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On the job - Claire Sprules

In our continuing series, James Knowles  spends a day with one of Karen Millen’s designers.

Drapers’ second ‘job swap’ expedition was to Aurora Fashions’ HQ in London’s Old Street, where I spent the day shadowing Karen Millen designer Claire Sprules, finding out exactly what is involved in working for the womenswear retailer’s design team and the skills required.

Sprules starts the day by checking emails sent overnight by Karen Millen’s suppliers, mainly from Europe and the Far East. Dealing with factories is a big part of the job, and each garment needs three to four samples for fittings before going into production, with each sample taking around two to three weeks to reach the UK, with constant dialogue between the supplier and the Karen Millen team to ensure everything is on track.

Factors such as print, colour, fabrics and the trims that are to be used are all considered before the design pack is sent off to the factory. The small details, such as getting the trim just right for each garment, are “really important at Karen Millen”, says Sprules.

The tracking meeting takes place on a Monday, when Sprules sits down with her product developer and garment technologist to discuss each style line by line. They talk through each style in detail and work closely together to ensure their vision for each of the garments is realised, while also ensuring the quality meets the fashion chain’s high standard and that critical paths are met so product is delivered to store on time.

On a Tuesday they have a sales meeting, which Sprules says is really interesting due to the international nature of the business. “We all get together to look at this week’s best-selling items, and as a global brand it’s great to see which styles are performing well in all of the different markets,” she says.

Spreading some of the design sketches she is currently working on out on the worktop, Sprules explains that much of her day is taken up with sketching. She works on designs nine months prior to them entering stores, while Karen Millen introduces two to three collections into stores each month. Sprules says this means “that the client has new products every week and as a designer I’m working on new developments every day”.

As such, designs are on a quick turnaround, although Sprules admits she’s prone to making last-minute changes if she feels something isn’t working. Predicting what the customer wants in nine months’ time can be difficult, but having spent seven years at the company, she knows the Karen Millen customer inside out.

I had the chance to sit in on the model fittings, where Sprules and the garment technologist checked samples, each at different stages in the production cycle, which gave me a real insight into the efforts taken to get each design just right.

During the fittings we were also joined by Katie McGuirk, who is taking part in the retailer’s protégé scheme for Graduate Fashion Week and whom Sprules oversees. She was eager to check one of her own designs that has made it into production. However, Drapers wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises, so you’ll just have to wait to see the designs in-store.

Salaries for this position range from £35,000 to £40,000 (estimate provided by CVUK)

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