Fashion

London College of Fashion graduate Coline Gauthier has previously spoken about wanting to reflect ‘the comfort of a souvenir’ through her designs, which is clear in her work: warm colours and complex knit patterns riff on nostalgia, personal memories of her childhood and time spent at her grandparent’s home in the South of France.

“I was inspired by my grandparent’s home and how they dwell in memories, furnitures and objects from different moments of their lives,” Gauthier tells us. “I was surrounded by mix and match of textiles and materials from their many lives, in Morocco, in Algeria, in the South of France.”

Crossing cultures, countries and eras, these reference points feed into the young designer’s work. Sponsored by Italian yarn manufacturers – Lineapiu, Bemiva and Filpucci – Gauthier wanted to create knitwear that was light, comfortable and built with soft, modern yarns. Rejecting thick and rough traditional fibres originally used for hard outdoor labour, the London-based designer took influence from her Grandparent’s incredible collection of rugs they bought in Morocco in the 1960s.

This impressive level of complexity in the designer’s work stems from her training, having spent time at CSM studying experimental knitwear techniques on top of her original training in Paris at ESAA Duperré, she later cut her teeth interning at Lacoste, a knitting factory in Monaco, and JW Anderson, where Gauthier experimented with screen printing and different textiles.

Here, Gauthier talks us through her background, influences, and the importance of sustainable fashion in today’s world.

Victoria Fell: What first drew you to knitwear?
Coline Gauthier: For me, knitwear was a perfect combination of textile and fashion design. You are able to choose everything from the yarns, composition and colours to the final shape of the piece and how it is manufactured. I think choosing knitwear was a good way for me to keep my options open at first and allow myself to think wider. 

Victoria: And why specifically men’s knitwear?
Coline: I believe we can create new ways to make knitwear for men. Manufacturers are now creating a wide range of new yarns that allow designers to imagine other uses for knitwear, rather than just a chunky jumper or ribbed accessories that are designed solely for the winter months. We can see that sportswear already uses knitwear to enhance their clothing and shoe collections, and I think that it can also become a part of everyday clothing for men.

“…feelings of comfort, remembrance and warmth were the aspects of nostalgia that I wanted to draw from to use in my designs.” 

Victoria: Your graduate collection was inspired by personal memories of your grandparent’s home. Can you tell us about them and their home?
Coline: My grandparents were born and raised in Algeria and were agricultural engineers. In 1960, they moved to Morocco but then had to move to France after the Algerian War of Independence, which ended in 1962. They settled in the South of France, where they became shepherds in a small village next to the border with Spain. My grandparents don’t really care about possessions, aesthetics or appearance, which is why it was so interesting to examine their home and what they own. I believe the authenticity of the way they live attracted me because they don’t care if things look nice or if they match: practicality and memories are the only reasons for them to keep an object.

Victoria: How did you translate these nostalgic memories into your designs?
Coline: In my grandparents’ house, there is a dark humid room which they never go in, where there are a dozen rugs that they bought in Morocco in the 1960s. These rugs are kept under different layers of materials and packed in plastic sheets, which are fragranced with cloves. This in turn made me think of this box I have under my bed where I keep stupid things from my childhood that I can’t bear to throw out. The scale is obviously very different, but the emotions and attachment are the same: nostalgia is something that we always like to dive into. Those feelings of comfort, remembrance and warmth were the aspects of nostalgia that I wanted to draw from to use in my designs. 

Victoria: Do you often find inspiration in your own real experiences?
Coline: I draw inspiration from my own experiences, as well as from the people I encounter or what I see. I also think that feeling something in front of a painting or the sensation of touching a new material are part of our own real experiences. Inspiration can therefore come from a lot of different places, and the source of it does not matter: it stays authentic if it makes you feel something.

Victoria: Tell me about your interest in sustainable fashion.
Coline: I think fashion is at a turning point and, at the moment, the rhythm is wrong! Creativity and business have a complicated relationship and the drive to always buy more and the concept of trends have hurt creativity and newness in fashion. I believe that sustainability should first be introduced into our everyday life through consuming less, and choosing to spend money on long-lasting products. For that to work, we need better quality products and to trace where the product is made at each stage of the manufacturing process. People care more than we think, and I think they will be willing to spend more on ethical fashion. 

Victoria: You’ve said that you believe ‘men need more comfort in their lives’…
Coline: Traditionally, men wore knitwear to fight bad weather out at sea. Rough wool and mixed cotton yarn manufacturers, which were historically very present in the UK, were generally the only options for knits. Even today, knitwear for men is very often chunky, using a simple jacquard print or ribs for jumpers, scarves and beanies. I want to push the boundary between womenswear and menswear and allow more soft, light and coloured material for men. It is not only women who want to cocoon themselves in their clothes, and these casual ‘comfy’ clothes can be elegant too.

Victoria: Going to LCF, how has the London fashion scene – particularly menswear – influenced your own work?
Coline: I definitely feel different depending on whether I’m in London or Paris. In London, there is no such thing as being ridiculous, so I can take more risks. Londoners aren’t scared of looking different and fun.

Follow Coline on Instagram.