Every designer dreams of watching their collection move down the runway. Years of blood, sweat and tears rolled into fifteen minutes of high fashion glamour. One lady who has recently experienced this is Helen Lawrence. Named as a ‘one to watch’ with her pastel knitwear designs, Lawrence has interned with fashion greats such as Mark Fast and Alexander McQueen, before joining the Fashion East programme and developing her own collection. Fashion East, sponsored by Topshop, sponsors six designers each year, giving them the chance to present a catwalk to international press and buyers attending London Fashion Week. When I caught up with Lawrence she had just returned from a mad few weeks showcasing her SS15 collection in Paris, and was taking a week or so off before her next project. More than happy to talk all things fashion, despite her success, Lawrence is one lady with her feet firmly on the ground.
How did you get to where you are today? What did you study?
I studied BA (Hons) Textile Design at Chelsea College of Art and Design, where I specialised in Textiles Knit. After graduating I knew I wanted to take things further and went straight on to do my Masters. I enrolled on MA Fashion at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, specialising in Knitwear for Fashion.
Have you always been interested in fashion?
Yes, for as long as I remember I’d always wanted to study fashion at university. It was after trying all the different specialisms on my Art Foundation course at Newcastle College that I decide to go into textiles, as I realised I was fascinated with manipulating and creating fabrics.
How did you break into the hugely competitive industry?
It’s been a very long process that started when I enrolled at Chelsea seven years ago. It was amazing to be able to work on projects that helped me develop my aesthetic. I got to really push this when I moved on to my MA at Central Saint Martins. Here I was really able to hone in on my skills and develop the knits I had been working on at Chelsea. I really think the most important part of getting into the industry was continuing to work on projects post graduation. You’ve got to constantly add fresh work to your portfolio.
What happened next?
I was lucky enough to work on a men’s knitwear collaboration with my friend and classmate, Craig Green, after we graduated from Central Saint Martins. This really opened my eyes to working independently outside of uni and pushed me to apply to programmes such as Fashion Scout and the Fashion East. Both platforms allowed me to present the work I’d done post graduation, as well as my previous work from both my BA and MA. I worked on my portfolio for a year and a half and then started my own label.
Who is your design inspiration?
I love Nicolas Ghesquière – his designs balance the experimental and luxurious. His early collections for Balenciaga are so exciting and really inspire me. I’m also glued to the Prada show live stream during fashion week – the Prada brand is just cool, ageless and innovative.
What was it like first seeing your designs on the catwalk?
It’s a strange feeling really, a massive mixture of nerves and excitement! I can’t really take it all in at the time – it’s quite overwhelming. It’s not until the end of the day, when I look at the catwalk images that I can really sit down and think about the show.
How do you think working with Mark Fast and Alexander McQueen has influenced your designs and your career?
I worked in the print team at McQueen which was amazing as I got to hand draw and paint every day – something I hadn’t done since my A Levels. I’d forgotten how much I loved it! It was also good to see how a big house works and was really interesting to learn about all the different departments – all of the amazing designers work together to produce the collections.
I loved working at Mark Fast as it was a very hands-on internship, where I was able to really develop my knit skills before I started my MA. I was amazed to see how an emerging fashion house worked and how he developed his brand. They were both extremely valuable experiences – I learnt a lot!
What would you say is the best part of your job?
The two best parts of my job are being able to work with really amazingly talented people and the freedom to develop my ideas, making them into something real and wearable.
What is the hardest part?
Time! Time flies by so quickly and there are so many things to work on whilst developing the next collection, including re-making the previous one for the stores in which I’m stocked.
What advice would you give to those hoping to follow in your footsteps and break into the industry?
Be prepared to work extremely hard! You need to be able to dedicate a lot of time and energy into starting a brand – it’s very challenging. You need to be tough and thick skinned. Be prepared for criticism; each season you’re putting yourself out there, everyone will have an opinion of your work whether it is good or bad. Listen to everything but take some opinions with a pinch of salt. Finally, be motivated and love what you do, otherwise it’ll never work.
That’s really great advice. What’s next for you and the brand?
We’re just starting to work on our AW15 collection at the moment, which is pretty exciting.
Finally, what is the worst wardrobe mistake you have ever made?
Hmm, there’s probably been too many to list! I remember for the Millennium New Year I wore a vile floor length iridescent purple satin blazer, which had the most disgusting shiny silver clasp at the front. I have no idea why, but I loved it so much at the time – I was only twelve though so I’ll let myself off!
If you dream in high fashion and have the passion to follow in Helen’s footsteps, we have the course to help. Whether it’s for fun or for a change in career, there are plenty of options to get your creativity flowing.