwear collections and truly loves wools “people think it has all these
restrictions but not more than other materials”. However, wool is engrained in her, and her way of
designing so it seems odd that it wasn’t her early choice while at University. “I was always
determined I was going to be a fashion designer, knitwear wasn’t really on my radar when I started, I
had a go and I’m a really impatient person so I thought this isn’t for me but somehow it clicked and
then my final collection was entirely knitwear”.
Caitlin wools
I’m rather glad that her tutor at Kingston suggested trying it, it’s certainly been fashions gain from it.
Though as I’m from near Kingston I know the University there is really good at nurturing and
supporting students, though Caitlin did put forward a feeling I share that courses in fashion could do
with perhaps some more focus on the business side of the industry, however as she also moved on
to the RCA and Missoni she’s been lucky to have excellent opportunities to both develop her own
creativity and see how the top fashion houses are operated. There are perhaps touches of Missoni in
her work which includes brilliant bold tones and I was a bit surprised to hear her say “I loved colour
but I was a bit scared of it”.
The collections are pure distilled Caitlin though “I only started my business because I had a
specialism, it’s all produced in house, I’m quite a control freak”, but perhaps that is where the magic
comes from, it allows her the freedom to create her vision, “you get so boring, I had two months that
was literally me on those machines”. She is also happy to talk about the nerves and fears all young
designers must have “when I did my first collection I had a fear I couldn’t do it again”.
the duchess
“What I always try when I’m designing pieces is to make a new take on a classic”. When you see the
collection you can see the classical elements, but brought forward into the now. We touched back
into the myths of wool, she even humoured my terrible pun about people being sheepish about
wool. “The term knitwear is the construction of the material” she says going on to make a valuable
point that there are other heavy materials like velvet that people wouldn’t think are shapeless or
hard to work with. Perhaps this is what is driving the resurgence of knitwear to the high end, it is no
longer seen as just comfort wear, and designers like Caitlin are leading that resurgence “it’s
something I try to break down with my work”.
But make no mistake this is not a designer reinventing the past, it’s a designer building the future,
the large machine by my shoulder may be from the 60’s but The Duchess as she’s called is not just a
knitting machine, she is a tool for creating the modern, and in Caitlin Charles-Jones it’s like giving a
Stradivarius to a new First Violin in a world class symphony. The rhythmic clicker clacker of it passing
up and down is creating a soundwave we should all listen to. I’ll be looking out for the future hits
from this most talented of young designers.
Written by Ross Pollard from Fashion Worked.