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Interview: Fashion Designer Frances O’Leary

Wednesday 22 October 2014

London womenswear designer, Frances O’Leary, is a provider of prints, luxurious fabric selections and glorious pieces with deeper meanings as the inspirations. After graduating and working for high street retailers, Frances developed her own brand. 

Frances O’Leary’s upcoming SS15 collection was inspired by London and the deep contrasts between social groups living side by side. With a wide and wondrous colour palette, and fabrics that drape so elegantly and perfectly executed, it’s a wonder that Frances wasn’t on the radar for a spot at this year’s Fashion Week. I’d say it’s your best bet to keep your ears, eyes, and everything pinned for any mention of this London designer in the near future…

Why did you initially want to study womenswear design and printing? What provoked that career, and study, path?

It’s something that kind of happened organically really, I always knew I wanted to do something creative when I left school. When I left at 16 I was happy to do anything that was going to be creative, at the time fashion stood out to me because the idea of being able to make your own clothes was a real novelty. It wasn’t until I realised that I was quite good at it that I started to take it seriously and began to consider the idea of university. It’s always been something I’ve taken as it comes because I never wanted to expect too much. These days though, I am much braver and I look to the future more.

My love of print came much later. I’m actually self-taught, as I didn’t actually study textiles. Again it’s something that just happened around me organically through playing around with ideas and imagery. It’s stayed with me because I love to design my own fabrics, that way they are exclusive to me.

What made you breakaway from designing pieces for the high street after graduating and start creating your own collections?

I instantly knew that kind of design couldn’t be it for me. Before you enter into it, you don’t realise what it’s really like, it’s not really like proper design, I’d say it’s more like product development. For some designers that’s enough for them, but for me I found it very hard. It would break my heart to be asked to do “versions” of other people’s work when I have plenty ideas of my own. Some retailers are more creative than others though, as a designer it’s just about finding the right one. The other side of things of course is the cheap manufacture; again it’s something I struggled with, that’s why I try to be as ethical as I can within my own label.

Are the pieces you design something you would incorporate into your personal style, or that we would find in your wardrobe?

Yes I’d say to an extent there are elements of my own style in my work, I love colour and print.

On that note, describe your personal style in three words?

Experimental, feminine… I don’t know a third… Maybe fluffy! I often wear fluffy or furry stuff!

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So the SS14 collection focused on the medias’ obsession with ‘perfection’, and the SS15 collection was inspired by the contrast in social classes. Both are very strong topics to take inspirations from, do you mind expanding?

I’ve always been at bit of a people watcher; I’d say I’m quite an introvert so I spend a lot of time observing others. The inspiration behind my most recent collection stemmed from my everyday observations of life in London, it’s crazy how many different people buzz around each other everyday and really don’t pay any attention to one another. It’s nice in a way because you can pretty much be whoever you want and nobody is going to question it. I think I just wanted to create prints that were representative of the contrasting cultures, classes and beliefs living along side one another.

With SS14, the topic of perfection was something that was quite personal to me, having spent most of my teenage years battling with my own self-image. I began to realise it’s something that’s a real strain for young people today. I wanted to seek out beauty in imperfections and use them as the basis for the collection; it was to prove that with age and erosion things become more interesting not ugly. During my research I started to really appreciate the lines on people’s faces and objects with a story.

The colours, prints and fabrics for the SS15 are truly beautiful, and it’s possible to clearly see the contrasts you were inspired by. The kaleidoscope of colours in the Klido Caplet Top compared to the black Organza Tee and matching Shorts spring to mind. Do you have a favourite piece from the collection?

Thank you! I think maybe my favourite piece is the printed swing top with fluffy trim, I think that piece is really fun.

All of your pieces are produced in the UK, is this something you feel strongly about?

Yes it is, I would like to keep my manufacture in the UK if I can. I like to know where my garments are being made and that the machinists are paid fairly. I do really want to add embroidery into the mix though, so I am on the hunt for a sustainable, fair trade factory in India too.

You’ve got three songs on a loop for the rest of your designing career, what would they be?

Grimes – ‘Vanessa’
Mazzy Star – ‘She’s My Baby’
X-Ray Spex – ‘Warrior in Woolworths’

I think I’d need some songs in between though because they’re so different!

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Where can people currently purchase your designs?

At the moment I am making private orders for people who contact me directly. My online store will be up and running by the New Year! And the new collection will also be sold on Not Just A Label.

And finally, what’s in store for the Frances O’Leary brand in the near future?

Well! I’m working on lots of things at the moment, I’m hoping by February I will be in a position to sell the brand to retailers, and I will be excited to have my online shop opening officially.

I’m also working on adding some new dimensions into the collection in terms of the design; so keep your eyes peeled!

Words: Eliza Frost